Sacca Parami or the perfection of truthfulness is the seventh of the ten perfections to be practiced in Buddhism. The perfection of truthfulness follows the perfection of patience (khanti). Patience is essential to building the foundation of truthfulness.
It was said that the Buddha, when he was still a Bodhisattva, had failed every parami in his past lives, before he attained enlightenment as a Samma Sambuddha, except sacca parami.
Truthfulness in Speech
Truthfulness is practised in our daily speech. The Buddha taught right speech in the Noble Eightfold Path. But to understand what is right speech, we have to know what is wrong speech.
Wrong speech includes lying, speaking harshly, divisively, and frivolously. In order not to veer into wrong speech, we have to understand why we speak in the first place. We speak in order to communicate our intentions. We have to know what our intentions are. Are our intentions in accord with the truth and beneficial to ourselves and others?
If we come from the intention of ill will and cruelty, we form wrong speech. Also, when we speak to a sensitive person, we have to choose the right way to speak to them gently. It is important to speak the truth with compassion.
Be aware of negative emotions – they are the source of wrong speech.
What is Self-honesty?
Why does truthfulness require endurance or forbearance? That is because when we face challenges, our usual reaction is not to be truthful. When events unfold in a way due to our negligence, we may explain the situation without blaming ourselves. This is not truthfulness.
How do we perfect honesty? Most teachers teach right mindfulness as the essential practice to truthfulness. Mindfulness is being fully aware of the present moment without judgment and conceptual filters. It is called the practice of honesty in the present moment.
The perfection of truthfulness begins with self-honesty and putting aside selfish concerns to practice honesty for the benefit of others. To cultivate sacca parami, requires us to be honest about ourselves. Honesty does not try to protect our ego, serve our self-interests or confirm our biases. Therefore, be mistrustful of “facts” that fit too neatly into your worldview. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, how can we practise truthfulness?
Opening your Mind to Truth
We often “make up our minds” about the way things are based on our beliefs and close our minds off to truths. The perfection of truthfulness is beyond not telling lies. It is a lifelong practice of being open to truths and expressing truths for the benefit of all beings.
Another way of looking at truthfulness is that it is without deception to ourselves or to others. Not deceiving is not always the same as not being factual. Any good propagandist can build an argument from facts and still be deceitful. For instance, we can take words and facts out of context to give a false impression. This is particularly common in advertising and politics.
Two kinds of Truths
The Buddha taught two kinds of truths – conventional and ultimate truth. Conventional truth agrees with how we usually name things. Such as, this is a ‘human’, ‘man’, ‘woman’ and all other shapes, things, and colours we find in this world. Conventional truth depends on perception and our ability to recognise something.
Ultimate truth is an object of wisdom. Ultimate truth manifests itself from wisdom (insight). The deeper the insight, the greater the understanding. Wisdom analyses everything and sees the true nature of things.
Nibbana is an Ultimate Truth. Ultimate Truth is peace through the cessation of all kinds of sorrow and suffering. Ultimate Truth can only be reached through insight and not perception. Science for example is a worldly truth because it does not end suffering in the mind. The Four Noble Truths are truths that can overcome suffering.
Sacca in Noble Eightfold Path
Right speech includes truthfulness and teaches us to use speech to unite rather than divide others. It also includes avoiding being selfish in our speech by denigrating others to enhance ourselves. Right speech and the perfection of truthfulness are obviously closely intertwined. Without a foundation of truthfulness, the other parts of the Noble Eightfold Path can easily collapse.
If you have attended an intensive meditation retreat, you would have done it in silence. This is the best way to practise truthfulness as there is not much spoken in a retreat. But as soon as you leave the retreat, you can feel how the carefully built-up energy leaves with every (useless) word spoken. On the other hand, speaking the dhamma increases our energy.
Practising Sacca in Our Duties
A father, mother, child, wife, or husband all have responsibilities towards each other. They need to act or follow appropriate principles of proper conduct. Whatever responsibilities one has, one needs to accomplish them fully and appropriately.
Truthfulness can also be cultivated in our work. When we are determined to do a certain type of work, then we do that work fully. If we haven’t finished the work, we don’t stop. We work with our full ability to gain success in it. Sometimes, there are various obstacles but if we have set the determination to do that work, we do it no matter what the obstacles are in order to succeed.
When we speak, we speak in line with the goodness in our hearts. One practising truthfulness is not hypocritical, pretending to be one but really being another. In being honest, we learn to be a true friends to another, whether in times of happiness or in times of suffering.
One does good whether other people know it or not because there is a firm intent to doing good. Sometimes, one may have thoughts that go in the bad direction, but if one is sincere in practising goodness, then one practise patience and only head towards the good and not get into any paths that lead to a decline in the heart.