Purifying lying and divisive speech

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Part of a series of teachings given at the Winter Retreat from December 2011 to March 2012 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Wading through confusing cultural messages about lying
  • The motivation behind divisive speech
  • Visualizing the purification of speech

Vajrasattva 22: Purification of speech, part 1 (download)

22 Vajrasattva – Purification of the Speech, part 1 2-3-12

We have another time now with Vajrasattva, though Vajrasattva has never left. Maybe we have in our minds. We’ve done a lot already—we’ve done refuge, regret, purifying, and the sufferings of body. We can always take a moment to kind of enliven and refresh our practice by rejoicing in what we’ve already done.

Words of encouragement

I want to back up just a minute and say that when I do a practice for a long time over a number of years, it goes in and out of being very enlivened, and at times, like just plodding along. Often I’ll go to the text to just, well, I keep thinking of the word enliven. But really bring it back to life for myself, almost like the first time I got it. I did that to prepare for this talk.

For me Lama Yeshe has that kind of a quality in his books. He said something that really got into my heart, so I wanted to share it with you.

People who practice purification are brave.

I thought that was really sweet. I look around at the 15 of us here, and the 28 before, and there really is a kind of courage because this is not an easy thing to do. I think of the people who I did the 90 days [Vajrasattva retreat in the past] with in particular, and it’s like climbing a very big mountain. That’s a really good analogy because it takes all that it would take to climb a very big mountain. You have to have your buddies, and you get really tired, and you get really angry, and you get really discouraged, and you get really excited, and you get really joyful. You go through all of this. And you need so much equipment and you need a really good leader and a great map. It really is that kind of courage to do these kinds of practices in our hearts. So he says:

People who practice purification are brave. They think “I can face and overcome this, and I can accept it, regret it, and move forward.” Purification works.

So yes, words of encouragement from Lama Yeshe.

Purification of speech

We’re moving on now to purifying speech. There are four kinds: there’s lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, and idle talk or chatter. I’m going to try to get through two of these today. These are listed, according to Yangsi Rinpoche in his book Practicing the Path, starting in the order of the most gross harm to people.

The non-virtue of lying

We’ll start with lying. The definition of lying is telling a lie or an untruth to a specific person or about a specific subject matter with the wish to deceive. This can be verbal or (and this was interesting for me, I haven’t thought of so much) physical conduct that, “implies the lie.” We could think of an example here. Like, someone asks you something and maybe you know, but you kind of shrug and walk away. That’s saying “I don’t know.” It could be that kind of thing. It’s completed when the other person understands what you’ve said. The results of this one are pretty obviously the “result similar to the cause,” you are going to get lied to and you are going to be deceived.

That’s probably not happened to any of you in your lives, but I had to look at that because, why did I get lied to? I always think of Geshe Sopa saying, “I’m innocent,” when he is making fun of us trying to figure out why did that happen? “I’m innocent.” I especially had to think about this because this is one I tend to skip over. To be completely truthful, I just go, “Oh, mine are harsh speech and idle chatter, I know those are mine.” Now lying, that’s just, “Oh yes, very sorry for that,” and just kind of move on. I started thinking in preparing for this why was that my experience? It led me to look at one of the ways that we can dig out some of this stuff that’s not so right upon the surface. That’s to always return to your home of origin, this life, and you can say “What was going on there?”

This was an interesting thing. My pretty strict Polish Catholic mother said to me so clearly when I was about four or five years old, “I’ll always believe what you say. But the first time you lie, I’ll never believe you again. You will get a spanking. You will have Tabasco sauce put on your tongue. And you will go to hell eternally.” Well, this would cause a person to avoid not only lying, but avoid the whole topic. It was like, “Okay Mom, I don’t lie,”—and I think that’s the story I’ve told myself all along, “I don’t lie.” But then I had this other message. I’m putting these forth partly because they’re funny, and because they’re true, but also so you can see this is how you go at it. So then I thought, “What was my dad saying?” My dad was more this sort of soft, funny Irish Catholic guy, and he said, “Well, Irish people don’t lie. We just kind of exaggerate to make a story a little better.”

So I’ve got my mom and my dad. Then later my brother saying to me (or it might have been my sister, I don’t know which one) saying, “Well, if the Nazis come to the door and we’re hiding Jews, you are not going to tell them you are hiding Jews, are you?” And it was like, “No.” “Well, that’s a lie.” I’m like, “Oh man. I’m very confused about this.” So this was good, I’m digging at it, and going “Okay, that confusion, now where does that lead me?” And what I see is that it leads me to skip over it. It’s like, “I don’t do this, and I don’t need to look at it. And I don’t even know really how to look at it.” That’s what I’m playing with. I use the word ‘playing’ lightly, because it’s really heavy work I’m looking at now. Okay, I did get lied to in this life so there’s something going on there.

The other thing (and I don’t know which teacher this came from or maybe even one of the Dharma friends here) is when you get stuck on something, just break your life up into periods. Like zero to five, “What was going on about lying?” Then five to ten years old, ten to fifteen years old. Oh, now I can start seeing that at fifteen years old, sneaking cigarettes, going places that were forbidden. What was I saying when I got back home? Hmm, interesting…but I wasn’t lying—because I know where that would lead.

The non-virtue of divisive speech

Moving on, the second one is divisive speech. This is speech that divides people from one another and instigates or intensifies disharmony. This also could be interfering with people who are about to reconcile. I did a lot of divorce mediation so I really could see this one, in others, of course. Like lying about, “Oh, they’re going to get together.” Then the person doing the affair doesn’t want that to happen, and so all these kinds of rumors start going around. Interesting thing about this is what you say could be true or false, pleasant or unpleasant. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or false. (Those go back to the other problem of lying.) But it could still be divisive speech—even if it’s true and even if it’s pleasant. So I started looking at these.

Venerable Chodron, in one of her talks, pointed out that jealousy is often the main motivation for this one. You’re trying to carve people away from each other because you want them to like you and not like that other one so much. She said our self-centeredness makes us burn with jealousy, so we engage in this kind of speech. I was thinking how subtle this can get. I watched this pattern in myself. I throw it out there for you to see if you do this too, because this could be very gross divisive like, “He’s a liar, he said this, and he said that.” You’re just plain trying to divide them. If you had the motivation to help protect the person and you’re telling something true without anger, that’s different. But this motivation is this dividing them up.

I find myself doing this in a sneaky way, which I suspect is some of the lying stuff too. I’ll say something like, “You know, I really, really like ‘x’ (the person),” and then I say, “But, did you know what they did?” And then I’m off and going. It’s just a little kind of unpleasant, dinky thing, but what’s the purpose? What’s the purpose of doing that? I’m really trying to catch and look at that right now.

The results of this divisive speech are: if you look, if we look at the karmic results and those have happened to us, then we have this problem to purify. The result of this one is you’re separated from those you like, constantly, by disputes; and you are inclined to continue divisive speech. That’s a really intense one to look at. If we look at our families, are any of us separated from them by disputes? We chose to be here, but how are they taking that? Or are we separated from anybody we really love and care about by disputes? Also this environmental karmic result is you’ll be born where the ground is very rough and uneven.

Purification visualization and wise words of advice

How does Vajrasattva help us purify this one? This one is interesting because the light of Vajrasattva is this beautiful nectar that floods down. By the way, again looking at Lama Yeshe, he says this comes down at times as a gentle kind of shower internally and externally. (I was thinking how this must again be a way to enliven things.) But at times with something that is really tough, and habitual, and destructive, he says that it’s like a waterfall—it’s like a nuclear waterfall, and it’s just “swoosh.” So you know in this one you get that all down to the very soles of your feet and it comes back up as very pure, pure nectar and light and everything about the impure speech comes out of mouth, nose, eyes, and ears.

One text I read said even out of the crown chakra, although I had not seen that before. That was in Lama Yeshe’s book too. I’ve also not had Venerable Chodron describe it that way. But definitely visualize out of all the openings in the head. You just let it flow, the disturbing attitudes are just coming out and they’re this really dark liquid of any kind. This says liquid tar, and the light and nectar is filling you, and it’s just floating all this up to the top and out.

Again, in closing, what Lama Yeshe says and also Lati Rinpoche, everybody says this:

It’s very important to generate the conviction that you have actually purified this suffering.

Just keep saying that to yourself because your doubt can cause you, after all this work, to just backtrack— and there is no need for that.

In conclusion, because we have some nice snow still here, and we have been getting snow, I want to read a quote from Geshe Sopa. He was talking about how can we remove this poison from ourselves and one of the ways is recitation. And he quotes the sutra called The Tantra Requested by Subahu:

Just as the rays of the sun striking the snow melt it with irresistible brilliance, the snow of non-virtuous actions melts away when struck by the rays of the sun of—number one: ethical conduct and number two: recitation, applied diligently from the heart.

So let’s keep going.

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