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Most if not all of us had used alias, pseudonym or avatar at one time or another while interacting with others on the Internet. There may be good reasons for doing so such as the desire to protect our privacy, fear of intimidation or to criticize people in power without fear of retaliation. Of course, there could be less than noble reasons as well.

Is the use of alias, pseudonym or avatar i.e. impersonation considered breaking the 4th Buddhist precept of lying? If using an alias, pseudonym or avatar is alright then why stop at one? What is wrong with using more than one impersonating identity? If a person created multiple accounts in a forum (like the one I am writing in) and there is no explicit rule forbidding it, is it alright?

Appreciate if answers would cover the subject from a Buddhist perspective.

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  • I read that one should avoid "white" lies.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 16, 2023 at 15:29
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    Strictly perhaps we're many of us on thin ice for using pseudonyms or nicknames instead of "real names" for our main account -- but it's just a name, and conventional (online). If I could ask you to clarify the question, what does "no desire to deceive" mean do you think? Because I can scarcely imagine why I'd use a second account with a different nickname, except to "deceive" users into supposing this was different person using the other account (except perhaps in some edge-cases, like if my other account were also named "ChrisW" or something like that).
    – ChrisW
    Dec 16, 2023 at 16:26
  • @ChrisW I suppose most people treat their online account as an avatar. Personally, I draw the line against opening multiple accounts as it does feel like the intention is to deceive. It will be good if the mods feel likewise to explicitly state a rule against doing this. Altho, enforcement is an issue. From my observations, this seems to be happening, again I don't presume to understand the motive behind thus my qn. Thanks.
    – Desmon
    Dec 17, 2023 at 2:44
  • ChrisW. Nobody here is on thin ice according to Buddhism. Dec 17, 2023 at 4:03
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    @ChrisW thanks for the clarification. My first priority is to get a good answer for my question posted. Whether there is a guideline touching the same issue is incidental.
    – Desmon
    Dec 19, 2023 at 2:12

2 Answers 2

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Maybe it depends on intention.

For example, on Stack Exchange

  • A permitted/expected reasons for using a different name is for anonymity -- for example if you're a well-known user on a site, and you want to ask or answer a question without other people knowing it's "you".

    In that case perhaps it's not intention to deceive, it's just the more well-known persona keeping quiet (which isn't a lie), with the question being asked or answered by another persona (also not a lie).

  • Or there are some forbidden reasons for using several accounts:

    • When one account up-votes another, or even answers a question asked by the first
    • Or when one account is suspended, and you use another account to avoid the suspension

One of these is harmless concealment of identity; the other is "breaking rules" or "avoiding restrictions" which the site implements to try to guide the behaviour of users (e.g. "don't upvote your own posts").

Perhaps the difference is subtle but I suppose that's the answer. This answer says that the essense of the fourth precept is the intention to deceive.

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  • Thanks for the link, the answers given were of high qualities. Yes, intention is the key. If using multiple accounts with the intent to circumvent account restrictions, rules on upvoting own question or answer or to repeat upvote/downvote i.e. restrictions placed on a single account then it is an unskillful intention.
    – Desmon
    Mar 1 at 2:07
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The suttas say about false speech:

He speaks falsehood. If he is summoned to a council, to an assembly, to his relatives’ presence, to his guild, or to the court, and questioned as a witness thus: ‘So, good man, tell what you know,’ then, not knowing, he says, ‘I know,’ or knowing, he says, ‘I do not know’; not seeing, he says, ‘I see,’ or seeing, he says, ‘I do not see.’ Thus he consciously speaks falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for some trifling worldly end.

AN 10.211

In the Aṅgulimāla Sutta, the Buddha performed a feat of psychic power:

Then the Lord performed such a wonder of psychic power that the robber Aṅgulimāla, although walking with all his strength, was not able to catch up with the Lord who was walking at an ordinary pace.

Similarly, there is a story, somewhere, about a lady who was romantically in love with the Buddha therefore the Buddha performed a feat of psychic power causing his physical appearance to gradually age, which resulted in the lust of the lady dissolving.

A Mahayana webpage says:

In the Universal Gate Chapter, Bodhisattva Guanyin (Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, in Sanskrit) transformed into different manifestations in accordance with different causes and conditions. Bodhisattva Guanyin has 33 different kinds of manifestations, including taking the form of sacred entities, devas, humans, the fourfold assembly, women, young boys and girls, the eightfold assembly, and vajrapani deities. Bodhisattva Guanyin transforms into various kinds of manifestations, using skillful means to attune to different sentient beings' temperaments and needs.

Why does Bodhisattva Guanyin often manifest into a female form, if he has a myriad amount of manifestations?

In conclusion, the Buddha performing physical impersonations with psychic powers is not related to false speech because the impersonation is a physical & mental action and not a verbal action. The same applies to Bodhisattva who manifest various forms for the sake of saving sentient beings from from wrong views that lead to hell or animal birth.

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