Personal honesty and Buddhism

by Richard Gilliver, The Buddhist Channel, Jul 10, 2012

London, UK -- We all, in our day to day living, have those moments where we are confronted with that ‘inner voice’.  Sometimes it is working for our wellbeing, at other times it is trying to persuade us to do something we know, deep down, we shouldn’t really be contemplating.

It strikes me just how many times I hear people mention this little voice, sometimes by the person with a tough decision to make, or maybe the person giving up a bad habit, it always seems that this internal communicator has an opinion on the matter.  Just how much more then does this voice influence us when we are practicing, whether that is in our formal meditation or in our cultivating the ethics taught by the Buddha.

We have a great advantage over many traditions in Buddhism in that we are given clear instruction on how to authenticate the practice we are given.  We are not, the Buddha said, just to accept the word of the teachers of Dhamma, but we are to cross reference those instructions with both the community and the scriptures.  However the fact is that the maturing of our practice remains with our own personal effort, and if that effort is to be directed correctly it requires that we recognise the subtle tactics of that inner voice that seeks to send us down the wrong path.

So how do we balance, or observe an aspect of personal honesty when we are relying on ourselves to do the work? Surely by attempting to do so we are being both the thief and the policeman and expecting justice to be done?  I was listening recently to a talk given by ?hanissaro Bhikkhu in which he described the inner voice as a committee in which various opinions were given by the members, each trying to make themselves heard above their companions. I had some difficulty at first with this analogy but the more I thought about it the more I recognized that ‘the voice’ can actually be a series of voices, and actually if you analyze it we can take it further than just saying there is a committee, but in fact it is more refined than that, it is more akin to a government cabinet, not just trying to make sure their voice is heard but each trying to be more subtle than the other so that their opinion really counts.

As I was thinking about this the Chappana Sutta came to mind in which the Buddha gives a similar image of a man obsessed with sense pleasures being like someone who catches six animals of varying kinds and tethers them together.  Inevitably the strongest animal manages to drag the others to where it wills and the others have no choice, in their exhaustion, but to follow.  The Buddha then explains how the trained mind is like having six animals tied to a post (the post being a metaphor for mindfulness), where none of the animals have the ability to pull the others to their desired point. It is the ‘post’ in this Sutta that gives us the stability to be the policeman and the thief and having the personal honesty to bring the thief to justice.

If we can look at Mara in the same way, using that stable focus as our inner policeman, and our personal honesty as the power of justice it sheds a new light on how he works.  In the texts Mara’s power is in his deception and his subtlety, and furthermore his power is diminished by recognising him.  Of course there are different views as to ‘who’ or ‘what’ Mara is, whether Mara is an aspect of the internal or an independent being is somewhat down to interpretation, but regardless the fact remains that his power lies in getting us to deceive ourselves.  It is with the power of personal honesty when faced with that inner voice that we can recognise the deception, overcome the subtleties, and reach the highest goal the Buddha set out for us.

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