It can be challenging to navigate day-to-day activities such as conversation. We inevitably talk with friends, family, acquaintances, students or teachers. Some conversations are easy, some are difficult. Some can be comforting and others unsettling.
As we attempt to practice yoga while also being a human being in the world, it can be helpful know what texts say about something so common as talking with others. If nothing else, it is interesting to consider that the act of conversation brought about challenges even ~2,000 years ago, and that guidelines were presented in order to help us navigate this in a skillful way.
In this blog we'll look at a verse from the Sammanaphala-Sutta (D I 64) an early text of Buddhism whose title means "Fruits of the Ascetic Life" which describes moral behavior. Other verses from this sutta (Skr. sutra) deal with different topics, but here we'll look at the four types of harmful speech.
Four Types of Harmful Speech
The first type of speech to be avoided is untrue speech. For this, one should give up speech that is not reliable or trustworthy. One should not deceive another.
Next we are told to avoid malicious speech. This is explained as refraining from gossip. One should not pass along something that one heard if the goal is to create conflict. Furthermore, one's speech should be intended to bring together those that are divided and encourage those that are united.
Third, the practitioner should avoid unkind speech. One should not speak words that are hurtful, but rather words that are courteous and touch the heart.
Finally, one should avoid idle chatter. One should "speak at the right time, in accordance with the facts, with words that are helpful...." (pg. 20). These words should be concise and appropriate for the occasion.
The next time we find ourselves in conversation, we can consider whether our words are: true, encouraging unity, kind and necessary.
Gethin, Rupert. 2008. Sayings of the Buddha: New Translations by Rupert Gethin from the Pali Nikāyas. Oxford University Press: New York
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are scholars as well as practitioners of yogic postures, breath control and meditation. They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga.
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