Beneficial speech

Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it the right time?

This is a very handy formulation to help us discern what our motivation is, before we speak. We can, of course, also use this advice to review and analyze what we have said. Best of all is to be fully alert while speaking, knowing that we are using speech wisely.

Words of the Buddha:
Now at that time a baby boy was lying face-up on the prince’s [Prince Abhaya’s] lap. So the Blessed One [the Buddha] said to the prince, “What do you think, prince: If this young boy, through your own negligence or that of the nurse, were to take a stick or a piece of gravel into its mouth, what would you do?”

“I would take it out, lord. If I couldn’t get it out right away, then holding its head in my left hand and crooking a finger of my right, I would take it out, even if it meant drawing blood. Why is that? Because I have sympathy for the young boy.”

“In the same way, prince:

[1] In the case of words that the [Buddha] knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[2] In the case of words that the [Buddha] knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[3] In the case of words that the [Buddha] knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

[4] In the case of words that the [Buddha] knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[5] In the case of words that the [Buddha] knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[6] In the case of words that the [Buddha] knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.”
(from MN 58, translated Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

If we were to adopt these criteria for upright speech, the only times we would speak are represented by items 3 and 6, that is, when our statements are factual, true, beneficial and either agreeable or (if necessary) disagreeable. But in all cases, we have to choose the right time to speak. From my own experience I can report that saying the right thing at the wrong time can be awkward, embarrassing and just a drag – better to keep quiet!

Here is a summary of the above:
“Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?
“It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”

(AN 5.198, translated Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

Leave a comment

Filed under Speech

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s