View and speech

There is another close linkage within the Buddha’s 8-fold path, between Right View and Right Speech. Right View is summarised by the idea that we are the owners of our actions, responsible for our actions, answerable for our actions, inheritors of the results of our actions – nothing slips by. This perspective on the world confirms the need to shift our attention from what’s going on “out there” to what’s going on within our hearts. View and intention are inextricably linked; if our own desires dominate our thinking, we have neither Right View nor Right Intention.

Right View is usually listed as the beginning of the 8-fold path because everything else depends on it. If we believe, at any level, that our actions don’t matter, then we are inviting in all sorts of delusions. Without Right View, some skewed logic is likely to define our point of view. We may feel that the world owes us something, or at least an explanation; or that others are granted advantages that we have missed through an unfair apportionment of gifts; or that our opinions are universally true and correct. Many people seek ways to offload responsibility for themselves, their decisions and their actions, onto someone else. It’s an understandable impulse, but it never works; it’s never someone else’s fault if we say something hurtful or harmful. We are the owners of our words and actions.

When we speak, we reveal our point of view. Even people unfamiliar with the Buddha’s teachings will recognize words that are self-serving and harsh and also words that are kind and contain wisdom. We know this ourselves, but sometimes we are too busy, or too self-involved to appreciate the destructive power of our words. We do, however, recognize the destructive power of others’ words if they’re directed at us, and we hold them responsible for the damage. This is a type of delusion – to think that others’ words carry weight but our own do not.

An important exercise we can do is to listen to ourselves, while we’re speaking, but also before we speak. Are we trying to understand what’s going on? Or are we trying to control someone else’s thoughts or behavior? Are we speaking from a kind and generous intention or one that is motivated by a selfish agenda? Have we considered the probable results of our words? Have we considered saying nothing?

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 (non-harming, non-taking, good conduct in sensual matters)
5. Right Livelihood (legal, peaceful, honest, non-harming)
6. Right Effort (abandon the unwholesome, cultivate the wholesome)
7. Right Mindfulness (body, feeling, mind-states, dhammas)
8. Right Concentration (the four jhanas)

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Filed under General, Speech, The 8-fold path

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