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Is lying never good?

Friday, February 12, 2021

A friend asked me to comment on the teaching “Truth can truly set you free”, given by Ajahn Nyanamoli Thero, a Buddhist monk from Sebia, who lives in Hillside Hermitage (Sri Lanka).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAhlUvFvttI

Background

The title Ajahn (Thai language for teacher or professor) is used as a title for high-school and university teachers, and for Buddhist monks who have passed ten vassa.

Ajahn Nyanamoli Thero (Ninoslav Molnar) was born in Serbia in 1983 and at the age of twenty-two was ordained in the lineage of Venerable Ajahn Chah of the Thai Forest Tradition in England. He has been living the monastic life since 2005.

Hillside Hermitage is a small hermitage for Buddhist monks of the Theravada Forest Tradition, located near the Knuckles mountain range in central Sri Lanka. It was founded in 2005 by Ajahn Nyanamoli Thero and Venerable Thaniyo Bhikkhu, who joined him shortly afterwards. Venerable Thaniyo received his Upasampada over half a dozen of years ago in the same Forest meditation tradition of Thailand. A couple of years later, Venerable Pannaratana Bhikkhu, originally ordained by the Most Venerable Bhante Henepola Gunaratana at Bhavana Society in USA, also joined the Hillside Hermitage.

(Sources: https://www.hillsidehermitage.org and https://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=33488)

He says that lying is wrong. Lying (dishonesty, concealing) is when something is, but you want it to be different. Lying is by nature a discrepancy between truth and what you prefer it to be. You cannot deny the truth without given importance to something other than truth. Lying is an obstacle for developing wisdom. Truth, here, doesn’t mean the “full truth” but the factual presence of a self-arisen phenomenon. A little lie is as bad as a big lie.

For example when you need to go to work because you or your family need money, you can lie to yourself by saying “I don’t need to go to work” or “It’s raining, so I can’t go to work”. You start lying because the arisen thing is unpleasant. Lying is always routed in avoiding displeasure.

What about lying in order to protect other people, for example a fugitive? He says that lying is bad even in such a case. Because you try to keep from happening what has to happen. You have some impression or are convinced that reality is not good as it is. Sounds a bit surprising to a Christian, but it is indeed an interesting thought and something where Christians and Buddhists can learn from each other.

He then analyzes another example, a monk or teacher who believes to be enlightened but actually isn’t. So he teaches things, and the disciples take his teachings as truth, sometimes for generations, until it turns out that the teaching was wrong.

(This is around minute 20, I didn’t yet listen further. His English is easy to understand, but still sometimes I simply fail to recognize some word, need to skip back, listen again, try to identify what’s missing…)

My opinion

For example the brothers in Taizé were hiding Jewish fugitives during WW2, so they did lie to the authorities.

His talk reminds me the theological talk of fundamentalist evangelicals. They both talk as if everything was clear and as if they understood the truth.