People often feel that they must make a choice between telling the truth and thereby hurting someone’s feelings or else telling a ‘white’ lie to spare their feelings. But it is a false dilemma. There are other choices available if we are willing to look. We can care for the truth in many different ways.
The most effective means to ensure that our actions and speech remain in harmony with our values is practising mindfulness of precepts. When we commit ourselves to the precepts and frequently reflect on them, we create the conditions for them to pop up in our mind whenever the intention to transgress arises. In even the most busy, complex situation we are thereby able to make wise choices.
Theravāda takes a rather modest and downbeat approach to helping others. Whereas the Bodhisattva vow states boldly, ‘Suffering beings are beyond number; I vow to save them all’, the Theravādas are more circumspect. They say, ‘Suffering beings are beyond number; I shall try to help reduce the suffering whenever I can, as best as I can’.
On one occasion, the Buddha taught that we should look after our precepts with the same care that a one-eyed person looks after their remaining eye. Just as eyes allow us to see the world around us, keeping precepts help us to be aware of our inner world. Damage to eyes makes us vulnerable to many physical dangers. Acting upon the impulse to hurt, steal, betray, to lie and to consume things that undermine mindfulness and our sense of right and wrong: all lead us into grave spiritual dangers.
Some time ago I was discussing the design of a building with its architect. He explained the choices he had made in the design using such words as ‘honest’ and ‘sincere’. For me, as a monk, it was interesting to hear ethical terms used to justify the number of windows in a wall, or the placing of pipes. I realised that it would be impossible to critique the design without appearing to take the side of the dishonest and insincere. Metaphor had taken on a life of their own.
One day, shortly after I had delivered the Uposatha Day Dhamma Talk to the local villagers in our monastery, a middle-aged man approached me reverently, his face radiant. He bowed very slowly three times and then, raising his hands in añjali, thanked me for giving such a wonderful discourse.
Meditation is the cultivation of wakefulness. It begins with us learning how to be awake to our meditation object, moment by moment. As it progresses we learn to be awake to the whole of our body and mind. We observe, for example, how the posture of the body and its aches and pains affect the mind. We observe the various ways in which mental agitation and its absence affect the body….
Even with a busy schedule there are always short periods of time every day when you can re-establish mindfulness. The best periods are those in which your activity does not require you to talk to anyone or think about anything.