By J. Martin
Samma-vaca as it is written in Pali translates to things like Perfected Speech, or Whole speech.
I prefer good ol’ Right Speech. Now it is important to realize from the beginning that the Buddha never meant “right” in the traditional Western sense of “right and wrong.” That is a discriminative and dualistic thought. Our dude didn’t do that.
This is part of the whole “being your own light” thing. If you were to look at the text book definition Right Speech, it would state something like, “Clear, truthful, uplifting and non-harmful communication.” And to answer the question I am most often asked, in my humble opinion this does not mean that you can’t swear. The intention behind the action is just as important in determining the value of the action—any action. In fact I would venture to say a well-intentioned, sentence enhancer filled, statement is better than nicely packaged lies and half truths.
Personally I used to picture Right Speech in action with images of a mild mannered monk, solemnly spewing profound truths ad infinium (possibly ad naseum), until I realized I am carrying around a preconceived notion of what it meant. This ingrained symbolism is mine to conquer, and that is the point of this and all the other aspects of The Eightfold Path—conquering these preconceived ideas. The task we have undertaken as practitioners of the Dharma is to develop wisdom to allow us to see through the illusions that have haunted is since the beginning of time without beginning.
The simplest way to achieve a Right Speech is to: speak your truth clearly, stay away from gossip, limit idle chatter, and cut out the verbal meanness. But as long as your aren’t cussing someone out, let ‘er rip.
Right Speech is one of the few truths where we are outwardly conducting the practice, as opposed to an inner unseen effort. We are to eliminate Greed, Aversion, and Attachment in all areas of our lives and help others to do the same. This is not a small task to say the least. Now we have come to, what I like to call, the gray area of the Dharma.
For many folks they take interest in the Dharma, perhaps they join a near by temple, or even a lay Sangha. Then, they go about the task of becoming the most boring people you have ever interacted with. Some can become very harsh and very concerned with what is proper. I am here to tell you this is simply not the way it was meant to be.
I’m sure we all have seen some seemingly Buddhist groups on social media where people are simply rude, uncompromising, and honestly speaking, mean. Have a little fucking compassion. It is our task to remember that all of us are walking a path. Don’t scare away a newcomer because they misquoted scripture or missed the intended meaning of a sutra. And don’t become the jaded old timer who has just “seen it all” and can’t be bothered to look into a fresh perspective, either.
I never met The Buddha but I can assure you he would rather have a well-intentioned student who swears like a sailor on shore leave, than a prim and proper douche bag.
Remember that Right Intention is the beginning of the path, however we must continue to apply it to all steps of the path. When we really undertake this journey, we have to constantly check our intentions and motivations. None of us began our spiritual path so we could become dry, overbearing, ass hats. We are here to learn things and help whomever we can, whenever we can.
Remember, it’s your practice. Own it!
J. Martin is a a 32 year old father of three and has been married for 13 years. He was a mechanic for 15 years, then his true calling found him and he became a firefighter. He has been a practicing Buddhist for nine years, including two years of meditation class at the Theravada temple near his home. His teacher moved on and before he did he told him, “Remember, I don’t teach students, I teach teachers. So do something with what you’ve learned.” So J. went to do what he could to further the meditative arts.
Editor: Dana Gornall