A Time for Deeper Reflection and Stronger Commitment
The first of the Buddha’s points on speech that Bhikkhu Bodhi references in his The Buddha’s Teaching on Social and Communal Harmony is “Well-Spoken Speech.” This is not about enunciation per se (something that George Washington’s “The Rules of Civility” emphasize to demonstrate how a young man of good breeding should speak), but rather that “well” here almost implies healthy speech; speech that is clearly said, is truthful, and essentially pleasant. Even in the fourth level of compassion, where wrathfulness is required, it is still possible to fulfill these prerequisites.
In a series of stanzas from the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha provide general guidelines of “Well-Spoken Speech” with respect to speeches, discussions, debates, and so forth which encapsulate the points regarding conversing in “The Rules of Civility” as written down by George Washington. As translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi:
“Those who speak with quarrelsome intent,
settled in their opinions, swollen with pride,
ignoble, having assailed virtues,
look for openings to attack one another.
They mutually delight when their opponent
speaks badly and makes a mistake,
they rejoice in his bewilderment and defeat;
but noble ones don’t engage in such talk.
If a wise person wants to talk,
having known the time is right,
without quarrelsomeness or pride,
the sagely person should utter
the speech that the noble ones practice,
which is connected with the Dhamma and meaning.
Not being insolent or aggressive,
with a mind not elated,
on the basis of right knowledge.
He should approve of what is well expressed
but should not attack what is badly stated.
He should not train in fault finding
nor seize on the other’s mistakes;
he should not overwhelm and crush his opponent,
nor speak mendacious words.
Truly, a discussion among the good
Is for the sake of knowledge and confidence.
Such is the way the noble discuss things;
this is the discussion of the noble ones.
Having understood this, the wise person
should not swell up but should discuss things.”
(AN 3:67) (Footnote 3)
The notion of “nobles” in the context of the Buddha’s words refers to recognized spiritual teachers. However, within the spiritual or secular worlds, the implications are not only meant to indicate class, caste (as in India), or social ranking, but also standard to aspire to by all who value and wish to propagate civility, peace, and harmony.
In connection with these references from The Path of Civility, I am launching a podcast, entitled “Civility Speaks, with Robert Sachs.” In it I shall explore more implications from what I present in this blog. I also plan on speaking with notable guests. Stay tuned.