Right Speech

Only speak when it will improve the silence.

These lists are from The Gradual Sayings, the earliest scriptures of Buddhism, and seem as relevant for practice today as they were 2500 years ago! All twenty elements from the lists should, ideally, be practiced in our daily interactions with ourselves, our families, our colleagues and communities, and everyone with whom we interact. Right speech is one of the most important practices in the Buddhist tradition.


6 Elements of Right Speech

  1. Only speak when conditions suggest you should speak
  2. Only speak truthfully
  3. Only speak when you have something to say that will be of benefit
  4. Always speak in ways that can be understood
  5. Only say it once (if you said it truthfully, when conditions suggest is appropriate, and if it is beneficial, then saying it more than once is being argumentative)
  6. Never go on the battlefield (arguing is not right speech); being of benefit isn’t about winning


4 Elements of Wrong Speech

  1. Harsh, mean-spirited, threatening or angry words
  2. Falsehoods and slander
  3. Gossip and small talk
  4. Belittling others and especially belittling others to raise your own status


5 Qualities of Wrong Speech

  1. Flattery [complimenting a benefactor in hope of getting something in return]
  2. Hinting [at things you want to receive]
  3. Being verbally passive aggressive or bullying
  4. Using words to exert pressure [in order to get something from someone]
  5. Being on “one’s best” verbal behavior to deceive another [inauthentic speech]


5 Points To Be Borne in Mind When Wishing To Rebuke Another

  1. I will speak at the proper time, internally and externally
  2. I will state the truth
  3. I will speak gently
  4. I will speak for the other’s good
  5. I will speak from patience and compassion, not with enmity


Some Practices with Right Speech

Never go on the battlefield. If you have said it when conditions suggest it can be understood, and said it in a way that can be perceived as beneficial, then saying it once is enough. There is nothing to protect and defend if right speech is used.

For a week, commit not to speak about anyone who is not in the room. In other words, no gossip, small talk, or belittling of others.

For a week, commit not to flatter anyone. Note how all flattery has a wrong speech aspect, if not obviously, then covertly.

When in meetings or groups, remain the smallest person in the room. This encourages genuine modesty and reduces the possibility of wrong speech.