This week for the family group, we had the fun task of looking at the paramī of Sacca, or Truthfulness. This is a fun task because it’s pretty straightforward: it takes almost no effort to see the chaos and distrust caused by lying, and appreciate the trust and harmony created by a commitment to the truth. As we stated at the beginning of the set of paramī’s, it’s said the Buddha-to-be never told a lie after he made the determination to become a Buddha. That’s the kind of commitment to truth that is at the heart of enlightenment.
Nevertheless it’s good to revisit our commitment to the truth from time to time. We started with a guided meditation. Imagine you come into the room, and after settling, you tell the person next to you your hair is blue (this only works if no one’s hair is actually blue). Imagine they are resistant because they can see it’s not the case, but you make up a convincing story – what they see is the result of dye, or that you are wearing a wig. You keep trying to convince them. How does it feel to have to keep making things up? Now imagine that you actually succeed and the person believes you. They start telling everyone that your hair is blue and convincing others. How does it feel to know that you deceived this person and they might be looking like a fool?
Now imagine you hold up your hand and come clean. You announce that you are sorry but your hair isn’t really blue. How does it feel to have the truth out finally? Even if people are upset that you lied, doesn’t it feel like things are going to start to get better now that you told the truth? The funny thing about lies is that they require more and more lies. But the truth usually only has to be told once.
Then we had two short stories – one about lies and one about truth:
Story – The Boy Who Cried Wolf
There once was a shepherd boy who was bored as he sat on the hillside watching the village sheep. To amuse himself he took a great breath and sang out, “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!”
The villagers came running up the hill to help the boy drive the wolf away. But when they arrived at the top of the hill, they found no wolf. The boy laughed at the sight of their angry faces.
“Don’t cry ‘wolf’, shepherd boy,” said the villagers, “when there’s no wolf!” They went grumbling back down the hill.
Later, the boy sang out again, “Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing the sheep!” To his naughty delight, he watched the villagers run up the hill to help him drive the wolf away.
When the villagers saw no wolf they sternly said, “Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don’t cry ‘wolf’ when there is NO wolf!”
But the boy just grinned and watched them go grumbling down the hill once more.
Later, he saw a REAL wolf prowling about his flock. Alarmed, he leaped to his feet and sang out as loudly as he could, “Wolf! Wolf!”
But the villagers thought he was trying to fool them again, and so they didn’t come.
At sunset, everyone wondered why the shepherd boy hadn’t returned to the village with their sheep. They went up the hill to find the boy. They found him weeping.
“There really was a wolf here! The flock has scattered! I cried out, “Wolf!” Why didn’t you come?”
An old man tried to comfort the boy as they walked back to the village.
“We’ll help you look for the lost sheep in the morning,” he said, putting his arm around the youth, “Nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth!”
The Story of the Quail
One time the Bodhisatta was born as a quail in a big family. These quails lived in a nest at the base of a big tree. Every day the mother and father quail would go out hunting and foraging and would come back with all kinds of food – seeds, grass, bugs, frogs, and worms.
All the other quails hungrily ate whatever they were given and grew up strong and healthy. But the bodhisatta quail felt compassion and couldn’t bear to eat living things, so it would only eat the seeds and grasses. It did not grow up strong, but instead was small and weak and couldn’t fly.
One day lightning struck in the forest and started a great forest fire. All of the animals started to flee as the fire got closer and closer. The family tried to help the bodhisatta quail but because it couldn’t fly they eventually had to leave to save themselves.
As the bodhisatta sat in the forest watching the fire come closer, he thought about his life. He wondered if he had any power at all which could save him.
“I am but a little quail,” he said to the fire. “I am young and too weak to run or fly. I have almost no power at all. But I do have one power that is said to be very great in this world – the power of truth. So I will tell you the truth – As long as I have lived I have never hurt another living being!”
With the telling of this truth and the pureness of the bodhisatta’s heart, it is said the fire was stopped instantly and then turned around. It left a big ring around the bodhisatta unburnt, and when its family returned they were shocked! And one day many many years later, the Buddha sat down at that spot and told the monks that since that time and the telling of that truth, fire has never burned that circle of land.
Two Truths and a Lie
As a fun way to wrap up the program, we played a common game that helps people new to groups introduce themselves and break the ice. It’s called Two Truths and a Lie, and the idea is that you say three things about yourself, one of which you make up. Interestingly, both of the youths immediately grappled with the paradox of the game – if someone is intending to lie, why would they tell the truth about how many truths they were telling? Couldn’t they tell more than one lie?
That’s the reality of our society. Once a person speaks untruth, all the rules that help us work together go out the window. But for the purposes of the game, we also got to try to make it work. Once people told their three facts, everyone else was able to ask one question about one of the facts. A lie usually was hard to defend, but when someone was asked about a truth they could give very specific information. Almost every lie was suspected by at least one person, but it was never a sure thing! Even people who live together for years can be fooled!