Marc: Is telling jokes based on non-truths breaking the fourth precept against false speech? E.g. I joked that my computer’s mouse roars because it is shaped like a lion.
Shian: Some serious Buddhist teachers say that joking with untrue information is lying. It can also be frivolous speech. Both are aspects that break the spirit of mindful speech in observation of the fourth precept. There is some sense in this. E.g. If one is always joking, others will become less and less sure of whether the person is really truthful by nature. Think the story ‘The boy who cried wolf.’ I think as long as the listener clearly understands it to be a joke, and is not misled into suffering as a result of the joke, it should be okay. In fact, some jokes can be enlightening! By the way, your joke isn’t very funny… hah!
Marc: Haha, yeah… it’s actually not very funny. Previously, I told a friend who always jokes about nonsense to be careful with his joking. It’s true that those who joke too much tend to lose others’ trust. Because when he is serious, I’m unsure if he is bluffing me or not. As I saw the danger, I warned him about it.
Shian: Yes, this is a good example – of how joking in excess leads to diminishing of credibility.
Marc: But when I told him the lion joke, he exclaimed that I too was telling a lie!
Shian: This is a good example too – of how even one single joke can lead to diminishing of credibility – in being a good example! When I tell jokes, I always quickly reveal that it’s just a joke. Joking should be done skilfully too – for good reasons, such as to lighten the mood. E.g. when I joke while sharing the Dharma during my classes and in my articles, the jokes have some educational purposes! :-]
When Lying Becomes a Habit