Sila, Can one deceive oneself?

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think Sila also works in a almost unconscious way? For example, one can try to convince oneself with conscious ideas that one is doing good but it does not really seem to work that way. It is not like that really creates peace of mind. And also, one does not see harm in a way of living, but still one cannot relax in it. It’s like the heart judges. It’s like signs are on red, but not really in a very conscious way. Still, one cannot find deep relaxation and peace of mind. It is like the heart screams, but still one, oke I, am deaf.

Not really. My gauges for sila are:

The five precepts.

Reflection. Is this action, word, or thought going to increase greed, hatred, or delusion in myself or others? If the answer to that is no, it is at least morally neutral.

I spend most of my day playing thought police with myself, constantly being mindful of my thoughts and whether or not they are wholesome. I have still not made that a subconcious activity yet, and I am not sure it can be.

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This is a great topic. Sila on its own can definitely be contrive in the manner you are suggesting. It takes time for a person to understand why it is beneficial. It is not conducive to sensuality, so initially the body will be unhappy with the drawing-in of those behaviors. And never will there be a reconciliation between sensuality and virtue. They face in opposite directions. The benefits of virtue can take time - it could take a while before there can be an appreciation for the calm that it creates. At first it may seem boring and that it isn’t getting you anywhere; but that is absolutely what it is doing, but since the mind is used to less constricted stimulation and constant moving about to what pleases it, virtue becomes something that starts to trap the mind. And it will not be enjoyable at first.

Virtue needs time to establish itself and it takes time to look for and recognize a whole new set of benefits. Remember, virtue is not just there for its own sake - believing that is pure silabataparamasa; to take mere adherence to precepts as development. Certainly there are benefits to only being virtuous, but the Buddha describes an entire path that stands upon the aggregate of virtue: much additional and deliberate effort, that far exceeds the level of physical behavior, must be undertaken to make strides.

I think self-deception is part of delusion. We humans are experts at motivated reasoning, and we like to preserve our self-image as “I am a good person”.

Generosity seems to be maybe even more fundamental than sila. Can you find joy in giving away your hard earned cash? Are you giving away most of your income to good causes?

When I look at my own mind, I know I am a bit more stingy than I should be. I am certainly not giving away most of my income to good causes. For me, this is a reality check on my own moral development :slight_smile:


Samadhi and mental seclusion are the gauge of sila. Identifying sila is a standard investigation:

“And what is the food for the arising of unarisen analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening, or for the growth & increase of analysis of qualities… once it has arisen? There are mental qualities that are skillful & unskillful, blameworthy & blameless, gross & refined, siding with darkness & with light. To foster appropriate attention to them: This is the food for the arising of unarisen analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening, or for the growth & increase of analysis of qualities… once it has arisen.”—SN 46.51

Meditation involves moving from reliance on a certain level of sensual pleasure to a higher one:

" Another thing you hear all too often is that you shouldn’t let yourself get attached to concentration practice or attached to the pleasure of concentration. But actually that pleasure is something you should get attached to, again as motivation to develop it further. Eventually you can wean yourself away from that attachment, but in the beginning you need that kind of attachment to pry yourself away from attachments that are less skillful. You have to get skilled at giving rise to it so that you have something better to hold onto than the old, run-of-the-mill sensual pleasures that rule your life otherwise."—Thanissaro

The Buddha speaks to a layperson:

“Even though a disciple of the noble ones has clearly seen as it actually is with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, still — if he has not attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that[4] — he can be tempted by sensuality. But when he has clearly seen as it actually is with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, and he has attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, he cannot be tempted by sensuality.”—MN 14

As The Buddha said there is no privacy in this world for those who have seen. Why must we deceive ourself? It is a useless effort. Whatever we do, there is no such thing called ‘Privacy’ in this world. ‘Privacy’ is a word used by those deluded or hallucinated ones.

For your reference please read Ādhipateyya Sutta (AN.3.30) [SuttaCentral]

Thank you for the reference. It’s important to understand AN 3.40 correctly. It states there are three governing principles in progessive order, self, cosmos, and dhamma (Thanissaro). The OP refers to the first stage when self is the governing principle. In the second stage when there is a degree of samadhi then there is awareness of corrections by external personages. Certainly at that stage there is no privacy, and mental seclusion means seclusion from the lower thought world, and guarding of that position.

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:+1::+1::+1: … Yes, there is nothing in this world that other cannot see. We can pretend that there is ‘privacy’ but actually there is ‘no privacy’ at all.

I think it’s not enough just to keep precepts. One needs to recollect ones one virtue.

Furthermore, a noble disciple recollects their own ethical conduct, which is unbroken, impeccable, spotless, and unmarred, liberating, praised by sensible people, not mistaken, and leading to immersion.
AN 11.11

This is a quote I would bring to mind often to help with remember that I had been keeping precepts and living with the intention of harmlessness for many year.

I remember a point in time before I started doing this practice where I would be walking along and see some ants on the path and feel this great sense of anxiety that if I wanted to I could just squish them. It’s not that I wanted to but it was just that the potential was there. Is that what you are concerned about @Green ? Just remembering that I had been directing my heart to harmlessness for such a long time seem to fix this for me.


Hi @MattStL,

How do you notice delusion increases or not? What does that mean in practical sense for you?

Yes, recollecting virtues, I can feel that makes the heart warm and more relaxed.

Goodness for me feels safe. Maybe the only thing that feels really safe for me and does not come with all kinds of doubts and anxiety. I can doubt so much but i do not doubt goodness. I feel it is the only trustworthy refuge. Just thinking about this goodness of the heart makes me happy, joyful.

I feel like the Dhamma is also about goodness because goodness is all about detachment and purity, letting go all ego-centric tendencies and longings. I am very convinced that this goodness is the nature of the undefiled mind.

But one does not possess this goodness. The moment ones starts conceiving “i am good” then goodness is lost. It is not a goodness in the sense of morally good but rather a goodness as a purity of the heart. It is beyond the moral and immoral, beyond merit and demerit, beyond cultural ideas about good and bad. Like the Buddha teaches as the state of the Buddha and arahant.

“There is no fear for an awakened one, whose mind is not sodden (by lust) nor afflicted (by hate), and who has gone beyond both merit and demerit” (Dhammapada 38).

The heart is fully opened, liberated. The longings of ego are a real burden for the heart. One can feel this.

“The state of dispassion in the world is happiness,
the complete transcending of sense desires,
But for he who has removed the conceit ‘I am’—
this is indeed the highest happiness.” (udana 2.1)

For me that is the Buddha, the purified heart. And the Dhamma is what frees the heart from her oppressing forces. The Sangha is one in mind.

I also think this heart is calling us from inside. The calling of the Buddha. In some ways one knows the ways of the pure heart from inside, but it is hard to follow upon her instructions. It is not that the heart, the inner Buddha, does not communicate. It teaches Dhamma all the time. I often see that it is not truthful when i would say ‘i did not know’…it is more truthful to say…‘i did not listen to my heart, to the Buddha’. The pure heart communicates all the time because there is not always defilement. But am I listening? That is what I mean. For me, the self-deception lies in the idea that i am ignorant. I am not ignorant, i am just listening to the calling of ego more than the calling of goodness, the Buddha.
Oke, one can call this delusion.

I agree. I think one can compare this with addiction. The mind is addicted to non-virtue. Maybe some protest but i am sure. If this would not be the case we would progress very rapidly. Non-virtue is attractive. I do not mean that things like killing is attractive (for many people it is, for example in hunting). But i mean the non-virtue of ego stuff such as pedantic behaviour, the know-it-all, the lust for disagreement, the need to get attention, wanting status etc. The mind is not that holy. I think this better need to be seen in stead of denied. We all have a large and black shadow of dark kamma. It has the aspect of attractiveness too. Even if one sees that this darkness does not contribute to well-being, this does not mean that one automatically abandons it.
No, not at all. We humans are experts in destroying our own well-being. I think, love and compassion is very much needed. The mind without compassion and love will continue in dark deeds because it has no dignity, self-respect, self-care. It will destroy the person till the person hits rock bottom. Maybe, than care for oneself might arise. It is strange how we can be our worst enemy but the Buddha teaches that’s the way. We often get deluded and think, speak, act in a way that is not profitable for ourselves and others.

At least you see. I am not really stingy but i know the worth of money. If someone would hack and empty my banc account i would be in panic.

I belief one does not have to become to strategic, methodical, rational, calculated .That will not lead to well-being. One becomes a machine. Maybe a well developed one, but still a machine, governed by habits.

Paul, i belief i read somewhere that you think that everyone has a wish to escape samsara. Can you tell more about this? How do you see this? What are you refering to?

Nice sutta, i did not know it yet.

I recognize what you describe but this is not what i mean. What i am concerned with, is, i think, is that i do not really belief we are so ignorant. There is knowledge inside us. The heart speaks. But do we listen?

Hi @Green !

From a practical standpoint, delusion means not seeing things as they truly are. So is my action or speech making myself or others think or act like something will bring them happiness, when it won’t, or that something is permanent, when it isn’t and so on. Really, what causes greed and hatred is delusion.

Hi @MattStL,

That’s clear. I have ambiguous ideas about this.

I see the advantage of thinking, speaking and acting in a well-advised manner, but i also belief there are disadvantages. I do not think it will ever end dukkha, also not in others.

Thank you for the reply. “One becomes a machine” The noble eightfold path is conditioned and the practitioner has to develop skillful strategies utilizing the mechanics of samsara, which is driven by polarities. Escaping becoming a machine is part of the skill and craft, in fact the entire beginner practice. The practitioner must aim to achieve direct experience as soon as possible, and samadhi as a result of sila is the basic mechanism to be employed.

In reading the four noble truths it’s immediately apparent they follow a logic one to another, and the noble eightfold path is resolved into its dynamics of sila> samadhi> panna. In SN 46.53 the Buddha states dynamics are the characteristic feature differentiating Buddhism from other paths.

Thanks @paul1 ,

I want to be sincere and have looked inside my heart and have seen there is no intrinsic motivation to end a tragic carreer of suffering in samsara. If this is not present, and one starts pretending it is, this only becomes cause of inner conflict, i have found out.

Maybe it was the drive of the Buddha, maybe the drive of Paul1, but i cannot work with the drive of others. I must find and work with my own drive, my own calling. I belief this is more important than trying to be a good person or good buddhist or be a copycat.

I do not really see life as problem which must be solved, or as a tragedy that must be ended as soon as possible. But i see worth in Buddha’s teachings and experiences.

For me Samsara is simply the realm of self-alienation or self-alienated beings. Self referes here to the uncontrived mind. One has never seen it richness, it’s peace, it’s refuge etc.

Having an attitude as animal, as hell being, as deva, as peta, as asura, one is not oneself. So, there is no need at all to cultivate all this. Why would one cultivate something which is not ones nature but only a produced artificial result which ends? Can’t you directly see ignorance and dukkha?

All these mentallities are all produced, artificial. They all come and go. So, why would one cultivate a certain mentallity? One is only deceiving oneself and others when one starts pretending this is real you, and real richness and real profit. Can you see this? This is all food for samsara.