Who will teach me to write?” a reader asked the writer Annie Dillard. “The page,” she answered, “the page . . . the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly . . . the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write.” Likewise, it’s our lives that teach us to live through the very process of living, and to do this well, we must be truthful with ourselves and others. This is where sacca (Skt., satya) parami can help. The seventh of the perfections, truthfulness has the characteristic of non-deceptiveness; its function is verification according to facts, its manifestation is excellence, and its proximate cause is honesty. But here it’s important to note that “perfection” doesn’t mean flawlessness. As Dillard says, it’s our flawed excellences that will teach us about ourselves and our lives. Therefore, recognizing that we cannot leave our lives’ pages blank, as practitioners we muster our courage and our strength to make imperfect marks, if we must. And we vow to use our many foibles and failures in the process of learning the truth of things—things not as we think they should be but as they actually are. This is the perfection of truthfulness.
- “Every moment of mindfulness is a moment of truthfulness, of directed knowing. Direct and clear, true understanding is such a relief. It inspires determination in practice. And when we see the truth of how things are, our capacity for lovingkindness, for metta, increases.” —Sylvia Boorstein
- “With truthfulness . . . you start to come more from the heart, the sense that works in terms of relating to experience rather than fixing and organizing and making yourself into what you think you should be.” —Ajahn Sucitto
- Tip: Notice how truthfulness is closely associated with compassion and lovingkindness. It’s not just a clinical adherence to facts but rather is based on an honest, heartful relationship with our lived experience.
- “The perfection of truthfulness is non-deceptiveness in speech, analyzed into an abstinence, a volition, etc., accompanied by compassion and skillful means.” —Acariya Dhammapala, trans. Bhikkhu Bodhi
- “Truthful speech establishes a correspondence between our own inner being and the real nature of phenomena, allowing wisdom to rise up and fathom their real nature. Thus, much more than an ethical principle, devotion to truthful speech is a matter of taking our stand on reality rather than illusion, on the truth grasped by wisdom rather than the fantasies woven by desire.” —Bhikkhu Bodhi
- Tip: Think of truthfulness not just as the quality of speaking truth but also as the practice of devoting yourself to the clear seeing of reality. Paired with a sense of urgency, truthfulness shows us that our lives are fleeting, which means we don’t have time to waste on delusion.
This is the sixth installment of our Pocket Paramis series of quick tips to keep in mind while working with the ten perfections: generosity, ethical conduct, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, lovingkindness, and equanimity. A printable version is available here.