Skillful speech re-visited

If you want to see the Mangala Sutta in full, it is posted above. Look at the topics listed at the top of this page and you’ll see it (click on it).

In the early parts of the Mangala Sutta, the most basic instructions for living a happy and rewarding life are laid out. The list is progressive, with each step building on the foundation of the previous ones. I’m feeling the need for a check-in on our progress, as the instructions keep getting more and more refined, and it’s best to stay with each principle until we’ve mastered at least an understanding of what the Buddha was pointing out.

So this may be a good point at which to look to our daily activities and assess the wholesomeness or unwholesomeness of what we do regularly. In particular, I want to recap the types of wholesome speech the Buddha talked about. I do this partly because the teacher I’ve just been with for a month (Sayadaw U Tejaniya) used these precepts to overcome his anger and depression. He knows (and shows) that the precepts are powerful, and he reminded us how important actively keeping an eye (ear) on our speech is.

Wholesome speech is:
(1) Truthful – no fudging or exaggerating
(2) Harmonious – words that bring people together, not divide them
(3) Gentle – no sarcasm (yes, even it’s it’s really funny), no yelling, etc.
(4) Useful – be quiet rather than prattle on!

For me, gentle speech is the hardest to remember. It takes slowing down enough to check the impulse to make a cutting remark.

I recently drafted a letter to the editor of a news magazine about the “Tea Party” in the U.S.A. The letter went through several revisions before it said what I wanted to say without harsh speech.

Because virtually everyone talks, and most of us talk a lot, this activity can really bring your wholesome and unwholesome impulses into view. And we (often) talk so fast! Sometimes the conversation is paced such that there’s barely time to breathe, let alone reflect. Maybe that’s a place to start, by speaking more deliberately.

Years ago, I decided it was never worth it to rush, at anything. Sometimes I remember that this applies to talking as well as to physical and mental activities. It always works better when I remember to slow down enough to LISTEN and choose my words with care.

Does one of these recommendations about wholesome speech offer you an invitation to improve? Give yourself extra points for complete honesty in assessing your strengths as well as your weaknesses.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
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