Speak only the speech
that neither torments self
nor does harm to others.
That speech is truly well spoken.
Speak only endearing speech,
speech that is welcomed.
Speech when it brings no evil
Truth, indeed, is deathless speech:
This is an ancient principle.
The goal and the Dhamma
— so say the calm —
are firmly established on truth.
The speech the Awakened One speaks,
for attaining Unbinding,
for making an end
to the mass of stress:
That is the speech unexcelled.
— Sn 3.3, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
The best and most useful speech has the power to awaken sentient beings (us), as the last of these verses points out. It might be a good (ultimate) goal to keep in mind when we are formulating our own thoughts into words. There is so much that doesn’t need to be said; we can wait until something clearly worth saying occurs to us. If we undertook this policy, it could have the effect of relaxing us; we don’t have to fill the air and time with words, we can just let things be. Any uneasiness we might feel with silence will decrease as we accustom ourselves to quiet times.
“Truth is deathless speech” (verse 3 above) points to the ability of truthfulness to lead to the calming of our own minds, the basis for increasing clarity. The exercise of examining our intended words for truthfulness can add a reflective pause before we speak, which in most cases will improve the results. A thorough and steady truthfulness in our own words is something we and others can come to rely on.
We can move towards gentle and non-harmful speech gradually. It might be helpful to notice in what situations it seems most difficult for us to practice right speech and then carefully examine what goes on there. What stimuli are we reacting to? Are there habit patterns or other triggers that put us off-balance? What is our body telling us about this situation? The learning happens in those moments when we fail and then stop to analyze what happened. What caused a disconnect between our best intention and verbal action?
It is true that extroverts will always talk more than introverts. This exercise is not about altering or suppressing our personalities. Within ourselves, we can develop ever more skilful speech, in different – and eventually all – circumstances, using the guidelines the Buddha gave us.
The factors of the eight-fold path are:
1. Right View (of the ownership of action)
2. Right Intention (renunciation, goodwill, harmlessness)
3. Right Speech (truthful, harmonious, gentle, meaningful)
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration