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The Fourth Precept 不妄语

April 1, 2017

Musāvādā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi. (Pali)

As a person took refuge in the 3 jewels, he vowed to maintain the 5 precepts.  The Chinese simplifies it as avoiding 杀盗淫妄酒.  In particular, I find the fourth precept very subtle and very hard not to break.

Buddhists also talk about doing the Ten Virtuous Acts (十善业) or Avoiding the Ten Unwholesome Acts (十恶业), which seem to be the extended version of the five precepts.

In the ten virtuous acts, this single 4th precept is again broken up into four subcategories (語四善業道) namely:

  • 不妄语:不對他人说谎话、空话,不颠倒是非。don’t tell a lie nor said the opposite of what’s true
  • 不两舌:不在他人之间挑拨离间。don’t be double-tongued and say things to break up a good relation between two persons or two groups of people.
  • 不恶口:不用粗言侮辱他人。don’t use harsh languages nor bullying language (vulgarity?) on another
  • 不绮语:不花言巧语、阿谀奉承他人。don’t get involved in frivolous talking e.g. gossiping, saying only nice things to boost another’s ego, overly or unnecessarily praising or empty talking typically seen when a person is drunk.

So as you can see, (the first) not telling lie itself is pretty hard to maintain.  I lied all the time, from the time I was afraid my granny would cane me, I would lie unintentionally whenever I sense the cane will be coming my way if my granny knew I did something not agreeable in her ways.  So most people, like me, will they sense that look when it is coming a break a white lie?  It is also a habit that was developed from beginning-less time for eons because of that “passion for the good”, “aversion for the bad” habits.  Hence the story of George Washington admitting to cutting the tree and not lie was a classic we learned in Primary school.

Maybe being “double-tongued” or “hypocritical” is avoidable.  Especially when  we learned in school of its “badness” and being one who don’t want to be known or branded as “bad”, we can be cautious not to be  “double-tongued” (两舌).

Harsh language can be avoided if we can control our anger.  Anger can easily make us use words we normally do not use.  That superiority complex or inferiority complex and the urge to control or bully can also be avoided if we take care and remember to be kind all the time.  So kindness and anger control are two good antidotes to number 3 of the subcategories of the 4th precept.

The “no frivolous talking” is the hardest to avoid.  I grew up learning that to be sociable is to be able to mingle into the crowd and be talkative in a dining table.  And beyond making small talks (which I think is mostly frivolous talk), one usually makes up things to talk about or say what he does not believe in or blow up a fact or hide an ugly truth.  Sometimes even agreeing to somebody which may not be what you believe but because you don’t need to feed his/her ego, that constitutes frivolous talk.  For a long time when I was in the army, I developed this ability to talk to any kind of person, be it uneducated Hokkien Ah Beng, or highly educated soldiers who speaks with a foreign accent.  I take it as a skill and not a breaking of any precept in being able to always agree and finally acceptable.  To add to the matter, I ended up enjoy “empty talking” so much, I could not stop.

And having too much socializing, when we run out of topic, gossips or rumour-mongering and rumour spreading always follows.  Now that I am in the five precepts, I actually do not mind being branded as a geek (or unsociable) and not have to do all these frivolous talking.


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