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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Honesty, Veracity, Equanimity: Part II

[This essay was originally posted to a blog on Weebly. In transferring it I have updated and made corrections where necessary.]


If you check your dictionary, you may find yourself thinking, "Veracity and Honesty mean the same thing." But I'm using a special definition for this one.

On January 25, 1997, it was my great pleasure to see Dr. Huston Smith give a lecture at The Learning Annex in Los Angeles. Dr. Smith is one of the great teachers of the Perennial Philosophy, a term that describes what I have adopted as my personal "religion." In that lecture, Dr. Smith used "Veracity" to mean, "Seeing things as they are," which is one of the great virtues of Buddhism.

According to Dr. Smith, a Zen monk once explained it thus:

The mind is a mirror in which we view the world. But with every experience or thought we have, we scrawl pictures on the mirror. Thus, when we look into it, we see not the world as it is, but the pictures we have drawn on the mirror of our mind. Veracity means to erase the images we have scrawled, and to see things as they are.

This cleansing of the mirror is the job of "true religion," says Dr. Smith, suspending judgment and observing closely, without preconception or prejudice. As Hamlet said, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

This idea "synced" so much with me that I made it one of my three virtues.

* * * * * * * *

In fact, in that lecture, Dr. Smith gave his own "Virtue List." His list also had three items, and he defined them this way:

  • Humility: "to see oneself as one and fully one, but not more than one"
  • Charity: "to look upon one's neighbors as one, and as much of one as oneself, putting their concerns on par with one's own"
  • Veracity: "the cultivation of a sublime objectivity which enables one to see everything exactly as it is, not skewed by one's own private interests and purposes"

Dr. Smith has chosen to express these virtues in positive terms. However, he points out in a sort of a punchline to his lecture, they are in fact the counterparts to Buddhism's "Three Poisons," thus:

Humility <--> Desire

Charity <--> Hatred

Veracity <--> Delusion

My list isn't so "neat." Still, I find it a powerful motivator.

Next post we'll look at the final virtue, Equanimity.

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