This text formed the basis of a dharma talk for the day of mindfulness on right speech on May 11, 2019
Excerpts from Chapter 12
“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness”……
The classical explanation of Right Speech is:
(1) Speaking truthfully. When something is green, we say it is green, and not purple.
(2) Not speaking with a forked tongue. We don’t say one thing to one person and something else to another. Of course, we can describe the truth in different ways to help different listeners understand our meaning, but we must always be loyal to the truth.
(3) Not speaking cruelly. We don’t shout, slander, curse, encourage suffering, or create hatred. Even those who have a good heart and don’t want to hurt others sometimes allow toxic words to escape from their lips. In our mind are seeds of Buddha and also many fetters or internal formations (samyojana). When we say something poisonous, it is usually because of our habit energies. Our words are very powerful. They can give someone a complex, take away their purpose in life, or even drive them to suicide. We must not forget this. (4) Not exaggerating or embellishing. We don’t dramatize unnecessarily, making things sound better, worse, or more extreme than they actually are. If someone is a little irritated, we don’t say that he is furious. The practice of Right Speech is to try to change our habits so that our speech arises from the seed of Buddha that is in us, and not from our unresolved, unwholesome seeds.
Right Speech is based on Right Thinking. Speech is the way for our thinking to express itself aloud. Our thoughts are no longer our private possessions. We give earphones to others and allow them to hear the audiotape that is playing in our mind. Of course, there are things we think but do not want to say, and one part of our consciousness has to play the role of editor……..
Sometimes, when there are blocks of suffering in us, they may manifest as speech (or actions) without going through the medium of thought. Our suffering has built up and can no longer be repressed, especially when we have not been practicing Right Mindfulness. Expressing our suffering can harm us and other people as well, but when we don’t practice Right Mindfulness, we may not know what is building up inside us. Then we say or write things we did not want to say, and we don’t know where our words came from. We had no intention of saying something that could hurt others, yet we say such words. We have every intention of saying only words that bring about reconciliation and forgiveness, but then we say something very unkind. To water seeds of peace in ourselves, we have to practice Right Mindfulness while walking, sitting, standing, and so on. With Right Mindfulness, we see clearly all of our thoughts and feelings and know whether this or that thought is harming or helping us. When our thoughts leave our mind in the form of speech, if Right Mindfulness continues to accompany them, we know what we are saying and whether it is useful or creating problems.
Deep listening is at the foundation of Right Speech. If we cannot listen mindfully, we cannot practice Right Speech. No matter what we say, it will not be mindful, because we’ll be speaking only our own ideas and not in response to the other person. In the Lotus Sutra, we are advised to look and listen with the eyes of compassion. Compassionate listening brings about healing. When someone listens to us this way, we feel some relief right away. A good therapist always practices deep, compassionate listening. We have to learn to do the same in order to heal the people we love and restore communication with them.
When communication is cut off, we all suffer. When no one listens to us or understands us, we become like a bomb ready to explode. Restoring communication is an urgent task. Sometimes only ten minutes of deep listening can transform us and bring a smile back to our lips. The Bodhisattva Kwan Yin is the one who hears the cries of the world. She has the quality of listening deeply, without judging or reacting. When we listen with our whole being, we can defuse a lot of bombs. If the other person feels that we are critical of what they are saying, their suffering will not be relieved. When psychotherapists practice Right Listening, their patients have the courage to say things they have never been able to tell anyone before. Deep listening nourishes both speaker and listener.
Many of us have lost our capacity for listening and using loving speech in our families……..
That is why practicing the Fourth Mindfulness Training is a great gift………
….. You have to practice breathing mindfully in and out so that compassion always stays with you. “I am listening to him not only because I want to know what is inside him or to give him advice. I am listening to him just because I want to relieve his suffering.” That is called compassionate listening. You have to listen in such a way that compassion remains with you the whole time you are listening. That is the art. If halfway through listening irritation or anger comes up, then you cannot continue to listen. You have to practice in such a way that every time the energy of irritation and anger comes up, you can breathe in and out mindfully and continue to hold compassion within you. It is with compassion that you can listen to another. No matter what he says, even if there is a lot of wrong information and injustice in his way of seeing things, even if he condemns or blames you, continue to sit very quietly breathing in and out…..
….. As our meditation practice deepens, we are much less caught in words. Capable of practicing silence, we are free as a bird, in touch with the essence of things. The founder of one of the schools of Vietnamese Zen Buddhism wrote, “Don’t ask me anything else. My essence is wordless.” To practice mindfulness of speech, sometimes we have to practice silence. Then we can look deeply to see what our views are and what internal knots give rise to our thinking. Silence is a time for looking deeply.