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Thursday, July 14, 2005


In response to my earlier post, several respondents had much to say. One asked if right speech is merely "diplomacy," and another responded with the following:

"I don't think it's a matter of diplomacy, but of simple respect for what is sacredly common in us all. - A matter of insight, really ... This recognition serves to temper our attitudes with a sense of relationship and compassion, even in situations that have deteriorated to a point of open conflict. Yet moral practice here has a way of feeding back to our developing wisdom, watering the seeds of our insight and establishing the habits of a peaceful mind... By cultivating mindfulness of speech in relation to our budding prajna - doing our best, moment by moment - we're really fostering a condition that will help it to mature and flower. And as it does, so will our "skill in means" in relating to the world as we find it."

Before I offer my two cents, let me first say how much I truly appreciate the responses generated so far. Also, before responding, I wish to be absolutely clear that I do not offer "the Buddhist stance" on this or any other subject. As I often tell groups I lecture for, it would be an act of hubris for me to speak for all Buddhists, just as it would be for any one Christian, for instance, to speak for Chriatianity. I mean, really, does the Pope speak for all Christians? How about Jerry Falwell?

That said, let me quote the Fourth Mindfulness Training (otherwise know as Precept) as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh:

Aware of the suffering caused my unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others,

I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and to relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.

I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Note that first it begins from awareness of the suffering caused by unmindful speech. Remember that the Buddha's Eightfold Path BEGINS with wisdom. The simple wisdom that comes from seeing how suffering is caused. As I have mentioned repeatedly before, the Buddha-Dharma is "holographic" in that any single detail contains the whole of the Dharma. Practicing wisdom (insight) we live more skillfully (precepts) and practicing looking into the precepts, we cultivate wisdom.

Next, the "pro-active" committment to cultivate loving speech. This means first cultivating loving "self-talk," and not putting yourself down when you "mess-up." Inspire yourself to be buddha (awake) and inspire your children, your family and friends with words of joy and happiness. Words can be such a healing balm.

Of course, Deep Listening is the foundation of Right Speech. If we cannot really listen then no matter what we say will only be our own ideas and notions, and not a true response to the situation (ie. the other person). Just listening in this way brings such healing. In the wake of the 9/11 attack, I met with several surviors including a fireman who had seen a childhood buddy die when a body fell on him from the burning tower. What could I possibly say? I listened. I expressed how I understood that I, not being there, had no real idea how it must have been for him. His face relaxed. I was the first and only person who didn't filter his experience through my own ideas or notions about what happened. He was free to really speak, knowing that I would really listen. He had been witholding for days because he was both protecting others from the truth of his experience and because no one was really open to just listen -- everyone was looking to offer advice, share their own experiences etc. This was taken by him to be truly offensive, so he was also protecting himself from the pain of not being heard!

Reflect for yourself how difficult this can be. Maybe as you are reading my words now you are already formulating a response, whether agreeing or disagreeing. In our sangha, when we have Dharma Discussion, the two main guidelines are that we do not give cross-talk, giving advice or suggestions, and that it is not nessecary to agree or disagree -- we are to just listen wholeheartedly, and when speaking, speak from our experience -- from our heart.

If someone says something that irritates you, can you breathe consciously and cultivate compassion before responding? If we merely react, how successful do we expect our communication to be? If we give offense, how can we expect the other to listen? They will merely give "defense." We saw this in the 9/11 panel meeting in NYC.

Sometmes we speak clumsily and create internal suffering in others and our defense is, "I was only speaking the truth." This may be so, but HOW we speak the truth is as important -- and for pragmatic reasons, maybe even more important -- as the content of the truthful statement. This is NOT diplomacy. We don't say things just to appease or to smooth over real differences of opinion. But we do attempt, at least, to find the best way to share the truth so that the other will be at least more open to hearing it.

Of course, not everyone will be open, and how we respond to this will depend on the specific situation.

The request was made for some specific practices to cultivate Right Speech. Basic Mindfulness Practice is key. Here is an Invocation to Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion whose name means, "Hearer of the World's Cries."

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.

Also, we have the practice of Mindfulness Gathas to remind us of our words and their potential to create suffering or happiness.

The following is for when you are about to place a phone call. With your hand on the phone, before dialing, you can recite to yourself:

"Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems,
as lovely as flowers."

I can garantee that the quality of your phone conversations will be changed!

Again, thank you all for this wonderful dialogue. I look forward to hearing more from all of you.

frank jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 12:41 PM

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