I undertake the training rule to refrain from useless speech.
Continuing on this topic, what did the Buddha point to specifically as useful speech?
“Abandoning idle chatter, he abstains from idle chatter. He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, & the Vinaya [the rules of conduct for ordained persons]. He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal.” AN10.176
Ten wholesome topics of conversation (addressed to a group of monks):
“There are these ten topics of [proper] conversation. Which ten? Talk on modesty, on contentment, on seclusion, on non-entanglement, on arousing persistence, on virtue, on concentration, on discernment, on release, and on the knowledge & vision of release. These are the ten topics of conversation. If you were to engage repeatedly in these ten topics of conversation, you would outshine even the sun & moon, so mighty, so powerful — to say nothing of the wanderers of other sects.” — AN 10.69
(Both quotes are from “Right Speech: samma vaca”, edited by John T. Bullitt. Access to Insight, 26 May 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca4/samma-vaca/index.html)
So, as I mentioned last time, the best kind of talk is talk that brings about something wholesome, compassionate talk, or words that bring light to a situation.
For us laypeople, it’s interesting to consider whether and how we can make our speech more useful to ourselves and others. For me, it often means keeping quiet for longer than my instincts want to. But for others, it may mean speaking up, even if they’re not used to making themselves heard. Think about the contexts in which we do most of our speaking on an ordinary day. How do we address the people we live with? What topics do we discuss? How about at work or school? Sometimes this contemplation could lead to our spending more time with some people (when we have the choice) and less time with others.
One particularly tricky category is gossip. A high percentage of everyday talk, at least the interesting parts, is about other people. Sometimes it’s about people we know and sometimes it’s about people we only (think we) know through the media. More about the latter in another post. For now, how do we talk about other people we know? I will often ask myself whether something I’m inclined to report about is really necessary. Does my partner need to hear that someone did something unkind or foolish? Um, sometimes. Or sometimes it’s really amusing, or a good lesson in how not to interact with people. But considered ethically, is it better to tell the story or not?
Complicating this question is the fact that in most families, talking about each other is what binds us together, for good or ill. My mother-in-law, until shortly before her death, phoned each of her eight children pretty much every week. So some stories were a little embellished, or had lost a relevant fact, by the time they got to the end of the chain. However, all of those calls were welcomed, and everyone felt connected.
I do my best to emulate her by phoning my own mother almost weekly and both step-children at least weekly. In these calls, I try not to pick any fights, or nag too much, or say anything that will bring unhappiness or unwholesome mind states to me or to them.
Better than a thousand meaningless statements
Is one meaningful word
Which, having been heard,
– Dhammapada 100 (translated by Gil Fronsdal)