The 3rd of the eight factors in the Noble EightFold Path, Right Speech is all about refraining from lying, abuses and gossip. Learn more about Right Speech.
One of the most important teachings of the Buddha is the Four Noble Truths, which emphasizes the existence of suffering. To overcome this suffering and experience lasting happiness, the Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path.
This path consists of eight “folds” or factors that contribute to the happiness and peace of all. Right Speech is the third of these eight folds and describes how Buddhists should use the power of speech to realize happiness and enlightenment.
What is Right Speech
Right speech or samma vaca is the third “fold” in the Eightfold Path to happiness and enlightenment. It constitutes the Virtue or Moral Discipline group along with Right Action and Right Livelihood. Right speech is what determines how one talks to a coworker, a person on the street and to family members.
In Magga-Vibhanga Sutta, the Buddha says, “And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, abstaining from divisive speech, abstaining from abusive speech, abstaining from idle chatter: This, monks, is called right speech.” Therefore, right speech is that which is honest, healthy and filled with compassion for the other person.
According to the Buddha, there are five factors of right speech. Right speech is:
Spoken at the right time;
Spoken with affection;
Spoken for the good of others; and
Spoken with the intent of doing good.
When one speaks keeping these five factors in mind, speech automatically is filled with goodness and compassion.
Reflecting on One’s Speech and Purification of the Self
Being mindful of what one says is essential to right speech. According to the Buddha in Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta or Instructions to Rahula at Mango Stone, one should reflect on one’s speech before, during and after one has used it to consider whether or not it has benefited the self, others or both.
Since speech is one of the most important skills a human being has, using it properly can lead to purification of the self. Giving up negative, dishonest and malicious talk can purify the self. A person who is honest, compassionate, speaks to bring people together and doesn’t indulge in idle gossip is basically, one who is polite, pleasing, liked by all and at peace with himself.
Right Speech and the Eightfold Path
Since the eightfold path is not sequential but interconnected, each step or factor is equally important and one needs to master all in order to experience enlightenment. For instance, when you differentiate between right and wrong speech, you practice right view and right intent. By taking the step of leaving hurtful and negative speech, one practices right effort and by consciously using kind and compassionate words, you practice right mindfulness.
Therefore, right speech is important and integral to one’s journey to enlightenment along with the seven other factors.
The 10 Topics of Healthy Conversation
So, how does one practice right speech? Besides ensuring that one uses words that are kind, heartfelt, honest and positive, one can safely stick to ten topics of healthy conversation as described by the Buddha. In Kathavatthu Sutta, the Buddha describes these topics as proper for engaging in discussion and debate. These are modesty, contentment, seclusion, non-entanglement, persistence, virtue, concentration, discernment, release, and knowledge and vision of release.
Using the right speech therefore is essential to leading a life in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings. Being kind and compassionate is not only restricted to action and thought but also to the words one uses when talking with everyone. Buddhists must consider whether the words they use are kind, positive, timely and honest in order to practice right speech as they practice the Eigthfold Path and its other factors.