revised on 2021-03-16
By Venerable Uttamo Thera（尊者 鄔達摩 長老）
The commentary explained the blessing of well spoken words (speech) with the Subhāsita Sutta (Well Spoken, SN. 8.5 Subhāsitasuttaṃ). Speech possessing well spoken had four factors which was described by the Buddha. These were: well spoken speech Dhamma, pleasant speech and true speech; the opposites were bad spoken. The commentary emphasized here well spoken speech as teaching the Dhamma to others. It seemed to be quite narrow view. The world today is not the very one anymore like over 2500 years ago, the time of the Buddha. Nowadays human mind is more defiled, the life style and societies are more complicated. To solve human problems we need to use any skillful means including worldly knowledge. Any ways, any speech, any dialogue, discussion and talks which solve the tension, leading to peace and harmony are well spoken.
Using Buddha Dhamma only is very limited because not all human beings are mature enough to understand and accept it. We should never forget that there are more fools than wise. Dialogue between inter-faiths is a good example to solve problems. We should not lean to any side and find the common ground which unite and harmonize religions and people. For every true religion, the basic common ground is not to do evil and to do good. Any religion, politics economics, culture, science and technology which is not based in these common ground is unsustainable and leading to problems, instability, disaster, destruction and sufferings. The human world will be in problems and chaos if man’s common ground and standard are to do evil and not to do good. Now we are in this direction. Here I do not want to give many examples in the situations around the world today and most people already know and see it.
World leaders, politicians, political parties even use unwholesome speech to get elected, they are in competition for power and wealth. Leaders, governments and citizens are like the relationship between Parents and Children in a family. The children will not be good without good parents and a lot of problems will arise in family life.
Most people, including Buddhists who do not have the knowledge on the Buddha’s teachings never take it serious and importance of speech and their results in this and future life to come. Therefore, I will retell one of the stories which happened in the time of the Buddha. By his true story we can know how and why speech is so important to all of us. This was the story of Kokālika monk.
We can find his story in Saṁyutta Nikāya, Aṅguttara Nikāya and Suttanipāta [SnA. ii. 473 (Sn. 3-10); AN. 10.89 Kokālikasuttaṃ (A. v. 171-4); also SN. 6.10 Kokālikasuttaṃ (S. i. 149ff)]. He was the son of a financier and stayed in a monastery built by his father.
At the time, the Buddha was dwelling at Sāvatthi. The two chief disciples Sāriputta and Mahā-Moggallāna with their 500 monks were wandering together in the countryside. Near the rain retreat Sāriputta and Mahā-Moggallāna separated with the other monks and both arrived at the city where Kokālika lived. They stayed the rain retreat there and asked Kokālika not to mention about them to the lay supporters. He agreed and after the rain retreat next early morning he went to the city and announced to the people that the two chief disciples were with him.
Therefore, the lay community brought many good things for the chief disciples as offering and placed it in front of Kokālika. He knew that the chief disciples were very frugal and would not accept the offerings obtained by suggestion. And then they would tell the people to give it to the resident monk. Kokālika informed this to the elders but Sāriputta and Mahā-Moggallāna did not accept them because they knew it was obtained by suggestive speech. They also did not tell the people to give it to the resident monk because it was not suitable for any monk for use. Without saying anything, they left the monastery. Kokālika was left behind alone with anger and had strong grudge against them.
After the rain retreat Sāriputta and Mahā-Moggallāna paid a visit to the Buddha. After that the chief disciples with 500 monks wandered on tour and returned back at the place where Kokālika was. The lay supporters recognized the elders and gave a big offerings to the monks. The chief disciples accepted them and gave it to the Saṅgha (because it was obtained in lawful way). Kokālika saw this and went to the elders and accused them of evil monks with evil desires making a false display of excellent qualities. He himself went to the Buddha and informed him that the elders had evil desires and had come under the control of evil desires. The Buddha exhorted him as saying the elders were virtuous and he should not say in this way. But Kokālika’s hatred was so strong to the elders that he did not listen to the Buddha and accused of Sāriputta and Mahā-Moggallāna in three times.
After he left the Buddha and out of his sight, Kokālika’s body became covered with boils the size of mustard seeds. It grew into bigger and bigger, bursting open, exuding pus and blood. Kokālika died with this kammic illness and his resentment at Sāriputta and Mahā-Moggallāna and then reborn in the red-lotus hell.
The arahant bhikkhunī Ambapālī was a high class prostitute before. In her past life, she was also a bhikkhunī during the Buddha Kassapa’s Sāsana. At that time she addressed an old arahant bhikkhunī as a prostitute and born as prostitutes for many lives until her last life as Ambapālī.
Mahā-Moggallāna was a farmer during the Buddha Kassapa’s time. One day he was looking for his oxen in the forest and met a monk who was getting lost in the forest. So this monk asked him the way but he was in rush and impatient. Therefore, he made the remark to the monk as talkative and only salves were like this; so the monk must be a slave. Because of this unwholesome speech, he later was born as a son to a slave woman and named him Bījaka and become a slave. (see the Mahā Nārada Jātaka, Jāt 544/6:252 f).
From this Mahā-Moggallāna’s past life, we can justify the dangers and suffering of the rounds of existence. After the Buddha Kassapa Mahā-Moggallāna’s pāramī (perfection) to become a chief disciple was quite mature because of the small unwholesome speech still born as a slave. At that time Ānanda was the princess Rujā and she could remember her past seven lives and seven future lives to come. Ānanda’s 14 rebirths were worthy of contemplation and why the results of kamma was one of the four inconceivable as taught by the Buddha.
Ānanda’s 14 past lives:
① The son of a goldsmith and committed a lot of sexual misconduct
②The son of a rich man in Kosambī and had a moral life style and making merits.
③ Fell into Roruva Hell for his sexual misconduct as gold smith’s son.
④ Born as animal – a strong male goat in Bheṇṇākata country. It was castrated (the result of sexual misconduct) and rode by children and pulling cart.
⑤ Born as a monkey in a forest. The leader monkey of the group castrated the small monkey by biting its testicle to prevent it becoming stronger as enemy.
⑥ Born as a strong bull in Dudassana country. Therefore, the owner castrated him and used as pulling cart.
⑦ Born as a human being in Vajjī country but did not has proper sex organ, neither man nor woman.
⑧ + ⑨ + ⑩ + ⑪ Born as four times as the consorts of King Sakka – the god-king.
⑫ Born as the consort of a common deity.
⑬ Born as princess Rujā (still not became a male being yet).
⑭ Born as a male deity in heaven.
Some Buddhists thought bodhisattas were enlightened beings and living in special Heavens with their transformation bodies coming and going with ease and helping living beings. The true stories in the Nikāyas were different. Even true bodhisatta was sometimes born in hell and became animals (see Prince Temiya Jātaka, before that life he was in hell for sometimes for his past kamma as king who ordered to execute criminals).
If we study and observe today media and communities, we can see a lot of people do not know how to use speech properly for oneself and others. Most of these speeches are frivolous, idle and silly talks and wasting time. Sometimes these useless talks are creating problems and sufferings and leading to arguments and fights. A layman whom I knew argued with someone in a tea-shop and could not control his anger and killed the man and ended up in jail. After a few years he came out from prison and this kind of thing happened again, but, this time he was killed by others.
Buddhists can be considered the best type of people who can use speech which transcends suffering. The Buddha himself was the best of the best among all with some of his monastics and lay disciples. I can give some examples of modern days Buddhists, Mogok Sayadawji and S. N. Goenkaji, etc. Mogok Sayadaw’s Dhamma talks (Suññatā Dhamma) were sending many Buddhists on the way to Nibbāna until now. S. N. Goenkaji’s Dhamma instructions and retreats also sent a lot of yogis on the way to Nibbāna. Therefore, in the Suttanipāta, Subhāsita Sutta, the arahant poet Ven. Vangīsa said as follow:
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.
- Unwholesome or poorly spoken words and wholesome or well-spoken words
- Unworthy or unjust words and worthy or just words.
- Unpleasant or unendurable words and pleasant or enduring words
- False words and true words.
Then Ven. Vangīsa (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, Majjhima 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, speeches can be divided into six types:
- Untrue, unbeneficial and not pleasing
- True, unbeneficial and not pleasing
- True, beneficial and not pleasing
- Untrue, unbeneficial and pleasing
- True, unbeneficial and pleasing
- True, beneficial and pleasing
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). So, 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. Therefore, parents and teachers should always use well spoken speech to teach and train their children and students at homes and schools as the most important duty and responsibility.
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.
So, 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 2021-03-16; cited from https://oba.org.tw/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=4702&p=36818#p36818 (posted on 2019-09-26)
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