Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters


Eight Good Things to Keep in Mind: Exploring the Noble Eight-Fold Path :: Right Speech

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

AKwbuddhaatmet-thumb-350x262-14316.jpgIn this series of entries, we are exploring the Buddha’s basic teaching of the Noble Eight-Fold Path. In a previous entry, we focused on Right Effort, today, we’ll focus on Right Speech. Again, the use of the term “right” suggests the right-wrong dichotomy. This is not exactly what is meant. I prefer the term skillful or wise to describe these interfolding aspects of the Buddha’s teaching. 

So, let’s explore Wise Speech. We are linguistic creatures; language is, perhaps, the defining characteristic of being human (there are scientific explorations and debates about the language capacities of other creatures, but that’s another discussion). We think in words, sentences, and ultimately stories. We communicate to others with words — directly and indirectly in writings such as blogs, books, and poems. 
Words have power, great power. Words spoken in the confines of our minds and aloud are karma (action). That is, words are efficacious — they have effects. If we castigate ourselves, we’ll feel bad. If we castigate others, they’ll feel bad. 
This fold of the eightfold path asks us to consider the power of words and to use them wisely, skillfully. Types of speech that may not be skillful include lying, gossiping, talking for the sake of talking. 
Someone I know remembers the following aphorism from the Mickey Mouse Club: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I think the Buddha would agree!
Wise speech in the workplace encourages us to embrace integrity, authenticity, and courage in what we say, what Susan Scott calls, “fierce conversations.” These fierce conversations are skillful — they say what needs to be said and are said in a way that is respectful. Authentic communication is not necessarily “nice” or “make nice” kind of communication. It might be direct and carry information that might be difficult for the person to hear, but necessary for them to hear. 
There’s a lot of discussion now in the wake of Representative Giffords shooting about civility in political discourse. I find very little of what our politicians and pundits say to fit the definition of wise speech. They lie, distort, spin, take things out of context, promulgate bias, attack, smear, fear-monger, and prattle on. 
Television is not a source for right speech. Commercials “lie” in similar ways to politician’s. They promote viewpoints that exploit emotions and distort facts to create a sense of lack that their product fills or create a sense of desire that their product gratifies.
We “lie” to ourselves when we engage in cognitive distortions. That is, when we jump to conclusions, blow things out of proportion, take things out of context and use them as evidence for our unworthiness.
There is no lexicon for Wise Speech, no set of words that are always right. Context matters. Intent matters. Wise Speech is a process and as human beings, central to our being as a work in progress. So think about the words you use and be mindful of their effects. Remember that thoughts are speech too.
If we want civility; we need to use speech with wisdom and skill. 


  • http://www.discoverysharon.blogspot.com Sharon

    My goal is to always to determine 1) Is it kind? 2) Is it the truth? 3) Is it necessary? I frequently find there is no reason for me to speak at all.

  • M.S.Reddy

    Buddhas talk on wise speech reveals essential ingreedients of wise sppech whether it was his talk to his son Rahula or on many occassions . Vinaya Pitika amply reveals this
    The five ingreedients of wise speech are
    “In due season will I speak, not out of season.
    In truth I will speak, not in falsehood.
    Gently will I speak, not harshly.
    To his profit will I speak, not to his loss.
    With kindly intent will I speak, not in anger.”
    - “Vinaya Pitaka,” translated by F.S. Woodward

Previous Posts

Transitions Into Spring
The weather is such a great metaphor. Spring is reluctant to arrive. On a Monday it was 80 degrees and then on Wednesday it snowed several inches. The nights have continued to be below freezing and the greening landscape is shy to come forth. We are variations of energy, mood, and awareness. Unli

posted 7:39:13pm Apr. 20, 2014 | read full post »

Transitions, Attachments, and Hope
It's been a long winter here in Northern Vermont and elsewhere around the country. The mountain is still frozen and buried in snow. In the valley, the long buried grass, brown and tired, is emerging from under the receding glacier, yet my yard is still buried in snow. The calendar reads April but

posted 3:02:56pm Apr. 07, 2014 | read full post »

A Special Opportunity for Opening Your Heart in Relationship with Tara Brach
I'd like to let you know about a special opportunity with my charma friend Tara Brach who is one of the more authentic and beloved mindfulness teachers. She is author of the bestsellers Radical Acceptance and more recently, True Refuge. Please read about this special program below. It’s often

posted 8:12:05pm Mar. 26, 2014 | read full post »

Equanimity in the Face of Adversity, Controversy, and Memory
The Dalai Lama recently visited with President Obama. Not such an unusual event since they have visited before, but the Chinese Government used this as an opportunity to complain, threaten, and

posted 7:24:11pm Mar. 14, 2014 | read full post »

Sit Still
If you listen carefully to my meditation instructions, you might detect a contradiction. On the one hand, I de-emphasize the posture because I don't want people to get deterred by the physical difficulties of sitting. On the other hand, I encourage everyone to sit still and to resist the reflexive t

posted 7:48:21am Feb. 11, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.