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I am a Theravada Buddhist. I got selected to a government university in my country. I got a message saying “Your online registration under Additional Intake for Special Subject for the A/Y 21/22 is available at…” When I went to the website I saw a notice regarding special intake, which is not related to me. So I thought the message I got must have been about the special intake. So, I didn’t search any further. Some time went by. Later I got to know that we could make appeals to enter a university. Then, I discovered that I had actually been selected to the university I wanted to enter. By then, the time to register had passed. As a result of confusing the message I got with the special intake, I lost the chance to register on time. I also got to know that in order to appeal to enter that university it would be better if we gave a medical reason justifying our inability to register on time. I wasn’t willing to do that because saying that I couldn’t Register due to a medical reason would be a lie violating the fourth precept. However, at the time I got selected for university and missed the chance to register, I was taking treatment for OCD and secondary depression. At the time I missed this chance, I was studying in another institute and I wasn’t mainly focusing on entering a government university. Later I sent a request to register late at the university. I was told that giving a medical reason would ensure the success of the process. In my request I mentioned that I couldn’t register initially due to a shortcoming, which from the above, was the case. To give the medical reason I said that I was taking treatment for OCD and secondary depression at this time and was less concerned about entering a university. I said that I was under treatment and believed I was in a fit state to enter, therefore I asked them to grant my request. I felt guilty that I might be violating the fourth precept by lying, but nevertheless I sent the request. It worked and I got selected to the university. My question is, considering the above facts, did I violate the fourth precept by lying? I feel guilty about it at times. I would appreciate your opinion

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  • do you have some reasoning for how you might have not broken the fourth precept? this seems pretty cut-and-dry to me, however at least it was a breach of your precepts that was unlikely to cause much suffering or potential suffering
    – alexhroom
    Aug 31, 2023 at 9:12
  • I couldn’t register on time due to a shortcoming as mentioned. This is true. Also, I was receiving treatment at the time. I thought of myself as being in a fit condition to enter. I mentioned these facts which are true. Therefore I might not have violated the precept but I’m not sure. Aug 31, 2023 at 11:54

5 Answers 5

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If you lied, don’t make it a habit especially if it arises from selfish greed, fear, anger or any unskilful intentions. Therefore, examine your motives if your intention was less than noble just resolved not to do it again.

The important thing is to understand the Buddha’s intention (for this precept) which I believe is to ensure our long-lasting well-being and happiness and to prevent us from long-lasting harm and suffering. The following is based on my observations.

Although we learn to lie even as toddlers, most of us are not very good liars. But lying has its attraction, it allows us to gain something for seemingly nothing. There is also an immediate thrill (or mental reward) when people believe in our lies which is addictive. This can motivate us to become increasingly dishonest and escalate our lying behaviour.

However, there is a pain or punishment when we are caught lying. Instead of refraining from lying, some people are motivated to improve on their lying abilities to avoid getting caught and to continue being rewarded for their successful lies. But these people eventually realized that the best liars are those who believed in their own lies. So, they convince themselves with make-up storylines, hiding their true intentions and convincing others that their actions were due to some other motives instead.

All would be good if not for the problems lying created. Years ago, there was a researcher who faked the dengue virus X-ray structure. Potentially, hundreds of researchers around the globe rushed to create a drug that would attack the virus based on its elucidated X-ray structure. They tried for many months to find a cure for dengue but all failed as that structure was just a figment of someone’s imagination. Potentially, decades of man-years were wasted, not including the resources and money expended.

As mentioned, we make ourselves believe in our own lies by twisting reality and ignoring facts that don’t fit into our make-believe story. The consequence is that our mind becomes less sensitive, quick, sharp and clear to changes that are happening. If the shepherd boy realized that the first time when he cried, “Wolf” there were lots of villagers who turned up but there were less and less subsequently; he should have knew things were not the same anymore. But his mind had become clouded and less sensitive to the changing reality. Sadly, many habitual liars never understand what they are sacrificing i.e. this auto-correcting ability to reflect and analyse changes in their internal and external environment and self-correct their own behaviours and avoid adverse consequences. They cannot because:

  1. They don’t see or recognize their true intentions anymore.
  2. The make-up reality is more important than the actual one.

In my mind, amongst the five precepts, failure to refrain from lying is the most insidious because its effect does not manifest immediately unlike killing, stealing, sexual misconduct or taking intoxicants. So, a person can keep on lying for a long, long, long time. Usually, they only realized they did something wrong when their lives are badly screwed up. Unfortunately, they would have lost this auto-correcting ability by then, just when they needed it most. The Buddha knew he wouldn’t be around to constantly check on his followers, so this ability is very important if his followers want to progress in the Dharma. That’s why I think the Buddha proclaimed that deliberate lying is a grave transgression (Iti 25). With Metta.

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Technically, it was a very small lie. Your actual reason for missing the original registration deadline was not medical. Your medical condition was real, but it was not the reason you missed original registration. You know this.

Be honest with yourself. Being honest with yourself is very important. You cannot be fully self-aware if you are not honest with yourself at all times. So at least admit to yourself that you lied.

Now, let's go back in time when someone told you that specifying a medical reason would guarantee admission. You said you had an inner conflict back at that time, trying to decide if you should just write you had no good reason, or to write a tiny convenient lie. You felt guilty at that moment and you feel guilty after, at times.

Why did you decide to lie? Was it because you really wanted to get into that government university, or was it because you were afraid you'd look stupid if you tell them the truth? It's important to know your inner motives. Knowing your inner motives creates awareness. When you are aware, you never do something without knowing why you did it exactly.

When you know your inner motives you can see your attachments. If you are attached to the idea of success. Or if you are attached to what people think about you. When you see your attachments you can grow beyond them. When you grow beyond attachments you become more free and more wise. You create less bad karma. People respect you.

So being honest with yourself is a very powerful practice. Then, when you get good at it, you will see that being true to yourself, being authentic, extends to your relationships with the world. When you build your relationships with the world honestly, based on the actual truth - you are building on a strong reliable foundation. When you build on reliable foundation, it's going to be strong.

When you build on lies, even small lies, you are compromising your authentic being, your true nature. When you do that, your life will be weak and shaky. It will not have power.

Therefore, always be honest with yourself, and always be true. It's not only a precept, it is the foundation of your life. Lie is a seed of conflict, a seed of dukkha. Tathata has no conflict between representation and reality, it is as it is. The absence of deception is a part of Enlightenment.

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  • I mentioned that I couldn’t register because of a shortcoming on my part, which was the case. But yes, I wanted to enter the university. Sep 1, 2023 at 16:24
  • There's no blame. It's like not washing your hands, it's not bad by itself, it's about the problems the germs can create for you.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 1, 2023 at 16:53
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Let's assume that you violated the precept of not speaking untruth.

What comes next?

Should you feel guilt and remorse?

From The Abhidhamma in Practice by N.K.G. Mendis:

Worry (kukkucca) is remorse, brooding, and repenting over evil acts done in the past or good acts left undone.

Shame of evil (hiri) and fear of evil (ottappa) are the opposites of the second and third unwholesome mental factors, already discussed.

Shamelessness of evil (ahirika) is lack of conscience, not as a mysterious inner voice, but as an abhorrence towards evil.

Kukkucca is remorse or regret over wrongdoings in the past. It's not wholesome. You're meant to learn from your past mistakes then move on. You're not meant to cling to them.

“Mendicants, without giving up six things you can’t realize perfection. What six? Dullness, drowsiness, restlessness, remorse (kukkucca), lack of faith, and negligence. Without giving up these six things you can’t realize perfection.
AN 6.66

Hiri is shame of future wrongdoing. Ottappa is fear of future wrongdoing. Both are wholesome.

..... so too, venerable sir, for one who has faith in wholesome states, a sense of shame of wrongdoing (hiri), fear of wrongdoing (ottappa), energy, and wisdom, whether day or night comes only growth is to be expected in regard to wholesome states, not decline.
SN 16.7

Ahirika is lack of shame of future wrongdoing which is not wholesome. Ahirika is translated as "lack of conscience" below by Ven. Sujato. However, it is essentially the opposite of the shame of future wrongdoing, based on the same word hiri.

“Mendicants, without giving up six things you can’t realize the fruit of non-return. What six? Lack of faith, lack of conscience (ahirika), and lack of prudence; laziness, unmindfulness, and witlessness. Without giving up these six things you can’t realize the fruit of non-return.
AN 6.65

So kukkucca is about the past and ahirika is about the future.

We shouldn't cling to remorse over past evil deeds but we should have shame over committing future evil deeds.

It's about keeping the mind positive and joyful. To have joy, one must be free from remorse. In order to be free from remorse, we must learn from past wrongdoings and move on, while avoiding future wrongdoings.

"Skillful virtues have freedom from remorse as their purpose, Ananda, and freedom from remorse as their reward."

"And what is the purpose of freedom from remorse? What is its reward?"

"Freedom from remorse has joy as its purpose, joy as its reward."
AN 11.1

So, let go of your past wrongdoing. Don't cling to guilt and remorse. Keep your university enrollment. But learn from your mistakes and avoid repeating them in future.

Avoid telling lies, and submit your future applications before the deadline. Those are the lessons that you can learn now.

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Your mind was not clear. You did not intentionally lie. You were offered a place at university before other applicants. Now you are applying for that offer. Please take the offer. Your education is important. The Buddha praised education.

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A lie by definition is an untruth with an intention to deceive.

The information as presented is that you suffered from and were being treated for OCD and depression at the time the invitation to attend the university should have been accepted. This is also a plausible reason for having missed the deadline. Clearly, the university accepted the explanation. I will also accept your explanation at face value.

Therefore, as presented, you have not broken the fourth precept.

Yet, you have self-doubt. The truth you appear to be struggling with is perhaps one of the most difficult, being true to yourself. Buddha says, “know thyself” and “be a light to thyself”. Only you know if your medical condition was the real reason you failed to complete the acceptance in a timely manner or if it was a convenient untruth meant to deceive and only you can learn from this experience.

Under any circumstance, you appear to be treading lightly on the road to enlightenment.

Congratulations on your acceptance!

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