I am currently almost done reading the book Mindfulness – A Practical Guide to Awakening by Joseph Goldstein. This book was recommended to me by a classmate from my MOOC Coursera class Buddhsim and Modern Psychology conducted by Prof Robert Wright from Princeton University which just ended yesterday. I will review both the book and the course soon. But first, I wanted to record what, according to the Buddha, is meant by Right Speech.
Now for a little background on Buddhism. Buddhism has identified four Noble Truths with humans. Simply put, the First Noble Truth states that all human will suffer, or be dissatisfied. The Second Noble Truth identifies the cause of suffering/dissatisfaction as our craving or attachment to things that are not permanent. The Third Noble Truth is the cessation of suffering by letting go of the craving. The Forth Noble Truth charts the way to the cessation of suffering, via the Noble Eightfold Path – Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
I have singled out Right Speech for the relevance in my life, not that the others are not important, but speech is something that we do almost every waking hours, and the frivolous way we conduct our speech is reminded by the author in this book.
1. Truthfulness – We are reminded that there are many false speech, from slight exaggerations, humourous untruths to falsehoods whose motivation might be self-protection or the protection of others. Not to mention deliberate lies that are spoken with the malicious intent or causing divisiveness and harm.
“Truthful speech established a correspondence between our inner being and the real nature of phenomena…Thus, much more than an ethical principle, devotion to truthful speech is a matter of taking our stand on reality rather than illusion…”
2. Slander and Gossip – Refraining from speech that is slander, gossip, and backbiting. These types of speech cause disharmony and loss of friends.
The author practised by deciding that for a period of time, he would not speak of about a third person. He discovered that a large percentage of speech was eliminated, and he stopped verbalizing his various thoughts, comments and judgement of other people.His mind became much less judgmental about himself.
Even if we loosen the parameters a bit, we can still take great care when we’re speaking of other people. Is it our intention to divide or to bring people together?
3. Emotional Tone – The emotional tone in our minds and hearts can condition and flavour the words we used. Refrain from harsh, angry, and abusive speech. The Buddha said: “One should speak such words as are gentle, soothing to the ear, loving, such words as go to the heart, are courteous, friendly, and agreeable to many.”
The intent here is not to suppress whatever feelings we may have, but to communicate them in a way that fosters connection rather than divisiveness.
4. Mindful Listening – The Buddha outlined a practice for staying mindful of how another person is addressing us, without getting caught up in our own reactivity.
“Our minds will remain unaffected, and we will utter no evil words; we shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of lovingkindness…We shall abide pervading that person with a mind imbued with loving kindness; and starting with him, we shall abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind…abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, without ill will.”
5. Useless and Frivolous Talk – the writer used one word to describe this: onomatopoeia.(dictionary: the formation of a word, as cuckoo, meow, honk, or boom, by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.) We see this kind of speech very often in social situations, where we say things just to be heard, rather than for any meaningful purpose. When we pay attention to this tendency, we find that these rather useless words are enervating and worthless.
Lastly, a well spoken speech comprises five factors: it is spoken at the proper time; what is said is true; it is spoken gently; what is said is beneficial; it is spoken with a mind of lovingkindess.
Not an easy path, but to be shown the direction is the first step to right speech.