Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nourishing Speech (Right Speech)

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.  Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speack truthfully, with words that inspire self-conf idence, joy, and hope.  I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure.  I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break.  I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conf licts, however small."

This is the fourth Mindfulness Training, written by Thich Nhat Hahn, and reflects rather succinctly the basis for Nourishing Speech (Right Speech).  The rest of the Mindfulness Trainings are listed in the section on Nourishing Action.

Traditionally, the teachings around Nourishing Speech fall into four categories:
  1. Speaking Truthfully - Not just telling the truth, but not getting around telling the truth with lies of ommission or misdirection.
  2. Not Speaking with a Forked Tongue - Avoiding the habits common to gossip where different versions of a tale are told to different people.  We speak the same truth to everyone, only adjusting it to accommodate the understanding of the people we are speaking to.
  3. Not Speaking Cruelly - Our words are powerful and can cause great harm, so we must endevour to avoid slander, shouting, or other communication that causes suffering.
  4. Not Exaggerating or Embellishing - We seek to water and nourish the seeds of the Buddha within us.  The desire to exaggerate or embellish our stories stems from unhealthy seeds and must be avoided so we do not allow those parts of us to grow instead.
Deep listening is a very important part of Nourishing Speech.  The ability to listen with understanding, avoiding judgement or the desire to remedy the situation, can be a very powerful tool in alieviating the suffering of others.  Many people suffer simply because they need someone to truly listen to them.  It is through this kind of listening that we can understand the people around us.  Only then can we be assured that the words we choose when we speak the truth to them will not cause additional suffering.  If we speak the truth but are not aware of the way these word may wound others, this is not Nourishing Speech.

Sometimes in our meditations, we find that the words leave us.  We move to a place of silence and wordlessness.  This silence can also be part of Nourishing Speech.  There are times when silence, not just the silence that allows you to hear others but the silence that allows you to hear your own thoughts and ideas, is a necessary part of the overall nature of your communication.  Practicing silence and stillness can be just as important to the practice of Nourishing Speech as choosing the right words.

*This post is a piece of a larger discussion that begins with the post: Lessons from the Heart of the Buddha's Teachings.*