Can You Speak Ahimsa?
September 10, 2017Buddhist Practice, Right Speech, Self-talkFor me, language and speech are utterly amazing. Regularly, I find it difficult to anticipate how even the most casual talk will turn out. And why should that surprise anyone? When we speak, what we say is often charged with subtle emotion. Or freighted with nuanced meanings tinged with the shades of our personal history and conditioning. In speaking, even best friends can easily misunderstand each other’s friendliest intentions.
As we know, language and speech can bind us together. They can also tear us apart. Through language we give comfort. We delight, teach and ennoble. Language affords us the poetry of love and the magic of healing. Yet, with language and speech we deceive, belittle, spread poisonous gossip, cause irreparable suffering, sometimes betray all we hold dear.
Out of not lying we can develop our voice to speak for compassion, understanding, and justice.—Jack Kornfield
Because language and speech are such powerful tools for good and for ill , many wise Teachers have encouraged us to use speech reflectively, creatively and lovingly to benefit each other rather than to impulsively and habitually cause harm, conflict, or division. Furthermore, the way we use speech has historically been a central motif in the ethics of nonviolence or ahimsa.
Ahimsa means not to injure any creature by thought, word or deed. ~~Gandhi
For the Buddha, the use of wise and loving speech was a means to give great comfort and benefit to others:
By abstaining from [unwise and harmful speech], the noble disciple gives to an immeasurable number of beings freedom from fear, enmity, and affliction, and in turn likewise enjoys immeasurable freedom from fear, enmity, and affliction. ~~Gautama Buddha
Moreover, the practice of using speech harmlessly and beneficially asks us to do more than simply refrain from certain kinds of speech. Positively, the practice of Right Speech asks us to use language that promotes safety, friendship and social harmony. To practice Right Speech is to intentionally and mindfully explore ways to,
speak such words as are gentle, pleasing to the ear, and lovable, that go to the heart, are courteous, desired by many, and agreeable to many.~~Gautama Buddha
These days, in my own life and practice, when I do active harm to another person, very often it’s the result of either something I’ve said, of how I’ve said it, or the result of something I’ve left unsaid because I didn’t have the courage, compassion, or wisdom to say it when it could have been beneficial. For this reason, Right Speech is, more often than not, one of the very central focuses of my practice.
There is no question that the world more than ever needs our truthfulness. Yet, now more than ever, the world also needs us to practice kind speech, gentle speech, a speech that promotes dignity, decency, love, and harmony human to human and with all other living things.
Here is a link to Chapter Four of The Noble Eightfold Path by the highly respected scholar monk Bhikkhu Bodhi. The chapter is on Right Action, Right Speech, and Right Livelihood—the core ethical teachings of the Path. vipassana.com/resources/8fp4.php
Have a wonderful week!