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Right Speech: The Art of Verbal Alchemy

Image shows a speech bubble which inside holds the image of two hands. One above and one below a forest with light illuminating from it. Silhouettes of birds radiate out from the forest. Illustrating that we create and tend to our world with the power of our words.

Having looked at Right View and Right Intention of the Noble Eightfold Path, the V and I of V.I.S.A L.E.M. C, we come to Right Speech.

The Eightfold Path is a framework for leading a life that can facilitate our ‘enlightenment’ and liberation from the dis-ease we feel with life and impermanence. It is worth repeating here that ‘Right’ doesn’t mean the only acceptable way, rather it is guidance given by Buddha, recorded in the Dharma, and supported by Sangha. Our connection with sangha and our teacher helps us keep the compassionate view of no judgements, and no errors, just stepping back on the path when we see we’ve fallen off. 

‘Right’ Speech is the art of verbal alchemy. The words we use are not merely sounds but potent elixirs that shape our reality. ‘Right’ Speech holds a profound place in our ‘Osomji of the mind’, our review of intentional living. Along with our actions, it is one of the first places that our internal and personal perspectives, formed by our internal dialogues, touch the external world.

Imagine your words as seeds. Plant those seeds internally and externally. Watch the garden of your relationships flourish. Water them with truthfulness, kindness, and helpfulness.

Cultivating Right Speech:

Right Speech is not only verbal alchemy. It also refers to the ethical aspect of communication. It encourages individuals to communicate in a way that is honest, compassionate, and supportive. This comes from the understanding that speech impacts both the speaker and the listener, and it plays a crucial role in shaping the quality of human relationships and society as a whole.

The Buddha said, 

"Speak only the speech that neither torments self nor does harm to others. That speech is truly well spoken." 

This timeless wisdom forms the cornerstone of Right Speech, guiding us to communicate with kindness and clarity. The Buddha was precise in his description of ‘Right’ Speech: “abstinence from false speech, abstinence from malicious speech, abstinence from harsh speech, and abstinence from idle chatter.”  Further guided by the 4 Immeasurables of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity to develop:

The Renunciation of Falsehoods: Speak truthfully and avoid deceptive or dishonest communication. Avoid lying, exaggeration, and spreading misinformation.

The Renunciation of Harmful Speech: Includes avoiding harsh words, verbal abuse, gossip, and divisive speech.

The Renunciation of Harsh Speech: Involves turning from aggressive, offensive, or hurtful language. Instead, communicate with kindness and empathy. Rejoice in others' successes.

Renouncing Idle Chatter: This aspect involves avoiding frivolous or meaningless speech that does not contribute positively to oneself or others. It encourages mindful communication and purposeful speech. For example banter, gossip and joshing.

We can select words like elixirs to create a harmonious world or use them to divide. We can speak in a way that empowers us and is helpful and affirming to others, or we can lean into our ego and use our words to elevate ourselves, disempower and disenfranchise others and generally create a divide between ourselves and others. 

If we know that the goal of our speech is to cause less suffering and to be kind, honest and helpful, then we want to take great care with our words. Speaking in a way where others don’t feel judged, criticized, or attacked. We do this by speaking consciously, concisely and clearly.

When we recognise that we have misstepped on the path of ‘Right’ Speech, we can apologise and course correct. As the receiver of an apology, we can learn to receive this and forgive others open-heartedly. Recognising that we are capable of making mistakes can open avenues for the forgiveness of others.

Metta as part of ‘Right’ Speech

Metta is a verse of sending lovingkindness to ourselves and others. It is one avenue towards using speech to abide and forgive ourselves and send loving kindness and forgiveness to others.

For challenging times:"May I be kind to myself, in this moment.

May I accept this moment exactly as it is.

May I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment.

May I give myself all the compassion I need.”

Metta is often;

“May I be safe, peaceful, and free of suffering.”

“May they be safe, peaceful, and free of suffering.”

“May we be safe, peaceful, and free of suffering.”

We can change the pronouns in the challenging times verse likewise.

Journal Prompt:

Approach this self-inquiry like a gardener exploring the components of the soil, before adjusting what they need to benefit the seeds they sow.

Imagine your words as healing tools, capable of fostering connection and understanding.

  • Develop a plan for practising ‘Right’ Speech in your daily communication. Identify specific situations or types of conversations where you often find it challenging to align with ‘Right’ Speech principles. Outline strategies or alternative ways of expressing yourself that adhere to truthfulness, kindness, and usefulness. Reflect on how implementing this plan might positively influence your relationships and overall well-being.

By practising ‘Right’ Speech, we aim to cultivate a greater awareness of our words and our impact. This, in turn, contributes to the development of a compassionate and harmonious community. 

‘Right’ Speech aligns with the broader Buddhist teachings on ethical conduct and mindfulness, emphasizing the interconnectedness of actions and their consequences on the path to enlightenment.

Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? This triple filter is a timeless guide to ensure your words are not only accurate but also beneficial and compassionate. Let your speech be a source of healing and connection, a balm for the soul in a world often parched by harsh words. 🙏

Remember that the words we receive from others are more about where they are, than a full picture of where we are in their eyes. 🙏

How we speak to ourselves is also of importance. We need to remember to practice compassion with ourselves too. We are worthy.🙏

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Usng loving-kindness in challenging times has been very helpful to me. It brings me specifically into the moment that I am experiencing

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