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Journal: Honesty, Veracity, and Equanimity

Note: This Journal entry was written on September 23, 2001, as I walked on the Old Tokaido. Take a look at that day's Logbook for more.


Yeah, I know: it sounds like a university's slogan (an alma motto?).

But it's actually a virtue list. You know, like the Ten Commandments? Or the Boy Scout Law?

So here are three ideas that I find really important, and how they relate to my current experiences.


It's hardly ever heard, but mostly what I need from you.

Jesus said it's not what goes into a man that makes him dirty, it's what comes out of him. What we do says a lot about what we are. So honesty is important. I think it often needs to be tempered by other virtues--kindness, for example--but in the final analysis it can't be sacrificed to anything.

On the page about "My Mission" is a list of rules for the pilgrim. Read these carefully:
1. Do not kill.
2. Do not steal.
3. Do not engage in inappropriate sex.
4. Do not tell lies.
5. Do not flatter others untruthfully.
6. Do not speak badly of others.
7. Do not be deceitful.
8. Do not be greedy.
9. Do not get angry.
10. Do not cause wrongful thinking by others.
Note that three of these (numbers 4, 5, and 7) are directly about honest speech, and number 2 is about honest action. Number 10 is also peripherally about honesty, though it could be about honestly encouraging others to do something wrong!

Japan is a big country for--how can I say it?--un-honesty. I don't mean it's a nation of liars. I mean that wa--harmony--is often more important than directness. It's an often-told story: The American insists on a two-week delivery date. The Japanese know that this is impossible. But instead of a direct "No way, Jose," the Japanese say something like, "Delivery on time is very important" meaning "We can't do it, so we aren't going to promise." The American hears this as "Can do." Later, then, he says he's been lied to. But all the Japanese did is avoid confrontation and maintain wa.

Another important idea is the difference between tatemae and honne. The first is the "public face"; the second is the true idea or feeling. Wearing your tatemae in public promotes wa; going around telling your true feelings would destroy it. So group unity is more important than telling your true opinion.

We do this, too. If you ask a near-stranger, "How are you?" and he begins reciting a list of troubles, you'll be horror-stricken. You usually want to hear, "Fine, thanks" and move on.

But the kind of honesty I'm talking about goes beyond such ideas of social custom. I'm talking about authenticity, about finding the life you want to lead and living it. I hope that when I die people will say, "He was true to himself. He followed his bliss." For better or for worse.


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. Dr. Huston Smith, one of the great teachers of the Perennial Philosophy (which I have adopted as my personal "religion") uses the term to mean, "Seeing things as they are," which is one of the great virtues of Buddhism.

Dr. Smith explains it like this:

Think of the mind as a mirror. In this mirror we see the world. Notice that the mind is not the world, but a reflection of it. Now, imagine that every experience we have, every thought we think, leaves its mark on the mirror. Soon we can't see the world in the mirror; we can only see it dimly through our experiences and previous thoughts.

The job of "true religion" is to clean the mirror, and see things as they really are. This means suspending judgment and observing closely, without preconception or prejudice. As Hamlet said, "There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

This is a prerequisite for behaving authentically, acting with honesty.

This trip is a microcosm of real life. On this journey, wishin' and hopin' aren't enough. I won't get to Kyoto by thinking about it, so the reality of the situation slaps me in the face daily.


Once we see things as they are, we need to accept them as they are.

In the first days of this trip, I expected to use no vehicles. Accepting the reality of my situation, I had to change that plan. But in the last weeks before I left, every time I missed a train or had to run to make a connection, I thought, "Boy! I'm glad I'm not going to to have to do this anymore!"

But I do have to. And it's a good thing. Today I arrived at a station at 10:00, and thought that the next train left at 10:12. Great! Only 12 minutes waiting. Then I realized it was at 10:20. No problem, just 8 more minutes. When the train arrived, it was a limited express. The next local train was at 10:56!

Now, how much worrying would a man have to do to make that train come earlier? Jesus said that by worrying you can't change the color of one hair. So the only thing to do is accept the situation, and wait with equanimity.

That, by the way, is one of the key elements of the Japanese personality. From trivial problems like a delayed train to major catastrophes, the response that is ingrained in the national psyche is shoganai--"it can't be helped." So dealing with the needs of travel helps me, in a small way, to get in tune with this tranquil approach to things.


These three are my practice: Honesty, Veracity, and Equanimity, all built on a foundation of that Queen of all virtues: Compassion.

Posted September 30, 2019

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