Speaking Wisely, Listening Deeply
“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?’ ~ Buddha
These words of the Buddha spoken 2,600 years ago have as much relevance today as when he originally said them. When the Buddha began teaching he first instructed his students in generosity as a practice to open the heart through compassion, connectedness, and support among the “Four-Fold Community” of practitioners (sangha) that were developing. Monastics, monks and nuns and lay people, men and women offered mutual exchange to each other through alms given freely and learning the teachings of the Buddha.
These teachings flowed into morality practices or Sila (Pali) and were about the manifestation of care and joining together from a heartfelt place: Wise Action, Wise Speech and Wise livelihood. The Buddha emphasized in referring to ethics that in order to be happy people needed to be careful about what they say and how they behave. They need to practice restraint to tame reflexive, automatic reactions that cause harm and replace this with mindful, appreciative, respectful, caring responses that support happiness.
These instructions are included in the Eight Fold Path to Happiness a foundation for freedom. Sila or Virtue is the reflection of our deepest care, respect and love for us and others. The essence of this practice is known as “Non-harming” in which our regard for all beings is synonymous with the honoring of all life.
This is simply stated in the first of the Five Precepts found in wise action: Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine I take the precept of harmlessness; to refrain from taking life. These words demonstrate the profound inter-connectedness that is part of the fundamental and integrative teachings that run through all of the Buddha dharma. We cannot expect to have a clear mind when we sit to meditate without a clear conscience and an open spacious heart/mind. Lacking grounding in practicing speech that is truthful, kind, gentle, and necessary – that causes no-harm our meditation experience may be filled with an afflictive mind of aversion, anger, ill will, fear, worry, envy and blame.
Studying the third step on the Buddha’s Eight Fold Path is Wise Speech. The fact that the Buddha placed it as the third step shows it’s level of importance in living more skillfully with less suffering and greater well-being.
What is necessary to live in this way is having Intention, which the Buddha compared to a sapling tree that needs water, nourishment, sunlight and tending. The practice of Intention is often referred to as a seed that we plant, just as this tree, which with care will bear fruit. Our intentions or motivations when they are mindful or conscious protect us from taking unconscious actions that cause harm. We need to pause and slow down before we speak and ask ourselves why am I saying this? How will it be received? Will it further truth, kindness and is it important or necessary for my own or another’s welfare?
Just stopping the momentum of an escalated dialogue or conversation that may be leading to false speech, accusation, misunderstanding, shaming, or useless talk like gossip can make a huge difference in preventing unnecessary pain and sorrow.
Being cognizant of our intentions in speaking will allow us to naturally affirm the words that support a person’s spirit in the way “having a good bedside manner” can do when one is ill. The Golden Rule, “speak unto others as you would have them speak unto you” is a good measure of the true humanity that can be birthed in discovering our natural inclination to live in harmony as a kindred spirit, with connection, and love.