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
Why should this be the case? Let us start by looking at
the relative nature of the world around us.
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
However, the self does not quite believe
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 itself.
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.
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 difficulties
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.
Say 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 energy.
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 and
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 moment.
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
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
If 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.
In the 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 be.
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
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.
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
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.
From "A Path of
Honesty" by Venerable Shyalpa Rinpoche. Shambhala Sun, May