By Venerable Uttamo Thera（尊者 鄔達摩 長老）
This is a very, very important topic. Even most people not take it seriously and not think about it carefully. It is a very wide and profound subject and not a small thing. We use words and speech nearly all times. Thinking is also inner chattering. The speech also a connection with the ten unwholesome and ten wholesome dhammas (see on the topic of well-mastered disciplines). Therefore we should abstain from speech connection with the ten unwholesome dhammas, and it should develop the kinds of speech connection with the ten wholesome dhammas. It is impossible without speech and cannot escape it from hearing.
There are four kinds of wrong speech and four kinds of right speech. The four kinds of wrong speech include in the ten unwholesome dhammas. These are lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, and idle chatter. The four kinds of right speech include in the ten wholesome dhammas. These are abstaining from the four wrong speeches: speaking only true; to unite the discordant, to encourage the united and to utter speech that makes for harmony; speak gentle, courteous and agreeable words; to speak at the right time, in accordance with facts, what is useful, moderate and full of sense.
The four kinds of right speech included in the Noble Eightfold Path as right speech. Speech – good or bad has power. Therefore we must take them seriously. The results of wrong or right speech will follow living beings in the round of existence even a Buddha could not escape from it.
The mouth is for speech and eating. Man needs to communicate with each other, so we use it all the times. If we are not deaf cannot escape from hearing. Therefore man invented languages and letters. All our human civilization is depending on it.
Even though it is very important, we do not take it seriously. Therefore we use it improperly, unwisely and harmful to oneself and others. Wholesome speech and skillful speech bring harmony, happiness, and peace, and even leading to the ending of dukkha. One of the factors for the realization of Dhamma is listening Dhamma. In the Chinese language, the explanation of the Chinese letter character mouth (口 = kho) is an opening where speech comes out, and foods go in. Whatever coming out and going in is very important for everyone.
We can create a lot of negative kammas and problems with it, and also can create a lot of positive kammas and benefit with it. It depends on how you use it. It could be harmful to oneself and others, and also could benefit for oneself and others. If we observe the world today, there are a lot of unwholesome things going on for the mouth. Polluted media and food poisonings are very harmful to the mind and physical body. Most media are talking about the development and promoting of greed, hatred, and delusion; using science and technology to poison food chains (chemicals, pesticides, etc.). Some politicians are using the wrong speech and nasty tricks to get elected. How can the citizens rely on these leaders and their governments?
In the Buddha's teachings, we can study and learn a lot on wrong speech and right speech. The Buddha was the most skillful person in using speech. We should learn from him. There is a lot for reflection and contemplation on this subject. I want to quote some of them here. In the Sutta Nipāta, the Buddha gave a discourse on Well Spoken Words (Subhāsita Sutta, Sn 3.3 Subhāsitasuttaṃ ).
He distinguished four poorly spoken words and four well-spoken words.
Then Ven. Vangisa (the arahant poet) praised the Buddha with the attractive verses: Speak only not cause us pain and not hurt each other. These are truly well-spoken words. Use pleasant speech which makes people glad, and not resorting to evil speech. These are pleasant speech. The speech, the Awaken one (i.e., the Buddha) speaks is leading to Nibbāna, putting an end to dukkha. This is the only surpassed or worthiest speech. Therefore we should take care of the wholesome and friendly qualities constantly watch the movements of our minds and speeches.
In the Discourse to Prince Abhaya (Abhaya-rāja-kumāra Sutta, Majjima Nikāya, MN.58 Abhayarājakumārasuttaṃ) the Buddha divided the speeches into six types. In the discourse, the Buddha gave the factors that went into deciding what was and was not worth saying. The main factors were three: a statement was untrue or true; unbeneficial or beneficial, and not pleasing or pleasing to others. The Buddha only spoke what was true and beneficial. He would look for the time to speak these things whether or not it was pleasing to others.
With the main three factors and speeches can divide into six types:
The Buddha spoke only what was true and beneficial. It might be pleased or not pleasing to others. But he would look for the appropriate time to speak them. So the Buddha spoke only (3) and (6) types of speech. One of the attributes of the Buddha is sugato – the well-spoken person (sugato also has other meanings). The first quality of the Dhamma is svākkhāta – well expounded, that is good in the beginning, in the middle and the end.
Therefore the Buddha was the well-spoken person. His speeches were educating and training to become a worthy person. The speech the Buddha spoke for attaining Nibbāna that made an end to sufferings (dukkha). Therefore it was unsurpassed. The Buddha himself encouraged people for it. Therefore among the speeches, the speech on the Four Noble Truths is the most blessing and the best protection.
Last I want to quote a sutta and the topics of conversation in the Aṅguttara Nikāya. It is very important because we converse with people nearly all times. With conversations, human beings create a lot of wholesome and unwholesome kammas in all walks of life from the family level to government level. Therefore we should take it very seriously. In the sutta, the Buddha reminded it to the monks. But it also relates to lay-people. If everyone follows the instruction will bring happiness and peace in life and not pollute the mind, which is the source.
Topics of Conversation (Aṅguttara Nikāya)
The Buddha was staying in Sāvatthi, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. One day a large number of monks, on returning from alms-round, gathered in the meeting hall and were engaged in many kinds of bestial topics of conversation: conversation about kings, robbers, and ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles, foods and drink, clothing, furniture, garlands and scents; relatives, vehicles, villages, towns, cities, countryside, women and heroes; the gossip of the street and well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity; the creation of the world and the sea; talks of whether things exist or not.
The Buddha emerging from his seclusion in the late afternoon, went to the meeting hall. He asked the monks what they were talking about. They mentioned their conversation, and he told them that it was not right for monks to have these kinds of conversation. He taught them the proper conversation.
There are ten topics of proper conversation. Talk on modesty, contentment, seclusion, non-entanglements, arousing persistence, virtue, concentration, discernment, release, and the knowledge of vision and release. If you were to engage repeatedly in these ten topics of conversation, would outshine even the Sun and the Moon, so mighty, so powerful to say nothing of the wanderers of other sects.
We are not only engaging in conversation with others but also nowadays listening to a lot of them from the media; such as radio, movie, internet, etc. Most of us will never think that these media are teaching and educating us all the time. Why are there a lot of youth problems in family, school, and societies? Because they were educated by some media. If parents are not controlling and leading them in the right direction, most problems will never be solved. Instead, their minds will become more polluted. Speech is so important that it can lead to problems, disharmony, violence and wars in politics, economics, nationalism, racism, religion, etc. These are ill speech, hate speech, and others.
The speech also can lead to harmony, peace, love, compassion, and enlightenment. There are eight causes for wrong views to arise: Two of the causes are very important, and the Buddha mentioned it very often in some of his discourses. These are: listening to wrong talks/ teachings and unwise attention (ayonisomanasikāra). Right view also based on listening to the right talks/ teachings and wise attention. In the Noble Eightfold Path, right view comes first, because it will lead to the right directions. Therefore the wrong view also will lead to the wrong directions.
Therefore the outcomes of the wrong view are bad consequences and right views are good consequences. Topics on speech are wide and profound. People are using it every day in the life. And if we can use it skillfully, then it is a better world to live. To understand more on speech, it needs to study the suttas. The Buddha was called Satthā deva-manussānaṁ – Teacher of gods and humans. Therefore well-spoken words are real protection and blessing.
revised on 2019-12-03; cited from https://oba.org.tw/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=4702&p=36818#p36818 (posted on 2019-09-26)
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