“What’s Buddhism?” | Eightfold Path: Right Speech

Whenever I’m asked to explain Buddhism,

My mind goes into immediate hyperdrive,

My soul scrambles to discover the right words,

How do I know which are the right words,

When I’m not an enlightened being?

How do I align with teachings of right speech,

When I must explain such a personal thing?

Explain the Four Noble Truths?

Explain the Eightfold Path?

Explain dukkha’s translations?

Explain enlightenment’s aim?

How do you sum it all up?

In a brief conversation?

How do you take this belief,

Held precious to your heart,

Explain in secular terms?

Buddha knew how to uphold right speech.

Buddha knew what to keep to himself,

And share to help on other’s journey.

Buddha was an enlightened being,

Something I have not yet achieved.

Buddha gave 5 things to ponder before speaking:

[1] “It is spoken at the right time.”

A fellow human is asking me a direct question,

With genuine curiosity during a conversation,

It appears to be an appropriate time for sharing,

But I should be wary of the time slot available.

[2] “It is spoken in truth.”

Monks and Nuns understand the truths of Buddhism much more than I do,

I’m a practicing Buddhist — but does that make me qualified?

What if I mistakenly explain concepts falsely?

What if I detract from someone else’s understanding?

I must stick to the factual nature of Buddhist beliefs,

And let each individual ponder their own perceptions.

[3] “It is spoken affectionately.”

Vital consideration,

Since I can speak in harsh tones,

Without actual intention.

Explaining Buddhism should not be combative,

Explaining should not put down other beliefs.

The words themselves should be kind,

The words should be said gently.

[4] “It is spoken beneficially.”

Speak on the beliefs of Buddhism that are most useful,

Avoid “nitty gritty” aspects that confuse inquirers,

Matters like those should be spoken by Monk/Nun experts.

There is a specific teaching order for a reason,

Otherwise speaking on them could do more harm than good.

[5] “It is spoken with a mind of good-will.

A person has asked me a legitimate question,

However that doesn’t mean my answer has good-will.

Buddhism doesn’t need to manipulate or convince,

So make sure my mind doesn’t create ulterior motives.

My mind cannot reframe Buddhism,

Buddhism stands strong all by itself.

Buddhism is a path to escape dukkha in all forms.

Not only the English translation of “suffering,”

It includes “sorrow,” “anxiety,” “pain,” “dissatisfaction,”

Our human world is full of all types of dukkha,

Some big,

Some small.

Some blatant,

Some subtle.

Creation of dukkha lies with ignorance.

It roots from excessive human desire,

When those attach ourselves to worldly things.

Instead of collective consciousness,

When those view ourselves as separate egos.

Buddhism is recognizing suffering exists,

Identifying the causes for our suffering,

While dutifully working to overcome it,

Using teachings that cultivate wisdom.

Buddha’s Disciplines on “Right Speech”

The quoted discipline I used for this poem is found in Anguttara Nikaya (AN 5.198). Here are some additional teachings:

“Speak only the speech that neither torments self nor does harm to others. That speech is truly well spoken. Speak only endearing speech, speech that is welcomed. Speech when it brings no evil to others is pleasant.”

— Sn 3.3

“Monks, do not wage wordy warfare, saying: ‘You don’t understand this Dhamma and discipline, I understand this Dhamma and discipline’; ‘How could you understand it? You have fallen into wrong practices: I have the right practice’; […]

Why should you not do this? Such talk, monks, is not related to the goal, it is not fundamental to the holy life. […] When you have discussions, monks, you should discuss Suffering, the Arising of Suffering, its Cessation, and the Path that leads to its Cessation. Why is that? Because such talk is related to the goal.”

SN 56.9

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