Wise Speech: True, Gentle, Helpful.

Photo: Chris Blakeley

“Deep listening is the foundation of right speech.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

{Part three of Eightfold Path Series}

Right speech is the third aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path. (Learn about the first two aspects, right view and right intention.) This is the first of the three steps on the path address ethical behavior; the other two address right action and right livelihood.

Of course, words, thoughts and actions arise together, intertwine and support each other.

Buddha distilled his instructions on right speech down to a simple principle:

“Say what is true and useful.”

To frame it another way, in any situation, ask yourself: “Am I causing harm to myself or another with my words?” Right speech is so important that it is one of the five precepts of Buddhism (stay tuned for much more about those next week), as well as its very own step on the Eightfold Path.

So, how do we refrain from unwise speech? Here are the four classical teachings:

  1. Abstain from false speech.
  2. Do not slander others.
  3. Abstain from rude, impolite or abusive language.
  4. Do not indulge in idle talk or gossip.

Viewed from the flip side, the positive angle—ensure that your speech is true, kind, not harmful, useful and said at an appropriate time.

Don’t Lie. Do Speak Your Truth.

We usually lie out of fear or greed in order to get something that we want, something that we don’t think we can get by being honest. Instead, strive to speak with integrity. Keeping our word is part of telling the truth. Being chronically late or habitually flaky is a subtle form of lying. So are those frequent and continuous white lies that we tell ourselves and others.

Don’t Slander. Do Create Harmony through Your Speech.

As Rush Limbaugh demonstrates every day, it feels good and liberating to slander people with whom we disagree. But this is a false sense of liberation, a form of instant gratification that only serves to harm. So stop!

Don’t Harm. Do Cultivate Verbal Kindness and Compassion.

“If we want to do good, it has to be in our words to the people that we live with, and the people that we meet on the street, and the people that we interact with at the stores, and the people that we work with. If you want to stop nuclear war, pay attention to your speech, pay attention to how and when your words are connected to your heart and when words aren’t connected to your heart, and what’s going on when they’re not. Without judging it, just study it, begin to look at it.” ~ Jack Kornfield

Don’t Gossip. Just Say No to Smalltalk.

J. Krishnamurti on gossip:

“It is a form of restlessness, is it not? Like worry, it is an indication of a restless mind. Why this desire to interfere with others, to know what others are doing, saying? It is a very superficial mind that gossips, isn’t it? – an inquisitive mind which is wrongly directed. …

I think, first of all, we gossip about others because we are not sufficiently interested in the process of our own thinking and of our own action. We want to see what others are doing and perhaps, to put it kindly, to imitate others. Generally, when we gossip it is to condemn others, but, stretching it charitably, it is perhaps to imitate others. Why do we want to imitate others? Doesn’t it all indicate an extraordinary shallowness on our own part? It is an extraordinarily dull mind that wants excitement, and goes outside itself to get it. In other words gossip is a form of sensation, isn’t it?, in which we indulge. It may be a different kind of sensation, but there is always this desire to find excitement, distraction. If one really goes into this question deeply, one comes back to oneself, which shows that one is really extraordinarily shallow and seeking excitement from outside by talking about others. Catch yourself the next time you are gossiping about somebody; if you are aware of it, it will indicate an awful lot to you about yourself. Don’t cover it up by saying that you are merely inquisitive about others. It indicates restlessness, a sense of excitement, a shallowness, a lack of real, profound interest in people which has nothing to do with gossip.”

So here’s your homework, should you choose to accept it.

Vow not to gossip for a self-selected period of time. An hour? A day? A week? Do not speak about a person who isn’t there in the conversation with you—regardless of whether you’re saying something positive or negative. No speaking behind someone’s back. When you get that burning desire to say something about someone, it’s easier said than not said.

Resist the urge! Please note: this “homework” is meant to be extreme — it’s a practice to bring more mindfulness to the ways in which we speak and the frequency with which we speak about people throughout the day. Obviously it’s okay and necessary to talk about people sometimes.

Bring more mindfulness to your thoughts and words. Leave a comment and let us know how it goes…

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One thought on “Wise Speech: True, Gentle, Helpful.

  1. Pingback: eBooklet: Dharma 101 — Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path « Yoga Freedom Blog

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