Buddha's Teachings: The Eightfold Path - 3. Right Speech (Samma vaca)
by Patty Louise Smit
For this month’s theme, I was asked to write about Right Speech, the third step in the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism.
As I'm writing about the Right Speech, I have to start by being honest. The first version of this article was originally focused on ‘singing mantras for compassion’, but the events of the past few weeks have changed the way I see things, and this no longer felt like the right focus. With all the protests going on in the world right now, my perspective on what ‘Right Speech’ means has also changed. I want to use this month’s theme to focus on the importance of speaking up against injustice in the world.
Before I continue, I want to apologize in advance, in case I say something that is inaccurate, presumptuous, or shows my own privilege without being aware of it. I will do my best to honour “Right Speech”, and hope to use my voice and this platform for what is right.
Speak from a place of love
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
- Thich Nhat Hanh
Our words, both written and spoken, are very powerful. With them, we can start wars and create peace. It has always been this way, but thanks to the technology available to us in the 21st century, speech can take endless forms, an unimaginable idea in the Buddha’s time. Through the internet, one person’s speech can have enormous consequences - both beneficial or harmful.
Therefore, practising Right Speech is a very important tenet of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. But what is Right Speech and how can we practice it? Let’s start with a classical explanation of Right Speech:
The Buddha divided Right Speech into four aspects:
1. Abstain from false speech; do not tell lies or deceive.
2. Abstain from slanderous speech; do not speak in ways to create enmity and division.
3. Abstain from harsh speech; do not speak cruelly and use rude, impolite or abusive language.
4. Abstain from idle chatter; do not indulge in idle talk or gossip
The practice of these four aspects of Right Speech goes beyond the “thou shalt nots.” It means speaking from a place of love and speaking the truth. It means developing awareness and trying to change our habits so that our speech arises from the seed of the Buddha that is in all of us. We can practice this every time we speak.
Listen from a place of compassion
"Deep listening is at the foundation of Right Speech. If we cannot listen mindfully, we cannot practice Right Speech. No matter what we say, it will not be mindful, because we'll be speaking only our own ideas and not in response to the other person."
- Thich Nhat Hanh
As Delight Yoga's marketing manager, my role is to inspire, inform, and educate the Delight Community through all of our platforms. It is my job to communicate - and communication is something that happens between people. If we speak, we also have to listen.
In the Lotus Sutra, we are advised to listen with compassion, as this is what brings healing. We have to learn to listen in order to heal and restore communication. From that place, that foundation of compassionate listening, we can speak.
When we heard the world speak up for Black Lives Matter last month, we - the Delight Team - first decided to listen. We felt it was important to use our platform to create awareness of systemic racism, but we also didn’t know how to best take action. So we took the time to learn and understand more ourselves before we shared our first steps with our community.
We had and still have much to learn and understand, and we accept that reality with humility and a strong motivation to grow. We do not have all the answers yet, but want and must do better, and we will keep listening and learning with compassion along the way.
Use your voice for what is right
“What we choose to do now in our lifetime will impact what happens after we are gone. And the action of each one of us counts.”
- Layla F. Saad
We are in a moment in history where people are speaking up and using their voices for justice. At first, I felt uncomfortable speaking up about Black Lives Matter. I was afraid to say the wrong thing, and I felt it was not my place to say anything. My first thought was: who am I, a white privileged woman, to speak up about this? Why should anyone hear what I have to say? Shouldn’t we be listening to Black people? The fear of speaking out imperfectly or being criticized stopped me from saying anything at all.
I thought that staying silent doesn’t do any harm. But after listening and reading anti-racism resources over the past few weeks, I see now that I was wrong and my silence exposed my privilege. I read the book “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad and learned about the harm white supremacy and white silence cause. This book made me painfully aware that being silent only contributes to the problem. As Layla F. Saad explains, “white silence is violence.”
“Without inner change, there can be no outer change, without collective change, no change matters.”
- Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams
Even if I don’t want this privilege, I still have it, because white supremacy is an ideology, a dominant paradigm, an institutional system. As a white person, I have the privilege of being able to say ‘I will just focus on singing mantras for compassion’, but now I know, this is not right. I have become aware that it is up to me to do my part and use my privilege to speak up. Using my voice to dismantle white supremacy contributes to the healing that's necessary, both for myself and for our world. I have learned that we have work to do, and in order to do this work, we have to be aware of our privileges and blind spots.
Let’s grow and heal together
“I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh
The more anti-racism resources I read, the more I realized Right Speech is much more than abstaining from false, slanderous, harsh, and idle speech. It is more than loving speech and compassionate listening. It is also speaking up for what is right. It is speaking up for justice and love, and it is speaking up against injustice and violence.
This is also yoga. In yoga, we believe that we are all one, and we are all deserving of love, justice, safety, and freedom. So the act of speaking up against violence and injustice for the benefit of our fellow human beings is yoga. It is part of a larger responsibility to heal. To heal ourselves and to heal the world around us. We have to open our eyes and look at what our role is here. Because we all have a role to play, small though it may be. We must speak up for what is right, not just for today, but for a lifetime.
It all starts with ourselves as individuals. We have to find the courage and strength within us to speak up for what is right. By speaking up with love we can inform, inspire, and educate others. And if we make mistakes or say the wrong things, we have to listen with compassion in order to learn, understand, and do better next time.
I hope this article will inspire you to to speak from a place of love, to listen from a place of compassion, and to use your voice for what is right. In this way, we can grow and heal together.
Resources used and recommended:
- "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation" by Thich Nhat Hanh.
- "Me & White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World and Become a Good Ancestor" by Layla F. Saad.
- "Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love & Liberation" by Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams.
Patty is a passionate yogini with a creative and analytical mind. She studied arts & cultural marketing and now works as a marketeer for Delight Yoga. For Patty, yoga is about cultivating love, compassion and awareness for yourself, for others and the world around you. Her yoga practice reminds her to trust and let go, to embrace the beauty of change and that it is okay to just be.