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Wrong Speech

edited August 2005 in Buddhism Today
Another question for ye:

One of the first things your supposed to do to become a buddhist is give up wrong speech or speaking badly of other people. But how do you interact honestly with other people if you dont give them your honest opinion even if that is not good. I do try and be empathic, especially with someone I don't get on with and I always try and think from the other persons point of view and see perhaps why they behave they way the do. I often find that if you can understand the other persons behaviour then it takes the sting out of it and your anger dissapates.

However, there is one person I know and I cannot find a motivation for their behaviour. I have been trying for at least ten years to be patient and understanding but I find I am pushed to the limits with this person. However, the real difficult I have is the other friends around this person who expect me to voice my beliefs about this persons behaviour. I am very aware of the fact that I should let go of my negative feelings and that I shouldn't be involved with bad speech about that person but I cant be honest if I say nothing at all and also people assume when you say nothing that you are somehow compliant with the bad behaviour.

The Dalai Lama said in his book "Live in a better Way, Reflections on truth, love and Happiness" that it is your enemy that teaches you more on how to let go of your own negative behaviour and grasping and I honestly believe that to be true but ... In reality how does that work and how do I implament it on a personal basis ?

I have so much to learn!



  • comicallyinsanecomicallyinsane Veteran Veteran
    edited August 2005
    Just tell them off. Just kidding. I find people respect you more if you are just straight with them. They may not like what you say but they respect you for your honesty.
  • buddhafootbuddhafoot Veteran Veteran
    edited August 2005
    Well, here is my thinking...

    I don't think there is anything wrong with telling the truth or being honest. I think Right Speech goes hand in hand with Right Intention.

    If you scold your child for doing something dangerous - are you doing it because you just wanna get the upper hand on them and make them feel bad? Or are you doing it because you don't want to see them come to harm?

    I know "Christians" at work who do things like this:

    "Oh... that person is a total BITCH! Ooops!, but I'm not supposed to say things like that."

    What the hell is THAT all about? You've already done it. You've already ridiculed or belittled this person behind their back. And now saying, "Oooops..." makes it okay?

    Criticizing someone (and criticism isn't always bad) with love, compassion (or if nothing else, no bad intent) isn't always bad.

    And I'm a person with a soapbox and some issues. I've been in situations where someone has wrongly accused me or lied about me - so I can get on a soapbox sometimes. I can also be pretty sarcastic.

    Now, what I try and have been trying to do is temper what I say with the intention or thought behind it. Am I saying it because it is true? Am I saying it because I hate that bitch and now is a good time to put her in her place? Am I saying it because that jerkwad screwed me over and now I've got the chance to put his butt in a sling?

    Or am I saying it with "right intent" backing it up?

    I think we all know when we're talking smack about someone. I think we also recognize when we're trying to tell what we think or how we feel (even if it's about someone else) to someone that we love and truly care about.

    Hmmm... let me think of an example.

    You're going to a party.

    You're going to a party with your girlfriend, with whom, you've just had a spat and you're kind of upset with each other.

    Your girlfriend, who just happens to have a big butt, comes in with this little dress on that leaves one complete, giant cheek hanging out. And she asks... (wait for it....)

    "Honey, does this dress make my butt look big?"

    I believe it would be wrong intention to say, " You're big butt makes your butt look big. The dress is fine." And then start ridiculing her mother by saying, "Oh.... by the way, yo mama so fat that when she dances, the band skips."

    But I digress....

    Right intention would be telling your girlfriend that the dress and her butt ain't gonna cut it together - because you love her, have compassion for her and don't want to see her hurt.

    You're not telling the truth out of spite or hurt or anger - you're telling the truth because you love her.

    Now... if someone "enlightened" in this bunch can tell me exactly how to tell a woman that "it's not the dress that makes her butt look big... it's her butt" - and it works. I will know that you are truly enlightened.

    Cuz, as far as I know, Right Intention in this scenario is going to leave you looking like a grease spot on the rug.

  • buddhafootbuddhafoot Veteran Veteran
    edited August 2005
    You know - after re-reading your post - I think you're doing a great job.

    Unfortunately, sometimes not saying anything does make people assume that you agree with them - which pisses me off - but it does happen.

    I think there is a saying that goes "The only thing good people have to do to allow evil people to flourish is: nothing."

    I think you've been handling this well. You may have to tell these other people that are assuming you agree with them that you don't. Let them know that your silence doesn't mean you're in agreement with them - it just means you're not going to say anything bad about this other person.


  • edited August 2005
    One saying that I have read that seems to get me through similar (and MANY other) situations is, "Be the change you want in the world." How would you want others to respond to or talk about you? Use that as your guide to right speach and right intent.
  • edited August 2005
    Ok ... get that intention is really important and I have tried very patiently and in a non confrontational way to point out to my friend that sometimes things can be difficult around her.

    Ive tried ignoring her bad behaviour and Ive tried patience and Ive tried understanding and empathy but is it possible that a person can have no redeeming qualities of note and that you should give up on that person completly and who am I to decide a persons worth in my life anyway? Isn't that very egotistical of me to suggest that I know better?

    I know in Buddhism its okay to walk away from somebody who you feel you cant deal with and just let the situation be as long as you dont harm or upset that person intentionally on the way ... There are somethings we just cant "fix". But what if you dont have the choice as in a family member maybe and you do have to interact with them?

    I like comic's idea of just giving out to them ... that would be easier.

    Thanks Michael for your help. It does help to get other people's imput I find.

    Are you supposed to mediatate on these sort of issues? Or is meditation kept for the big stuff? Are we supposed to mediatate on everything?

    Oh bugger .... so many questions!
  • edited August 2005
    By the way are my spellings really bad?
  • buddhafootbuddhafoot Veteran Veteran
    edited August 2005
    No... you're spelling is great... as far as I can tell.

    I don't think it's a bad idea to walk away from something that is robbing you of your peace. I'm sure you've seen people that just "stay" together because there seems to be no other option for them - or at least that's what they think. And sometimes these people are M_I_S_E_R_A_B_L_E. What an awful existance.

    I don't know what your relationship is with this person - and I don't know all the consequences involved. Only you do. But, I don't think there is anything in Buddhism that states you have to keep putting yourself in interaction with people that rob you of your peace.

  • edited August 2005
    Just a girl I went to school with, and Im 33 now so that was a while ago. The difficulty is the group dynamic. There are six of us who went to an all girls school together and we are still in touch quite regularly. It helps that none of us are married and have all come back to live in the same city that we went to school with.

    The dynamic is odd, this girl is particularly manipulative and set people up against each other in a very subtle way. It seems now that practically all bar one, have cottened on to it now and wow the daggers are out. But that doesn't help anyone and that's were I find it difficult. Not particularly enamoured with this girl but, to use another religious metaphor, don't want to cruicify her either.

    Women, are particularly difficult to be friends with, IM SERIOUS! Men are so much easier to get on with, they are much more "laisse faire" and certainly dont get "bitchy" and down and dirty when someone steps out of line. Many more male friends than girls. Maybe thats why this is a bit of an issue. Not used to the politics. Just cant see why we cant just get on as well as we can and stop the eternal naval gazing and bitching!

    Ah well
  • comicallyinsanecomicallyinsane Veteran Veteran
    edited August 2005
    i have heard thta before. I always had female friends who told me the same thing. I find it funny how guys have an easy time being buddies and woman get catty with each other.
  • edited August 2005
    I must say, the people I consider my best friends are those few people that will tell me the truth even when it is not good, but take time to try to say it in a way that is least hurtful but most helpful. I'm very lucky to have people like that around me.

    Bad Way to Say Something About Someone's Clothes:
    "What are you thinking wearing those pants! Only grandmas where pants under their breasts" (said in front of a room of people)
    Better Way:
    "Ya' know, I think lower cut pants would really complement your figure." (said in private, especially if asked about clothing styles).
  • edited August 2005
    Sorry if I seem like Im being pedantic ... but .... here goes anyway

    Its not the simple stuff thats the problem, is it possible for sombody to be bad? Is it possible for somebody to have no redeeming qualities what so ever? The Christian tradition says there is good and evil, generally, both in the one person, but is it possible in the buddhist tradition?

    And if so ..... how do you handle wrong speech in that situation?
  • edited August 2005
    i have heard thta before. I always had female friends who told me the same thing. I find it funny how guys have an easy time being buddies and woman get catty with each other.


    You know something? I have always gotten along better with men than with most women. I am a very direct and up front person---if you pi$$ me off, you will have to deal with me to my face (I don't bad-mouth someone behind their back) and I will tell you why you pi$$ed me off with no beating around the bush. I think most women are threatened by my doing that and as a result I do not have many women friends. I have some but they are like me---direct and to the point. We all also get along great, too.

    Adiana :smilec:
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited August 2005

    Devadatta was a cousin of the Buddha who entered the Order and gained supernormal powers of the mundane plane (puthujjana-iddhi). Later, however, he began to harbour thoughts of jealousy and ill will toward his kinsman, the Buddha, and his two chief disciples, Sâriputta and Mahâ Moggallâna, with the ambition of becoming the leader of the Sangha, the Order of Monks.

    Devadatta wormed himself into the heart of Ajâtasattu, the young prince, the son of King Bimbisâra. One day when the Blessed One was addressing a gathering at the Veluvana Monastery, where the king, too, was present, Devadatta approached the Buddha, saluted him, and said: "Venerable sir, you are now enfeebled with age. May the Master lead a life of solitude free from worry and care. I will direct the Order."

    The Buddha rejected this overture and Devadatta departed irritated and disconcerted, nursing hatred and malice toward the Blessed One. Then, with the malicious purpose of causing mischief, he went to Prince Ajâtasattu, kindled in him the deadly embers of ambition, and said:

    "Young man, you had better kill your father and assume kingship lest you die without becoming the ruler. I shall kill the Blessed One and become the Buddha."

    So when Ajâtasattu murdered his father and ascended the throne Devadatta suborned ruffians to murder the Buddha, but failing in that endeavour, he himself hurled down a rock as the Buddha was climbing up Gijjhakûta Hill in Râjagaha. The rock tumbled down, broke in two, and a splinter slightly wounded the Buddha. Later Devadatta made an intoxicated elephant charge at the Buddha; but the animal prostrated himself at the Master’s feet, overpowered by his loving-kindness. Devadatta now proceeded to cause a schism in the Sangha, but this discord did not last long. Having failed in all his intrigues, Devadatta retired, a disappointed and broken man. Soon afterwards he fell ill, and on his sick-bed, repenting his follies, he desired to see the Buddha. But that was not to be; for he died on the litter while being carried to the Blessed One. Before his death, however, he uttered repentance and sought refuge in the Buddha.


    Devadatta did some of the worst things imaginable in his life time, but it is stated that in spite of the great hatred shown by Devadatta towards him, the Buddha did not harbour, on his part, one single feeling of ill-will. It is said that after suffering for one hundred thousand kappas, he would be reborn as a Pacceka Buddha called Atthissara. So from this story we can see that in the Buddhist tradition everyone has a redeeming quality.

    The suffering we cause will one day be the suffering we experience, but we are capable of learning from our mistakes. Metta and Karuna are two qualities which should be cultivated towards such people as Devadatta or your friend. Metta is 'loving-kindness' which is seeing a person as a friend. We are all friends in birth, sickness, old age, and death. Karuna is 'compassion'. Compassion is seeing anothers suffering and doing what you can to alleviate it. These qualities do not always come naturally, but we can cultivate them so that they arise more and more of their own.

    As for speech, if you cannot manage to say something skillfully, without hurting another, it may be best to just remain silent. As much as you try not to hurt others with your words don't forget that you can also hurt yourself.
  • edited August 2005
    grainne wrote:
    Sorry if I seem like Im being pedantic ... but .... here goes anyway

    Its not the simple stuff thats the problem, is it possible for sombody to be bad? Is it possible for somebody to have no redeeming qualities what so ever? The Christian tradition says there is good and evil, generally, both in the one person, but is it possible in the buddhist tradition?

    And if so ..... how do you handle wrong speech in that situation?

    I certainly don't subscribe to the notion that some people are just completely bad. Certainly there are people that are not nice to be around, and there are even the sociopaths out there who really have no empathy for other people. I tend to think that society can make good use out of just about everyone at some time or another - even if they are just there to help us practice staying cool when people ruffle our feathers. And sometimes, people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. What's a good quality in one culture might be bad in another.

    Let it be clear, I believe that concepts like Good and Bad are pretty much relative and subjective and are best used to describe actions, not people, since it is often hard to judge intentions.
  • edited August 2005
    For me I still use harsh words like f**k but that's only for an expression, or joke around with friends who know how I live my life. But I never get angry. Well those words don't tel much themselves, it's only when used with anger then they kill.
  • edited August 2005
    Comdemn the actions not the person.
  • edited August 2005
    I think in Buddhism there isn't Good or Bad... It's simply Skilful and Unskilful... It's impossible at times t find a good solution...
  • SimonthepilgrimSimonthepilgrim Veteran Veteran
    edited August 2005
    Grainne, acushla,

    I have reflected on your question for a while. There does not seem to be a simple answer. 'Self-help' writers have made lots of money writing books on how to handle "difficult" people!

    The hard truth is that the only possible change, as you recognise, is in ourselves. And this means a complete 'spring cleaning' of my attitudes not just to that person who "winds me up" but towards everyone. It means that I am going to surprise (and, possibly, shock) those whose company we have enjoyed. Right Speech does not stand alone. It is part of an eightfold matrix and falls if we are not also practising (however poorly) the other seven.

    Elsewhere, I have referred to the Catholic notion (which I'm sure you learned at school) of "occasion of sin". It would seem that your 'friend' is one such occasion. Clear-sighted examination of my own part in maintaining unsatisfactory relationships has helped me in the past. I have been astonished to see how much of the interaction which hurts me is actually driven by me.

    Of course, this may not be the case with your friend. They may be a complete waste of skin! But, also. perhaps, someone loves them. Can you see them through the eyes of their lover?

    Courage, dear heart. We are born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards.
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