Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Right Speech

Negative attacks are part and parcel of politics. Always have been. As the Presidential primary campaign is heating up the attacks are becoming more negative. This process will only continue. In my brief campaign for office the last few months my opponents felt the need to attack me negatively and anonymously (mis-)using words on this blog to do so.

It is easy to lose sight of right and wrong in the heat of such battles. Things one would not normally do to ones neighbor become "acceptable" behavior (for some). Or do they?

From Jack Kornfield's book Teachings of the Buddha:


Abstaining from Lying

Herein someone avoids lying and abstains from it. One speaks the truth, is devoted to the truth, reliable, worthy of confidence, not a deceiver of others. Being at a meeting, or among people, or in the midst of relatives, or in society, or in the king's court, and called upon and asked as witness to tell what one knows, one answers, if one knows nothing: "I know nothing," and if one knows, one answers: "I know"; if one has seen nothing, one answers: "I have seen nothing," and if one has seen, one answers; "I have seen." Thus one never knowingly speaks a lie, either for the sake of one's own advantage, or for the sake of another person's advantage, or for the sake of any advantage whatsoever.

Abstaining from Tale-Bearing

One avoids tale-bearing and abstains from it. What one has heard here, one does not repeat there, so as to cause dissension there; and what one has heard there, one does not repeat here, so as to cause dissension here. Thus one unites those that are divided; and those that are united, one encourages. Concord gladdens one, one delights and rejoices in concord; and it is concord that one spreads by one's words.

Abstaining from Harsh Language

One avoids harsh language and abstains from it. One speaks such words as are gentile, soothing to the ear, loving, such words as go to the heart, and are courteous, friendly, and agreeable to many.

Abstaining from Vain Talk

One avoids vain talk and abstains from it. One speaks at the right time, in accordance with facts, speaks what is useful, speaks of the law and the discipline; one's speech is like a treasure, uttered at the right moment, accompanied by understanding, moderate, and full of sense.

That is called Right Speech.

adapted from the ANGUTTARA NIKAYA,
translated by Nyanatiloka

The concept of Right Speech is one of the Eight-Fold Path often translated as:
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā)
1. Right view
2. Right intention
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Mental discipline (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

One description I've read contained the following useful paragraph:

The word Samma means 'proper', 'whole', 'thorough', 'integral', 'complete', and 'perfect' - related to English 'summit' - It does not necessarily mean 'right', as opposed to 'wrong'. However it is often translated as "right" which can send a less than accurate message. For instance the opposite of 'Right Awareness' is not necessarily 'Wrong Awareness'. It may simply be incomplete. Use of the word 'right' may make for a neat or consistent list of qualities in translations. The down side is that it can give the impression that the Path is a narrow and moralistic approach to the spiritual life. I use variant interpretations so you consider the depth of meanings. What do these things mean in your life right now?

Our typical western understandings of ethical behavior, particularly when it comes to politics, do little more than pay lip service to such ideas as "right speech."

Must it be so?

I don't think so... but it is so for now. How do we change that? The answer to such questions is usually "Let it begin with me.

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