Posted by: lrrp | January 8, 2010

The Perfection of Truth (SACCA PARAMI)


Truth can be approached from two different standpoints: theoretical truth (Pariyatti Sacca), which includes the distinctions to be drawn between conventional truth and ultimate truth, the Four Noble Truths, etc.: and the practice of truth (Patipatti Sacca), which includes abstaining from wrong speech, using good speech, etc. In discussing the perfection of truth (Sacca PSrami) we will only be speaking of the practice of truth. Putting truth into practice includes right speech (VIcl Sacca), the perfecting of truth as practised by highly moral people such as the Bodhisatta (Future Buddha).
Right speech, the perfection of truth can be divided into three aspects:

I VOCAL TRUTH (Saddahapana-sacca)
II WISH-FULFILLING TRUTH (Icchapurana-sacca)

The first, vocal truth, is right speech spoken so that others believe the speaker. Wish-fulfilling
I VOCAL TRUTH (Saddahapana-sacca)
The practise of vocal truth can be illustrated by one of the lives of the Bodhisatta, as told in the Bhisa Jataka (no. 488). 1) We will only give a brief version of the story here.

Conduct of Maha-Kaficana
There was once a Brahmin young man named Maha-Kailcana who renounced the world together with his six younger brothers, a younger sister, a male and female servant, and a Friend. They lived, practising moderation, near a lake covered with lotus plants.

In the beginning, they all went out seeking food together and they were like people from the city or the villages, talking a lot. So the eldest brother said, “I will go for food by myself and gather for you all. You should stay in your respective dwellings, calmly meditating.” At this the younger brothers replied, “You are our elder brother and our teacher. It is not fitting that our teacher should go in search of food”. Nor should our sister or the maidservant go out. The eight of us who remain will take turns gathering food.” The eldest brother agreed to this.

Time went by and they were so easily contented they did not need to go far to seek food but shared the lotus plants that they gathered from the lake. The one whose turn it was divided the plants into eleven portions. He then sounded the gong and each came to receive his share, from the oldest to the youngest, starting with Maha-Kaflcana. They did not meet each other unless there was a good reason.

Due to their high morality, the throne of Sakka, king of the second deva abode, shook. Sakka sought the reason for this, and when he realized why, hewished to test whether these hermits still harboured cravings for sensual pleasures. So he hid the eldest brother’s share of food for three consecutive days. The first day the eldest brother thought that his share had been forgotten and he said nothing. The second day he remained silent too, but he concluded he was being punished for some wrong he may have committed. The third day he decided it was time to make amends so he sounded the gong in order to gather together the others. He asked why he had not received his share. The second eldest brother asked for permission to speak and then took an oath: “May he who stole your food dwell here with an attractive wife^ children, silver and gold, horses and cows, etc! (He made this oath in order to denounce taking pleasure in the five sense objects – vatthu-kamas — which lead to grief and misery.)

At this the eldest brother said, “How burdensome your oath is! But I believe you did not eat the lotus stalks. You may take your seat now.” The others said, “Oh dear, please do not make such an oath. That oath is very heavy.” In speaking this they put their hands over their ears. They did so because they were so afraid even to hear anything connected with sensual pleasures. Then the younger brother vowed, “Oh noble one, if I have stolen the share of lotus stalks, may I become a wearer of flowers, may I also become one who is smeared with sandalwood perfume from the region of Kasi 1), may I have many sons and daughters, may I become firmly attached to sensual pleasures such as these!” All i lie eight people took similar vows.

In this Jataka, the hermit leader Maha-Kancana was the Bodhisatta (Buddha-to-be) and the other ten were to become major disciples. As they had become thoroughly disgusted with sensual pleasures, they took their sacred vows boldly and others believed in them as a result. In the Bhisa Jataka (no. 488) it is not mentioned as a formal taking of an oath but simply as speaking a vow. These vows were based on truth, however, so they were verbal truth (Vaci sacca). The main idea behind each vow was, ‘ I did not steal your share of lotus stalk.” As if is spoken truthfully, this is verbal truth (Vaci sacca). The rest or the vow includes mention of the kind of things they might possess or what
might happen to them and this is in order to allay the suspicions of the others. This type of truth (sacca) ought to be called Saddahapana sacca. One should keep in mind that from the time of King Mahasammata 2) up to the present, all vows have been Saddahapana sacca.

In the beginning vows were all verbal and people were said to “make a vow” or “swear an oath”. Later, vows were written down and people were said to “take a vow on the text” as the vow was not only spoken but was done so while holding the text or by placing it on the head. This was commonly called “holding the text” or “being forced to swear an oath” when the person making the vow was ordered to do so. Vows of this sort (for example, “It is true” or “If it is not true may I become such and such”) are Saddahapana-vacT-sacca. Curses Utterances not based on truth (sacca), but rather spoken in order to harm others are called curses.

Here is an example:

Conduct of the Hermit Narada
Once there ruled in Benares a king named Brahmadatta. At that time there was a hermit by the name of Devala who dwelled in the Himalayas. He went to Benares for food and he always took shelter in the hut of a potter who lived near the town gate. One day when the hermit was staying in the hut, another hermit, named Narada, came and was allowed to take shelter there. When they went to bed, Narada carefully noted where Devala was sleeping and where the door was situated. Devala, however, first laid down on his bed and then moved so that he was sleeping lying on the way leading to the door.
Now when NSrada went downstairs during the night, he accidentally stepped on Devala’s hair.

‘Who stepped on my hair?” Asked Devala.
“Oh sir, I stepped on your hair as I did not realize you were lying here,” replied Na*rada politely.
But Devala retorted, “You wicked man! It is not proper that you who just came in from the jungle should step on my hair.” So Narada begged Devala’s pardon, “Sir, I accidentally stepped on your hair as I did not know you were sleeping just here. I am very sorry, sir . And he went out with Devala still grumbling at him.
Thinking Narada might step on him again, Devala changed his position. When Narada came back up, he thought he would avoid stepping on Devala’s hair by entering where Devala’s feet should be, and as it turned out he accidentally stepped on Devala’s throat.
“Who stepped on my throat!” Devala shouted.
“Oh sir, it was me,” Narada replied.
“Wicked man! First you step on my hair and now you step on my throat! I am going to lay a curse on you.”
“Oh sir, I have not done anything wrong. The first time I was mistaken because I did not know where you were sleeping. And now, although I entered in such a way that 1 thought I would make no mistake I stepped on you. I am very sorry. Please be patient with me, sir.”
But in spite of his request, Devala insisted he was going to curse Narada. Again Narada begged him not to. Nevertheless, Devala made his curse, “May your head split into seven pieces as soon as the sun rises tomorrow!”

Narada replied, “Very well sir, you have cursed me even though I begged your pardon and explained that I was not guilty of any bad intentions. I therefore request that the curse fall on the head of the one who is guilty – may his head split in seven.” Narada spoke thus because he did not want to curse Devala out of anger as Devala had cursed him. He wanted rather to frighten Devala as he had incurred guilt and it was he who should admit he was in the wrong. Narada was a powerful hermit, so powerful he could see the events of the past forty world cycles and those of the coming forty world cycles. NSrada considered in his mind through his miraculous powers who would be cursed, and seeing that it would be Devala. he stopped the sun from rising out of consideration for Devala.

When the sun did not rise at the right time, the citizens of the town went to the gate of the palace and cried, “Oh king! The sun has not risen on your realm! Please do something to make the sun rise!” So the king considered whether he had done anything wrong, but he did not see any immoral act committed by himself. Therefore he assumed there was some special reason why the sun did not rise. Thinking that the cause might be a dispute among hermits, he ordered his men to make inquiries. When the case of the two hermits was reported back to him, he went with his followers to where they were. Following Narada’s advice, the king made Devala go into a lake with a big lump of earth on his head. Then Narada allowed the sun to rise. When it rose, the lump of earth split into seven pieces and Devala dived under water to be free from danger.1)

In this story, Devala’s words, “May your head split into seven pieces as soon as the sun rises,” were not for Narada’s benefit but were intended rather to harm him. They were spoken in anger and were nothing more than a curse. They have nothing of a vow about them. Curses similar to the above can be found in inscriptions. For example, “May he who destroys this which was established for ray merit be crushed into powder throughout seven generations. May he be rooted like a tree stump In the lowest hell, Avici, suffering there for a long time, without being liberated from it even though Buddhas appear in the various worlds and come to help him be liberated.2)” Curses such as these are never uttered by Bodhisattas. They are like the railings of the narrow minded who stir up the dislike of others. In fact,_ such curses are evil verbal actions (Pahrusa-vaca, harsh speech).

Saddahapana sacca has been explained above in connection with the Bhisa_ J3taka. It may also be illustrated by the Maha-Sutosama Jataka (no. 537).3) We wish to give a brief extract here:
Conduct of Mahl-Sutasoma

King Maha-Sutosama asked a favor of the man-eating robber Porisada, “I would like to go back to my country for a while. The reason is that on my way to Migacira park I met a Brahmin named Nanda who told me he would tell me four verses that are worth a hundred pieces of money. So I replied I would listen to the verses when I returned from my journey. Allow me to keep my promise and I will surely come back to you afterwards.” But Porisada refused, saying, “You speak as if you would go back to the king of death after you had escaped from him. I do not believe you.”

So the king said, “Porisada, my friend. It is better to die moral than to live through immorality. False speech will not prevent one from falling into the flames of the four lower regions when he dies. Porisada, you may believe someone who talks about a wind so strong it lifts up high mountains, or about the sun and moon falling to the ground, or about rivers that flow backwards, but you should not believe it if someone tells you King Maha-Sutasoma utters wrong speech. My friend, you may even believe it if someone tells you the sky has split in two or the ocean has dried up or that Mount Meru has broken off, but don’t believe it if someone tells you King Maha-Sutasoma has lied.”

Even after these words Porisada was suspicious. (Here, what King Maha-Sutasoma says is not exactly a vow or oath, it is simply a way to persuade Porisada that what he said was true).

Since Porisada still did not believe him, King Maha-Sutasoma decided to take an oath, so he said, “Porisada, my friend, put me down from your shoulders. I will make you believe me by taking an oath.”
Porisada let the Bodhisatta down off his shoulders and the king said, “My friend, Porisada, if you
want me to take an oath, I will swear by my sword, thus: If I do not come back to you, may I never be born in a king’s family in future lives!”

Porisada knew that King Maha-Sutasoma had taken an oath rarely sworn to by ordinary kings. And he felt that it made no difference if Maha-Sutasoma came back to him or not. As he himself was a king, he could offer blood from his arm to the deity of the banyan tree, and he allowed Maha-Sutasoma to go to his country.

King Maha-Sutasoma’s verbal truth was also an oath which was taken in order_to make Porisada believe him, so it was Suddahapana sacca. Such truth (sacca) is Parama sacca (highest truth) which is developed by Bodhisattas.

(A Buddhist Monk’s Notebook)


‘Sacca’ is truthfulness or keeping one’s promise. Here Sacca does not mean simply telling the truth but fulfilling one’s engagement or keeping one’s word, assurance or promise even at the point of death. Bodhisattas who follow this pre-requisite for the Enlightenment observe ‘Sacca’ as their guiding principle.

Not only do they refrain from speaking untruth, but they also avoid the other evil speeches such as slandering, harsh words and frivolous talk. They never speak slandering words which are harmful and liable to break the friendship, unity and harmony of others. They use words which are polite, gentle, kind, sincere and pleasant to all beings. They never engage in profitless frivolous talk.

Bodhisattas never break their promise under any circumstances. They would not make a promise if they are not able to keep it. Before they make a promise, they consider care-fully whether they can keep it or not. They do not come into hasty decision to make a promise under the influence of others or to show favour or disfavour to others.

Unlike ordinary people, the Bodhisattas never speak against their consciousness. As they speak, they act accordingly; as they act, they speak accordingly. Therefore there is complete harmony in their words and actions.

Our Bodhisatta, when he was Sumedha Pandit, decided to practise this perfection, advising himself in this way: “O, Sumedha, from now onwards, you must fulfil the Perfection cf Truth as well. Even though the thunderbolt may descend upon your head, you must not utter a conscious lie for the sake of wealth and so forth, being actuated by desire.”


Born as King Sutasoma, the Bodhisatta was once ruling his kingdom righteously. At that time there was a man-eater named Porisada. He was formerly a king, but as he fell into the bad habit of eating human flesh, he was forced to leave his kingdom. Under a banyan tree in a forest he lived feasting on human flesh as he liked.

One day a thorn pricked his foot and he suffered long, acute pain from the wound. Thus, in this state of agony, he made a vow to the tree-deity that, if his wound would heal, he would pay back by making a grand sacrifice of a hundred Kings. Due to his fasting and resting, the wound healed in a very short time. Foolishly, he thought that his cure was due to the kindness of the tree-nymph.

In accordance with his vow, he succeeded in seizing a hundred and one kings and made all arrangements for the great sacrifice. The deity resented this human sacrifice and in order to prevent it, he appeared before Porisada and asked him to get King Sutasoma also as a sacrifice.

Porisada lost no time in capturing the wanted king. He went to the pond where the king bathed and hid himself. As the king had finished his bath, Porisada rushed forth whirling a sword above his head and proclaiming his name. At once he carried away the king on his shoulders.

At this moment, the king was not frightened at all but he felt sorry indeed for not being able to keep his appointment with a Brahmin who desired to recite him four advisory verses. As the king was going to have his bath in the park, he sent the learned Brahmin to the city and promised that he would come and hear him after his bath.

So King Sutasoma told Porisada of his promise made to the Brahmin and begged him for a short leave. Porisada allowed him to go on condition that he would return ready for the sacrifice. Porisada had no desire to kill him because they both had been fellow-students in their childhood and he had every reason to be grateful to him. He allowed him to go without expecting his return.

King Sutasoma returned to the palace, heard the words of counsel from the Brahmin and gave him presents. Then the noble king summoned all his courtiers and mentioned about his promise to Porisada. They advised him not to go as he would surely be killed. But the Bodhisatta was a man of principles. He handed over his kingdom and left the palace to keep his promise in spite of the weeping and lamentation of his relatives and subjects.

As Porisada was preparing a fire to offer his human sacrifice, King Sutasoma arrived on the scene and stood before him. Porisada was surprised to see him. He told him: “How foolish are you? I released you, thinking that you would not come. You know well that you would be killed. Why did you come back?”

“O Porisada, in your opinion I may have done a foolish act. But I value my word. I promised to come and I have come now. I prize my promise even more than my life. You may sacrifice me.” Porisada was very much pleased on hearing the speech of his old friend. He yearned to hear more from him and he sat at his feet listening to the advice of the Bodhisatta.

The Bodhisatta preached to him. His innate goodness eame to the surface and he became a changed person after the preaching. Porisada gave up his proposed sacrifice and released all the hundred and one kings and sent them to their respective kingdoms. He himself returned to his kingdom as a reformed king to lead a righteous life.

After His Enlightenment the Buddha said: “Fulfilling my truthful word, I sacrificed my life and saved one hundred and one warrior kings. This is my Perfection of Truthfulness.”


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