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The 4th Precept and Secrecy/Privacy?

Hey!

I am a Buddhist who recently taken refuge in buddhism and vowed to take the first 6 precepts.

Everything is going fine but I’m unsure of where to draw the line with the 4th precept - not to falsify information.
I’ve never often lied or deceived anyone (maybe white lies in the past) so this isn’t a problem for me; but where is it I stand on keeping secrets or things private?

An example would be if I was planning a surprise party for someone... Am I actually breaking the precept by witholding this information? And if that person were to ask me if anything is up, how could I respond to this without lying?

Another point is that I’m training to work in education. Once I get a teaching position and students approach me with confidential information (such as bullying or problems at school ect.) how would I work with this alongside the 4th precept? It would be unethical for me to reveal sensitive information like that but how is it that I can make a comprimise to resolve this?

I have been thinking about this a lot but I cannot find a conclusion by myself.

Has anyone else been in this situation? Or have any insight?

Many Thanks!

person

Comments

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    An example would be if I was planning a surprise party for someone... Am I actually breaking the precept by witholding this information? And if that person were to ask me if anything is up, how could I respond to this without lying?

    Hello. Welcome. <3

    The precepts are guidelines. If no one is harmed (including you) then it is harmful, anti-social, ridiculous to reveal a surprise party. And that is no lie. Also do not try this at home:

    'I am a Buddhist douche bag, I have to tell the truth, your ass does look fat in that ...'

    In the words of Manjushri, 'Common sense is uncommon.' Actually I lied 🤥 Manjushri has trancended into the imaginary and silent Purelands ... (oh wait does that make them a lie ... ay caramba! ...)

    Here to help (allegedly) ... o:)

    Jono5Buddhadragon
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited June 9

    The fourth precept concerns truthfulness, i.e., not lying to yourself or others. But truthfulness isn't the same thing as keeping someone's confidence or keeping things to yourself. Moreover, the precepts are things we voluntarily take on because there's something skillful about doing so, i.e., we observe them to protect oneself, as well as others, from the results of our unskillful actions. And if we break one, we simply have to learn from our mistakes and to make an effort to do better.

    I agree with @lobster, "The precepts are guidelines. If no one is harmed (including you) then it is harmful, anti-social, ridiculous to reveal a surprise party." And if you're in a situation where you're not able to give out certain information, just say that. The precepts aren't riddles or meant to make life difficult for ourselves and others.

    Buddhadragon
  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited June 9

    OP, I"ve never heard of a precept about not withholding info. Could you provide a link?

    Also, I'm curious as to what tradition has people take 6 precepts, rather than the first 5, or was that a personal choice of your own, to add the 6th precept?

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    As far as I am aware, the fourth precept is not specifically concerned with falsifying speech:

    1. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
      I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.

    The term 'incorrect' can be interpreted to mean different things, and sure, lying may be one of them, but 'incorrect' also covers idle gossip, inappropriate language, and even inappropriate silence - for example, where a situation arises that you should perhaps have said something, but refrained from commenting, for whatever unskilful reason crossed your mind at the time.

    Surprising someone joyfully to make them happy and to celebrate an aspect of their lives, is neither lying not incorrect. It's keeping a secret for a constructive reason, and as such would never be considered against a precept.

    There is more discussion on precepts here, and specifically the 4th Precept... The frequently-addressed question of 'Lying to the Nazis about hiding Jews' is touched upon towards the end of the thread as it currently stands....

    But yes, I like @Dakini am curious as to where you got your info from, and why you would include the 6th precept, when according to most Schools, (and not including Buddhist 'Holy' Days) you would only be adhering to the first 5....

    lobsterJono5
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    With regard to privacy, if you are in a position of authority, where you will at times be required to keep a confidence, then you would be bound to do so except in any case where a law or regulation would be broken by doing so.
    If someone is being bullied they're telling you because they want your protection. You can't protect them by keeping it secret. You need to actively do something about that.

    Each situation needs to be judged on its own merit, but as a teacher, you will also be given a contract of employment, which will also include certain guidelines and conditions. These will doubtless outline the position the school takes on many sensitive issues, and as a teacher, you will be expected to conform, and abide by the rules and regulations laid down by your school.
    And you will receive training, instruction and guidance in these areas.

    Having worked as a Parent Governor in a very good school, I am sure this will be the case.

    For further general reference, this page is very helpful.

    But again, every single circumstance needs addressing with Wisdom, Skill, Compassion and Mindfulness.

    BunksTravellerlobsterJono5
  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited June 10

    OP, I"ve never heard of a precept about not withholding info. Could you provide a link?

    @federica said: As far as I am aware, the fourth precept is not specifically concerned with falsifying speech:

    1. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
      I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.

    The term 'incorrect' can be interpreted to mean different things, and sure, lying may be one of them, but 'incorrect' also covers idle gossip, inappropriate language, and even inappropriate silence - for example, where a situation arises that you should perhaps have said something, but refrained from commenting, for whatever unskilful reason crossed your mind at the time.

    Oh, yes, I get you, regarding the italicized (italics mine). That's one of my key points I like to make--that silence can be "wrong speech", if there's wrongdoing going on, for example, but no one speaks out about it. So that could fit the OP's description of "withholding information".

    But I'd still like to know what the OP had in mind. I guess another example, would be to withhold potentially lifesaving info from someone, something like that. Refraining from warning someone about a danger. But I wonder if the OP meant something like "intellectual dishonesty", where one doesn't lie, but one avoids admitting to something; one deceives by omission.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran

    I'm not sure that there is a rule that can be spelled out that following the rule results in perfect behavior. It's not a bad goal to be perfect I suppose but we are a work in progress.

  • Jono5Jono5 Wales New
    edited June 10

    I think many of you have become quite pedantic and lost within my question...

    I am already aware that the precepts are not intended to make life difficult or to be decoded as riddles. (Buddha taught this information to do exactly the opposite.)

    I’m unsure why people are commenting here about the ‘witholding information’ part as it’s clearly stating from the context that by doing this you would be lying in a round about way (Unconcerning at the moment whether the lie os for good or bad intentions.)

    I am also aware the fourth precept is entitled Incorrect Speech; but falsifying information about others and oneself is a brach under this precept, hence the hyphen used in the original post. (Notice that ‘falsifying speech’ was not capitalised either, denoting that it is not the proper name for the 4th precept.)

    So with all this cleared, I’d like to ask again:

    Where would you draw the line with the 4th precept in regards to secrecy?
    Maybe the term privacy wasn’t the correct word for me to use with the question... Maybe more about confidentiality.

    One could find it very hard in order to keep a secret and could cause them to stress.
    In other ways when keeping things confidential and/or secret you can see how the situation(s) are unfolding (primarily negativily) before your eyes, so is it worth all the secrecy in the end?

    I’ve found in the past that keeping secrets and lying to people hold a very heavy, stodgy feeling and ties you down emotionally.

    As Lobster said, I wouldn’t just say negative truths outright to people just because I’m Buddhist; but this does not mean I’d need to lie either, rather just say how I feel or think in a softer way if I am asked about anything.

    Federica has explained the educational part pretty well so I don’t need to delve into that again.

    For those of you who are wondering, I took the 6th precept as a comprimise as I’d find too difficult to take all 8 respectively, although I’d like to have done if my lifestyle allowed it. Because of my lifestyle as well, the 6th precept is only enacted through the summer (Northern Hemisphere) from June 21st - September 21st, or else it could become dangerous for my health. (I have less activity theough the summer so I cannot get exhausted as much as I normally would.)
    I have not settled on a specific school of Buddhism; but I am more partial to Theravada practices. I’ve considered myself Buddhist for a few years but it’s only recently where I’ve decided to take it more seriously and take refuge.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited June 10

    @Jono5 said:
    I think many of you have become quite pedantic and lost within my question...

    I think we've answered it pretty well actually, based on the way you phrased it...

    I am already aware that the precepts are not intended to make life difficult or to be decoded as riddles. (Buddha taught this information to do exactly the opposite.)

    How were we to know you knew?

    I’m unsure why people are commenting here about the ‘witholding information’ part as it’s clearly stating from the context that by doing this you would be lying in a round about way (Unconcerning at the moment whether the lie os for good or bad intentions.)

    Maybe we're commenting on it because in fact, it's far from clear. We tried to be comprehensive in our responses.

    I am also aware the fourth precept is entitled Incorrect Speech; but falsifying information about others and oneself is a brach under this precept, hence the hyphen used in the original post. (Notice that ‘falsifying speech’ was not capitalised either, denoting that it is not the proper name for the 4th precept.)

    And We're the pedantic ones....?

    I'm sorry, this is a means of communicating using the written medium. Simply adopting a specific Grammatical and typographical mode under the presumption that people will be able to distinguish the implied label is at best ignorant and at worst patronisingly presumptuous.
    Write your communications unambiguously, and be clear in your written intention (no capital 'I' so you're safe there. ;) )

    So with all this cleared,

    Really....?

    I’d like to ask again:

    Where would you draw the line with the 4th precept in regards to secrecy?

    Wherever the precise details of circumstance encourage me to draw it.

    Maybe the term privacy wasn’t the correct word for me to use with the question... Maybe more about confidentiality.

    Yes, I'd gathered you might have used the wrong term... I think I answered that aspect, with specific reference to your planned teaching career, in my above post...

    One could find it very hard in order to keep a secret and could cause them to stress.

    That aspect of your discussion with that particular person would be covered in your conversation with them. You can clarify both their express intention, and your professional obligation and avoid the stress.

    In other ways when keeping things confidential and/or secret you can see how the situation(s) are unfolding (primarily negativily) before your eyes, so is it worth all the secrecy in the end?

    Is what secrecy all worth it in the end?
    How can one know, unless faced with specific situations? You can only assess a situation as it unfolds. There is no set concrete answer here. How can there be, when the Precepts are not set in concrete?

    I’ve found in the past that keeping secrets and lying to people hold a very heavy, stodgy feeling and ties you down emotionally.

    That's because you're over-thinking it, and looking at it subjectively. Look at any situation, objectively. I's not always about you and what you're doing....

    As Lobster said, I wouldn’t just say negative truths outright to people just because I’m Buddhist; but this does not mean I’d need to lie either, rather just say how I feel or think in a softer way if I am asked about anything.

    Good, that's that out of the way then...

    Federica has explained the educational part pretty well so I don’t need to delve into that again.

    What a relief...

    For those of you who are wondering, I took the 6th precept as a comprimise as I’d find too difficult to take all 8 respectively, although I’d like to have done if my lifestyle allowed it.

    How can your lifestyle not allow you to take all 8?

    Because of my lifestyle as well, the 6th precept is only enacted through the summer (Northern Hemisphere) from June 21st - September 21st, or else it could become dangerous for my health. (I have less activity theough the summer so I cannot get exhausted as much as I normally would.)

    You're not making sense. what do you mean, you cannot get exhausted...?
    I live in the Northern Hemisphere - the UK to be precise. So where's the problem? It's only dangerous if you don't apply it correctly, and besides, the first 5 are focused on by laypeople, the further 3, are only held at times or days of Buddhist significance. So I'm not sure why you wouldn't be able to practise the additional precepts, like any other Buddhist in the Northern Hemisphere does... ;)

    I have not settled on a specific school of Buddhism; but I am more partial to Theravada practices. I’ve considered myself Buddhist for a few years but it’s only recently where I’ve decided to take it more seriously and take refuge.

    By all means Take Refuge. But don't take it - or yourself - too seriously.

    Lighten up!

    Buddhadragon
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @federica said:
    Lighten up!

    We haz to glow? No sweat. I'm on it ...
    Might it be a pre-ceptic practice or should that be another post?

    “Be a lamp unto yourself,” Ye olde Light Wielder
    https://www.lionsroar.com/be-a-lamp-unto-yourself-january-2014/

    Meanwhile for the fanatics
    https://dhammawiki.com/index.php/110_specific_rules_for_nuns

    Ay caramba O.o

  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited June 10

    @Jono5 said:
    Where would you draw the line with the 4th precept in regards to secrecy?

    You draw the line at what's unethical. Simply withholding information is not inherently unethical. The Buddha did that all the time.

    An example would be if I was planning a surprise party for someone... Am I actually breaking the precept by witholding this information?

    No.

    lobsterperson
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited June 10

    Again, withholding something isn't equivalent to false speech, so if there's a good reason to withhold information or keep a secret, it doesn't violate the fourth precept. Unless, of course, you really want to refrain from keeping people's confidence and never throw anyone a surprise party ever again. In which case, good luck with that. But for what it's worth, I'll just add that the Buddha also praises those who keep their friend's secrets and vice versa, so...:

    The enduring friend can be identified by four things: by telling you secrets, guarding your own secrets closely, not abandoning you in misfortune, and even dying for you. (DN 31)

    person
  • Lee82Lee82 Veteran

    I think it comes down to intent, as with other precepts. If your actions are not intended to cause harm, to yourself or other sentient beings, then you’re good to go.

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