Sunday, November 20, 2011

Step Three on the Eightfold Path

3. Right Speech
Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however it IS essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently, don't gossip and -- basically: to talk only when necessary.
Everyone knows she shouldn't lie. Everyone knows she should speak in warm, gentle tones and be friendly. Not gossiping is harder than you think. Oh, I don't gossip, you think. I don't talk about people behind their backs. For most of my adult life I have honestly believed that I NEVER engaged in gossip, never spoke negatively about people behind their backs. Then I became a Buddhist. I learned about Right Speech. It was explained to me that to truly honor the intention of Right Speech I should never talk about people at all. Good, bad or indifferent, it was not my place to discuss other people. Not my business. Okay, try going one day in the company of other people not saying one word about someone who is not there. Don't mention your mother, your sister, your children. Don't talk about the bus driver or the guy who cut you off on the way to work. Don't mention the doctor you saw, the cute baby in the stroller who kind of winked at you. What? But that was so cute! What's the harm? I don't know. There could be a hundred reasons you shouldn't mention that baby. I'm a writer and I can think of ten off the top of my head in an instant.
Right Speech is my biggest challenge every day of my life. I want to say bad things about bad drivers. Or slow drivers. Or drivers who don't use their blinkers. Why am I in such a hurry? I always leave in plenty of time. Slow down, de Helen. Breathe. Using malicious words against others -- even if they can't hear me -- means I lack moral discipline. Therefore, I have to refrain from using malicious or harsh words. It helps if I can remember that we all want the same thing in this life: we want love, we want happiness. Taking a deep breath, putting a smile on my face, these things help me maintain my moral discipline. Help me become a better person.
By the way, it's time to check in re the walking and veggie commitment. I have kept my veggie commitment and have slacked off on the walking. I let migraines and rain and cold keep me confined to the indoors. I promise to get back to the walking. Even when it is rainy and cold, when I go out and walk I always feel better about myself. And I also have the alternative of going to the gym and walking in the saltwater pool, or even (shudder) on a treadmill. So I have zero excuse. How about YOU? How are you doing? How will you do this week? I am starting my gratitude list for US Thanksgiving Day this Thursday. You?