In my previous posts on ending suffering it was discussed how Right Understanding and Right Thought are key components of the Noble Eightfold Path and lead to the cessation of suffering. I used some quotes from other websites to define Right Understanding and Right Thought, but in this post, I would rather quote the Buddha’s own words from the Pali Canon (SN 45:8, V 8-10):
“And what, monks, is right speech? Abstinence from false speech, abstinence from malicious speech, abstinence from harsh speech, abstinence from idle chatter: this is called right speech.”
As a follower of the path, you may ask how can “right speech” contribute to the end of suffering? I think with “right speech” the Buddha is not so much focused on your suffering from some lack of “right speech”, but more on how the wrong speech causes suffering to others. Although we may find that wrong speech can be damaging not just to others, but also for ourselves.
Let’s break it down a bit when you abstain from stating knowingly false speech you cease lying. This lying to others can be harmful in so many ways where you are spuing untruths, feeding others with misinformation, and with each lie, you chip away at your own integrity. Some common reasons for lying include making up things that bolster your ego, where you blatantly tell others about things you never did or you make them out to be more important than they really were. Another common lie would be to tell others about some tragedy that never occurred in an attempt to garner sympathy from the listener. We often see politicians or others in power make up lies to further their own interests. Lying about climate change to increase profits from drilling oil or burning coal are a couple examples, where the truth is ignored for generating profits.
Malicious speech can best be categorized as trying to do harm to others. One example of this might be spreading malicious gossip about an individual or group to harm their reputation. In any case, the use of malicious speech is always to hurt someone else. Note this malicious speech may even be true but it is the intent that is in question here. Those that spend their time spewing malicious speech are simply fools that want to hurt someone else. This is a pretty obvious cause and effect targeted at creating suffering.
So what is meant by harsh speech? We often use harsh speech when we are angry or upset in some way. Harsh speech that might include swearing, but is often a mixture of harsh speech with malicious intent or at best just a lack of control. I’m sure you can recall times when you did this recently, but for followers of the path, we must practice self-control. Often these little tirades of ours come across as not just rude, but can also be attacking in nature and cause suffering if not to yourself, certainly to those who had to listen to it.
Finally, why did the Buddha include abstaining from idle chatter as a component of right speech? I mean how much harm can this do? Have you ever spent time with people that just love to hear themselves talk? It can be a painful experience listening to someone go on and on often about nothing. While this is probably the least severe form of wrong speech, it at best is just a waste of time for you who must endure listening to it.
The Buddha knew about the power of words and clearly identified what is right speech and what is wrong speech. I hope this post sheds a little light on how practicing right speech can lead to ending suffering. In my next post, I will look at how right action contributes to the end of suffering. By now you are seeing the power of the Noble Eightfold Path and how interrelated each of the elements of the path is to the whole. Truly the enlightened one Master Gotama (Pali form of Gautama) was a prophet.
I’ll leave you with a final quote from Manly Palmer Hall was a Canadian-born author, lecturer, astrologer and mystic.
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