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What Would Sid Do: Is it Ever Okay to Lie?

Many people look to Siddhartha Gautama as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. Every other week in this column we look at what it might be like if Siddhartha were on his spiritual journey today. How would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the workplace? What Would Sid Do? is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.

Every other week I'll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I think Sid, a fictional Siddhartha, would do. Here Sid is not yet a buddha; he's just someone struggling to maintain an open heart on a spiritual path while facing numerous distractions along the way. Because let's face it: you and I are Sid. If you would like to submit a question click here.


This week's question comes from an anonymous reader - "Is it okay to lie?"


When our historical Sid became a buddha he laid out some basic ground rules for his monastic community, one of which included no false speech. The most straight-forward interpretation of that is no lying, but the precept often is expanded to include rules about not slandering others, not gossiping, and not abusing others with your speech. Basically, don't cause harm when you open your mouth.

As is often discussed in this series, we each need to figure out what these precepts mean to us lay folk 2500 years later. On one level, no, it's not cool to lie. But then on another level, remember that time when your friend was totally awkward with that guy/girl and they were like "He/she's into me right?" and you were like, "Oh yeah. Totally. You're in girl/bro"? Yeah, welcome to the prestigious ranks of everyone who has lied.

So what would today's fictional-confused-working-on-his-spiritual-path Sid say about lies, big and small? I imagine he'd have a couple of key points of advice to share:

1) Look at your motivation to lie. Is it to keep things easy and simple for yourself or are you trying to be compassionate in the midst of a difficult situation? If you are only trying to protect yourself from harm, lying may not even work too well for you. So many lies get discovered over time. In others words, another thing to think about is:

2) Is it ever going to be okay to tell the truth? Is this something you are going to keep to yourself fo eva eva or at some point do you think you might be able to come clean?

3) Another thing: we don't always have to say something. There's a certain level of discipline required of us if we want our speech to be helpful to others. Sometimes holding back or saying "I don't think it's appropriate for me to talk about that" can save us from lying. We might be tempted to over-share all of our secrets and our friends' secrets but we really don't have to. So reign it in.

Overall I'd say the key point is to be genuine with yourself. Don't lie to yourself and ideally your speech will flow from that point of view. Also, we need to remember that we are on a spiritual path and it's important not to beat ourselves up if we do catch ourselves lying. In fact, gently catching yourself is the first step to breaking whatever habits you've gotten into with your speech.

To summarize, lying's not awesome. Being genuine is awesome. But when we stray from perfection let's at least try to keep our speech uplifted and not harmful. Good luck being awesome.

There's no dumb questions, just dumb people who don't ask them for this weekly column. So don't be dumb and instead write in by e-mailing a question here.

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