Modesty and Truthfulness

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

Modesty and Truthfulness

One of the dangers that can come from shame and honor in admirable friendship is that, out of a desire to look good in your friends’ eyes, you might want to show off your good qualities. To counteract this tendency, though, the Buddha warned that if you do, your good qualities immediately get ruined. One of the signs of integrity, he said, is modesty—to speak as little as possible of your own good qualities and never to exalt yourself over others who lack them.

The other danger of shame and honor is that you might want to hide your mistakes from your admirable friends. This is why the Buddha stressed that, if you’ve made mistakes in the past but have now learned not to repeat them, you brighten the world like the moon when released from a cloud.

And it’s also why the Buddha prefaced his instructions to Rāhula with a teaching on truthfulness, letting him know that making a mistake is much less shameful than making a mistake and not admitting it. If you hide your faults, you not only lose the trust of your friends, but you also close the way to making progress on the path.

Or even worse: In the Buddha’s words, if a person feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there’s no evil that that person won’t do.

This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the book, First Things First, (pdf) p.18.