- No lying
- No slandering (damaging, divisive, demeaning)
- No harsh speech (angry or vulgar)
- No idle chatter (gossip or small talk)
(1) Abstaining from false speech (Speaking the truth)
Slanderous speech is speech intended to create enmity and division, to alienate one person or group from another. The motive behind such speech is generally aversion, resentment of a rival's success or virtues, the intention to tear down others by verbal denigrations. Other motives may enter the picture as well: the cruel intention of causing hurt to others, the evil desire to win affection for oneself, the perverse delight in seeing friends divided.
(3) Abstaining from harsh speech (Gentle, comforting and supportive speech)
He avoids harsh language and abstains from it. He speaks such words as are gentle, soothing to the ear, loving, such words as go to the heart, and are courteous, friendly, and agreeable to many.
Harsh speech is speech uttered in anger, intended to cause the hearer pain. The three main types are:
- Abusive speech: scolding, reviling, or reproving another angrily with bitter words.
- Insulting: hurting another by ascribing to him some offensive quality which detracts from his dignity.
- Sacrasm: speaking to someone in a way which ostensibly lauds him, but with such a tone or twist of phrasing that the ironic intent becomes clear and causes pain.
The Buddha calls for patience even under the most trying conditions:
Even if, monks, robbers and murderers saw through your limbs and joints, whosoever should give way to anger thereat would not be following my advice. For thus ought you to train yourselves: "Undisturbed shall our mind remain, with heart full of love, and free from any hidden malice; and that person shall we penetrate with loving thoughts, wide, deep, boundless, freed from anger and hatred."
(4) Abstaining from idle chatter (Remaining Silent)
He avoids idle chatter and abstains from it. (1) He speaks at the right time, (2) in accordance with facts, (3) speaks what is useful, (4) speaks of the dharma and the discipline; his speech is like a treasure, uttered at the right moment, (5) accompanied by reason, (6) moderate and full of sense.
The Buddha advises that idle talk should be curbed and speech restricted as much as possible to matters of genuine importance. We should be mindful not to let the conversation stray into pastures where the restless mind, always eager for something sweet or spicy to feed on, might find the chance to indulge its defiling propensities.
The traditional exegesis of abstaining from idle chatter refers only to avoiding engagement in such talk oneself. But today it might be of value to expand our understanding to avoid exposure to the idle chatter constantly bombarding us through the new media of communication which, naively accepted as "progress," threaten to blunt our sensitivities to what is right, including sources of amusement and needless information like social networking, geographic cell phone check-ins, and inconsequential texting.
In Returning to Silence Katagiri Roshi discusses Dogen’s teaching on this saying, "Kind speech is not merely speaking with an ingratiating voice, like a cat purring...[this] very naturally, consciously or unconsciously, is trying to get a favor by fawning or flattering. This is not kind speech. Kind speech is not the usual sense of kindness. It can appear in various ways, but ...we should remember that it must constantly be based on compassion.... Under all circumstances that compassion is always giving somebody support or help or a chance to grow."
Katagiri went on to say, “In working with the precepts, Mahayana Buddhism tends to emphasize this spirit of compassion rather than adhering to the literal meaning of the precept.”
I don't know if it is actually harder to maintain Right Speech, or if I make less effort in that area. So much of speech is unconscious or a continuation of our stream of thought. I find that I use speech more than anything else to justify my actions and elicit support for my point of view.
Several years ago, my mother-in-law died at her home in Virginia. Although she had been deteriorating both mentally and physically for more than two years, it seemed that she suddenly got worse. When we heard that she was dying, we went to be with her. At that point, she was already "out of her senses," by that I mean that I had no idea what she was seeing and hearing and feeling except it was clear to me that it wasn't what I was seeing and hearing. I sat with her on her last afternoon through the night until she died the next morning.
As my teacher once said, "If you can't control your mouth, there's no way you can hope to control your mind.' This is why right speech is so important in day-to-day practice.