A Path of Honesty
Shayalpa Rinpoche on not lying to yourself and why that's essential to Buddhist practice.
In Buddhist practice, being honest with ourselves is the most important virtue.
By being honest with ourselves, it seems possible to find the reason why we
should strive to be a gentle person, a kind and caring being. It is impossible
to be completely compassionate unless we are willing to face the reality that is
right in front of us. Without honesty, we will find that true compassion, caring
and kindness are beyond our reach.
Why should this be the case? Let us
start by looking at the relative nature of the world around
Everything that is conditioned is subject to change. That is,
everything that is conditioned possesses no inherently permanent
characteristics. This includes the so-called "self"; it is also impermanent and
does not exist by itself, if we investigate.
However, the self does not
quite believe this.
The self is constantly working to declare its own
permanence, its own separateness from the rest of the universe. It is constantly
propagandizing on its own behalf, trying to cover things up, or reinterpret them
or deny them, so that it can continue to remain central. In other words, in
every instant, the ego has an agenda. It has standards. It wants to improve
things. That's what it tells us, anyway: it wants to make things better. It sees
a countryside, and imagines a house. Once the house has been attained, the ego
begins to feels that the house is not quite right; it needs a special closet
just for shoes, a high-speed coffeemaker, a six-car garage. The house is too
close to the neighbor's house or too far from the lake, the rooms are too small,
the kitchen too dark. This desire to improve things manifests in small ways and
larger ways, but always, at the heart of this desire, is an absence of real
Real honesty means being willing to see things as they are,
without having any motive or intention whatsoever to change them. Of course,
this is difficult. It is counterintuitive. From the time of our birth we have
divided the world into Us and Everything Else, and have habitually pursued that
which would advantage Us, leaving the Everything Else to fend for
But where has this way of thinking got us? This constant denial
of reality takes great energy. There is something unnatural about it. It does
not make us happy, since reality is always refusing to cooperate, refusing to
corroborate our propaganda. Even if we finally get what we want, we fear that we
will lose it again, and this brings us anxiety. And every moment we feel this
sadness, this frustration, this inability to make the world fit our ego's
In the end, at the time of our death, we will have to deal
once and for all with the lie of our own permanence.
True honesty also
means relating to each moment completely. When you are dishonest, you miss this
moment because you are thinking of the next moment, or the last moment or next
week's moments. And therefore you are failing to relate to this moment, to the
reality that is right in front of you. By not paying total attention to this
moment, you are disrespecting this thought, this energy, taking this moment for
granted. Now, when we ignore the present moment in this way, there are
consequences: we create karma, we create suffering. If we live this moment only
fifty percent, the fifty percent we failed to live will surely cause us
So when we say "be mindful" in this tradition, we are
simply saying: this moment is more profound than anything else on earth. We are
saying: your innate nature is primordially pure, and therefore the energy that
comes out of your primordially pure nature is more valid than anything else.
This moment is no less valid than any other moment. Whether this moment consists
of you thinking of your father, or hearing a flock of geese overhead, or feeling
irritated because you've just remembered that tax time is approaching, or
experiencing an itch on the back of your neck-whatever it is-nothing is more
valid than this moment, because what is present in this moment is nothing less
than the pure energy of the primordially pure state of your being.
you experience a moment of jealousy. Being honest means that you must not
disregard that jealous feeling. You must be completely aware of your jealousy,
and of the fact that this jealousy is simply an energy. This energy is every bit
as much "you" as any other energy that has ever been "you" or has emanated from
"you." And since this jealous energy is as valid as any other energy, you must
respect the jealous energy fully. You must pay complete attention to it. You
must not ignore it, or theorize about it or be negative towards it-you must
simply pay complete attention to it.
When you pay complete attention in
this way, the energy won't demand anything more from you. It will be totally
satisfied by the fact that you have paid attention. It will be complete. It will
not cry, it will not demand any more attention, it will not ruin the day. Having
been fully experienced, it will simply continue, unobstructedly, as
So in a sense, jealousy-or any feeling we experience-is like a
snake that has tied itself into a knot. If we respect the snake, if we are
honest with the snake, if we recognize the innate ability of the snake, if we
have confidence in the snake's ability to untie itself, then we don't need to do
anything, except to be completely present in that moment. And we will see,
within that moment, that the snake will untie itself.
The energy of
jealousy is no different from the energy associated with the pleasure of eating,
or the stab of a pin, or the feel of rain on the skin or the sound of music from
across a lake. These are all just energies in a continuum of energies, if the
awareness is present.
Fully experiencing this continuum is the practice
of real honesty.
Honesty, then, means: no fabrication, no pretense, no
foolishness. Honesty means: true sensitivity, true understanding. Honesty means:
be simple. Realize that you can live with very little-very few ideas, very few
possessions. Having very little, you will feel less inclined to make yourself
busy; you will be less dependent and will therefore have more time to be free
Look, you can never be totally, completely honest, unless
you know the full picture of everything. Those who are the most honest have
complete confidence in the total function of reality-like the Buddha himself.
Then you do not find any harm outside, since you have subjugated the real demon
within, namely dishonesty.
Not being honest creates identity. Not being
honest generates selfishness. Not being honest prevents us from living fully.
When we are not being honest, we worry: if I do this, what is in it for me, what
will happen to me, and so forth. The "me" becomes important, instead of the
Letting the moment take over is the practice of great honesty. To
let the moment take over, you have to have great confidence in your true nature:
the Buddha within you. When you find the Buddha within, everything is
celebration. You will be able to see everything outside of yourself as the
expression of the Buddha within. If something appears wrathful, it is understood
as the expression of the Buddha within. If something appears peaceful, it is
understood as the expression of the Buddha within. After all, everything is the
expression of the Buddha within. Therefore everything is your creation. Your
creation is everything.
When you understand in this way, you will feel no
need to be dishonest. You will feel no need to fight, no need to change. You
will be able to relate to things just as they are.
Now, we may ask:
doesn't this condemn us to a life of passivity? Since everything is perfect just
as it is, does this mean we must sit and watch life go by? Actually this is not
the case. Being honest, in this context, means that we are able to see things
just as they are. Therefore, any action we take will be informed by true sight.
It will be based on truth, not on delusional or wishful thinking. It will not be
biased by our concepts. Our actions, in turn, will have a natural honesty. We
will not act wastefully, or unnecessarily or out of impure intention.
you have been on a car trip in the summer, then you are familiar with the heat
waves that shimmer up from the road. Do these heat waves serve any useful
purpose? All they do is obscure the real conditions ahead of you. These heat
waves may be likened to dishonesty. As we reduce or eliminate these waves, we
see the road more clearly, in all its danger and all its beauty.
same way, as we become more honest, we experience life more fully. Seeing
reality just as it is-not judging it, categorizing it or trying to change it-we
are able to respond more completely, more compassionately and more effectively
to whatever arises. We are open to the beauty of life and the desolation of
life, to the humor, to the tragedy-to everything.
After all, what is so
scary about things just as they are? If we see things as they are, at least we
know the truth. What should frighten us is denying things as they are. Because
no matter what we may think, they still are as they are. Reality still exists in
front of us. When we deny reality, we are like someone who is thinking of
jumping across a river but refusing to look at it. We can wish all we like, and
project all we like, and deny all we like, but the river is still exactly as
wide as it is. So it makes sense to open our eyes, to see and accept the river
as it is. Then we can jump (or not jump) with full knowledge of what we are
doing, accepting total responsibility for the consequences, whatever they may
Here we might very well see the birth of complete intelligence, an
intelligence that frees us from all consequences. This is what is required to
live fearlessly. We do not become fearless because we know that nothing bad will
ever happen to us, or that we will never experience a negative emotion or feel
discomfort. True fearlessness comes from the knowledge that we will never lie to
ourselves, that we will never evade a single moment of our lives. We will be
fully present for every moment and every consequence.
Now, this sort of
honesty is partly willed. That is, we say to ourselves: Look, try to be more
honest. Or: Try not to over-conceptualize, try not to delude yourself, try to
look frankly at this situation, really consider the possibility that you are
But more importantly, the honesty we are talking about is the
natural by-product of a disciplined and energetic meditation practice. That is
to say, honesty springs forth naturally from meditation, without willing it at
all. If we meditate, we will become more honest.
This practice of
honesty-which may at first sound harrowing and difficult-is in fact the only way
to fully enjoy our lives, and be who we truly are.
The Venerable Shyalpa Rinpoche is the spiritual head of Shyalpa Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, as well as the Rangrig Yeshe Center and Dzogchen Ati Ling Centers in the United States. His root teacher is the renowned Dzogchen master Chatral Rinpoche.