Buddhism

Path to Freedom: Right Speech

Read the new & improved version of this post: The Eightfold Path: Right Speech

Right Speech is the first practice in Ethical Conduct on the Eightfold Path and is all about communicating with compassion. Communication includes speech and all forms of writing: letters and emails, books and articles, blog posts, tweets, texts, and status updates.

How we speak or write is an extension of how we think. If our thinking is muddled or confused, our efforts to communicate will be frustrating, for us as well as others. If our thinking and speech is motivated by harmful intentions, our days will be full of arguments and hurt feelings.

Much of our communication is unconscious; our true intentions are often broadcast more clearly through our body language than through our words. Even if we consciously believe we are telling the truth, our bodies can reveal our deception and provoke unwanted conflict with others. In the name of self-expression we may want to share our opinions with anyone who will listen, but this doesn’t always lead to genuine communication.

Speak no evil
Speak no evil

Pardon?

To really communicate we must listen, to ourselves as well as to others. We must understand the true motivation and intention behind our communications, and not just shoot our mouths off because we’re angry, or troll someone because we don’t like their hair, or sulk because someone has offended us.

Right Speech is about communicating with compassion in order to minimise suffering and encourage understanding. It is generally understood to include the following:

  • No lies
  • No manipulation or doublespeak
  • No cruelty
  • No exaggeration or embellishment
  • No gossiping

Your speech and communications should be truthful and harmonious. This doesn’t mean you need to withhold your opinion or look the other way if someone else is behaving badly. But you should try as much as possible to tell the truth in a way that isn’t harmful. If what you want to say will do more harm than good, it may be better not to speak at all. Sometimes silence is the best response.

It Does Not Further

When the Buddha was asked questions about subjects that were not immediately beneficial to people, such as questions about the nature of reality or whether reincarnation was true, he would refuse to answer. Anything purely metaphysical was dismissed with:

It does not further.

In other words, it does you no good to think about this stuff since you’ll never understand it anyway. There are certain things we can’t see or understand because of the nature of reality and our consciousness, so in terms of spiritual practice, to chase after answers to these questions is a waste of time and energy. You do not need to know the answer to the ultimate questions (if they even have answers) in order to be happy, so… drop it.

Next time: Right Action

Read the new version of this series here: Eightfold Path Series

Image: speak no evil

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