"When someone is not ashamed to tell a deliberate lie, there is no bad deed they would not do"

I’ve recently come across the case about Chandler Halderson, he’s lying about getting to college, having an internship, getting a job at SpaceX, etc, … and finally when confront with his lies, he killed both of his parents.

It’s amazing how true it is - the word of the Buddha.


I recently read the quote in the title in the Maha Rahula Sutta.

I thought then that idea was extreme.

People tell white lies all of the time…and without committing murder. :slight_smile:


People tell white lies all of the time… and without committing murder. :slight_smile:

Drop by drop the jar is filled.


Well, we can argue that white lie is mixed nature.

In the case quoted above, it is not white lie. It is shameless person.
Not sure if it is the case where one progressively become bad. Or the case of lying as a sign that this shameless person can do something worse.

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It appears that some Buddhists, instead of try to train themselves in the precepts as they are, tend to explain away the Buddha words to justify their own defilement.

There is no white lies. There is only truths, or lies.


I have trained myself with this precept; however if we take this idea completely seriously and expect that people we interact with be always truthful (because otherwise they would be capable of anything) it can make our life virtually impossible. In my country of origin white lies are not really considered that bad, and many people lie - it’s just conditioning.
Two examples:

  1. I once refrained from collaborating with a person because she told me a white lie, so I thought she would be unreliable. In practice I see that she is a pretty good person, so not collaborating with her was probably a mistake.
  2. I have had great benefits from acupuncture, and I am really grateful to my doctor. However, he does tell me some lies (unrelated to the treatment); for example he promises to bring me a book next time, and then he doesn’t (Ajahn Chah taught that if you do not keep your word that’s equivalent to lying). Should I think that he is a bad person capable of any action? I don’t, and I think he has many good qualities.
    So I have found that if we take this idea dogmatically it’s not really conducive to wisdom. The guy who lied to his parents in the OP told a very different kind of lie from someone who would for example perhaps tell a white lie to their terminaly sick parents to give them some extra hope (not recommending the latter, but just saying there are many types of lies and what counts is the motivation really).

There is no white lies. There is only truths, or lies.

Really? There are millions of people living under brutal regimes in which they might have to tell lies to protect themselves or others. For example, lying about one’s own or another’s sexuality if one lives in a country in which homosexuals receive the death penalty.

If someone tells a lie with the intention only of protecting themselves or another, in circumstances in which telling the lie does not cause harm to some other person, then why would it have bad karmic consequences? Aren’t the karmic consequences of actions determined by the intention behind the action?


A useful way to dissect this is to use the concepts of intention and motivation and give them specific meanings.

When you say something that is not true with the hope that people will believe it, then your intention is to tell a lie. This is distinct from when you say something that is not true but you don’t realize it is not true (“Mom is upstairs,” when in fact she is in the basement). There is no intention to mislead.

On the other hand, motivation could be defined as the reason you tell a lie. For example to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Or to avoid unjust punishment.

I don’t think that’s the point. It’s simply that someone who is able to tell lies could commit murder. An arahant could not tell a lie and they could not commit murder. If you want to become an arahant, try to become someone who doesn’t tell lies. Then eventually you will be someone who cannot tell lies.


Couldn’t it also refer to someone a bit less advanced? The sutta says someone who is not ashamed to tell a deliberate lie. Not someone who could tell lies. You don’t need to be an arahant to be ashamed to tell a deliberate lie.

I wonder what degree of moral shame is being referred to here…


Oh, yes, you are right. Sorry, I wasn’t remembering it properly.

Same thing can be said about other precepts. In fact, when moral conduct is the criterion, it is only the noble sangha that are said to have assurances in terms of not breaking the five precepts. The uncertainty of the unenlightened makes committing any evil always a possibility.

Because most of us are truth seekers rather than enlightened beings, the concept of truth is often emphasized and sometimes even romanticized. I remember reading an article by Ven. Bodhi arguing that a bodhisattva might break any precept except the one related to lying. Strangely, he went into a lengthy exchange with Ven Thanissaro defending the necessity of lying under some hypothetical scenario such as protecting innocent life from Nazis.

Very good point. It means, i feel, that one has no problem with becoming unscrupulous. There is a lack of shame and lack of fear of wrong doing. One is, as it were, not ruled by conscience.
If this is the case, one can indeed, i feel, do very bad immoral deeds. One can do anything.

I feel conscience also has to be developed. I think it can grow, at least in metaphorical way.

Looking back i think in my younger years i was more inclined to becoming unscrupulous. It has took a lot of time, for me, to really see that other being also like to be happy, do not want suffering, have their own needs too, like me, are sensitive. I feel it is an ongoing process. One can have weird priorities in life, yes and be unscrupulous. I recognize it.

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To flip it on its head, when you know you’re not willing to lie, that severely limits your actions.

Just think about any act that you could do, but if someone asks you “did you do that?” you can’t deny it.

Even just dropping a silent but deadly fart among friends. If someone asks you point blank “was it you?” you have to confess :c3po:

Imagine not being able to lie to save face. You’re going to have pretty good behavior :slight_smile:


What is the cause for one needing to protect themselves?

If you neglect to protect yourself against those who intend you harm, then the would-be miscreants may succeed in doing you harm, thereby accruing evil kamma for themselves. Therefore to protect oneself is both rational and compassionate. Even Buddhas do it:

Then the yakkha Sūciloma [“the needle-haired one”] approached the Blessed One and pressed his body against him, at which the Blessed One drew back.

The yakkha then said to him, “Are you afraid of me, samaṇa?”

“No, friend, I am not afraid of you, but your touch is evil.”
(Sucilomasutta, Snp. 2:5)


There certainly is white lies, if someone comes up to you and demands something from you, telling the truth can get you hurt. Ever had a stranger demand money from you aggressively in the middle of the night while you’re out? I have. If you tell them the complete truth you may get stabbed or worse, imagine saying “Oh yes, I have money that I can easily access with my bank card but I don’t want to give it to you”.

In areas with high crime rates in north america, criminals often stop you with asking for directions and then switch over to something violent. There’s cases of people being killed just by stopping to think about directions, they say you should just point them in a direction and leave, the longer you hang around the higher the chance of something bad happening. So white lies can save lives.

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There is always the option to stay silent, or to (honestly) say that you don’t want to talk about it. The first precept does not mean that you always have to TELL the truth, though it’s certainly good to always know it for yourself. In fact it’s often better not to (‘just being honest…’)
That’s what the discussion between Thanissaro and Bhikku Bodhi was essentially about too. Just because someone asks a question, doesn’t mean you have to tell them something that may cause harm. There are different ways to answer it truthfully while avoiding danger.


Gampopa, atibetan monk, was very devoted to meet and see his teacher, yogi Milarepa. He met Milarepa, the great yogi, drinking beer. Gampopa had accepted the rule not to drink alcolhol, but now Mila offered him some beer. He accepted. They became teacher and pupil and Gampopa became a great master.

If one cannot deal in a flexible way with rules what is the difference with being attached to rules?
What does one expact from being so rigid, so unflexible with rules? Enlightment? Awakening?

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There was a mention on intention. If we relate that to the noble eightfold path, I think we should ponder whether the intention of protecting oneself by telling a lie falls under nekkhamma intention, abyapada intention or avihimsa intention. If it doesn’t fall under any of the three, I’m inclined to see it as wrong intention.

If it’s wrong intention, then the speech that follows is wrong speech (please see quotes from MN117 below). Wrong intention and wrong speech are harmful at least for the speaker because they deny themselves of the vital conditions that give rise to right samadhi, right knowledge, and right freedom.


Right view gives rise to right thought. Right thought gives rise to right speech. Right speech gives rise to right action. Right action gives rise to right livelihood. Right livelihood gives rise to right effort. Right effort gives rise to right mindfulness. Right mindfulness gives rise to right immersion. Right immersion gives rise to right knowledge. Right knowledge gives rise to right freedom.

The accent is on long term habits of mind. The person who feels no shame is liable to do anything (Conscience & Concern Anguttara Nikaya 2.9). The point the Buddha makes in Majhima Nikaya 61 is that of the value of contemplation in its contemporary relation to music:

Then the Blessed One, having left a little bit of water in the water dipper, said to Ven. Rahula, “Rahula, do you see this little bit of left-over water remaining in the water dipper?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s how little of a contemplative[2] there is in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie.”


“What do you think, Rahula: What is a mirror for?”

“For reflection, sir.”

"In the same way, Rahula, bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions are to be done with repeated reflection.

A similar point is made in Majhima Nikaya 19 where the Buddha describes his own pre-awakening method:

“Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking & pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness.”