For a while - more than a while, actually, I've considered writing a series of posts about my understanding of the Dharma, my interpretation thereof and how I want to incorporate it better into my lifestyle.
This is not that post. That post was going to cover the eightfold path, the four Noble Truths and the precepts in a lot of detail, relying on me having a deep understanding of what I was talking about. I am not in a position to write that, yet. But I am beginning to make the effort to incorporate Buddhist morality into my life; I'm just not that good at being mindful of my actions yet. But today, @tygerland
on twitter mentioned a #tweetlikejesus
initiative, and I realised I should probably make more of a concerted effort with my practice and #tweetlikebuddha
, as difficult as it is.
I'm finding Right Speech the single most difficult part of the Ethical Conduct section of the Ethical Conduct - actually, I'm finding it hard to speak mindfully at all, let alone speaking skillfully
. My mouth goes off before my brain; it always has; often my brain feels like it has far too much to process and sort through before the window for speaking closes, and I have a habit of approaching conversations like competitions; this is not how I wish to conduct myself. In fact, there have been a couple of occasions in the last few weeks that I've actually seen my own unskillful speech create problems.
It's obviously not just literal speech, but blog posts, comments on blogs, tweets, IMs, all forms of verbal communication count as 'speech', and it's far more easy for me to rattle off something witty and eloquent and hit 'post' then to think about what I'm saying, and whether it's the right thing to say.
From The Big View
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, 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:
Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.
- to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully,
- to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others,
- to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and
- to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth.
It's easy enough for me to speak truth; I trained myself to do this a long long time ago. The others are hard because it's not always easy to know whether what you're saying is purposeful, timed right, and kind.
There's a difference, incidentally, between 'kind' and 'nice'; it's the difference between constructive criticism and meaningless compliments. Disagreeing with someone can still be right speech, if done well, and I'm still trying to figure out the best way; although part of the whole thing is accepting that sometimes there is nothing I can say which would help, so I should just close the browser tab and do something else.
In other words, don't do this:
- because yelling at people on the internet never helps them understand where they misunderstand, it just serves to give the yeller a sense of moral superiority. Actually there have been a couple of occasions today where I have subjected my comments to the lens of Right Speech, and deleted the comment rather than hit 'post'. It's a new action for me, and knowing I can do that is actually quite liberating.
Part of the reason I'm thinking about right speech today is the discussion that cropped up about some of the group blogs I frequent causing inadvertent offence to marginalised groups. In the case of Feministe
, it prompted a discussion of how cis-women (like me) can act to keep the space friendly to transwomen, and I've been thinking about how I can practice right speech as a privileged person in conversations about marginalised groups.
It boils down, I think, to the idea that if I only speak when it's skillful to do so, when I have something to say that's true, kind, gentle and relevant, then I end up listening more. One of the core principles of privilege 101 is shut up and listen
, and if I stop thinking about how I'm going to word that Very Important Comment I have to make to make it all about me, then I actually can
So this is what I'm working on at the moment. It's difficult, but mind-opening and I think I can handle it.