By: David Xi-Ken Shi 曦 肯
I want to speak to you today about one of the most important dimensions to the Eightfold Path’s element of Encompassing & Corrective Speech. I am thinking about the learned skill of listening. I say learned skill, because it is truly a skill that requires special development. It seems, we are not born with this particular tool for communication. Listening requires taming the ego-driven addiction to being center stage, and always trying to overcome another’s “air time”. To speak is to articulate words that convey meaning, and to listen is to be aware of the words being spoken. Human speech is a process then that requires both speaking and listening simultaneously in order to express ideas, emotions, instructions, desires, and other quite human expectations to others. It is of great importance in human relations. So, when Siddhartha Gotama spoke about Right Speech, he was including both sides of the communication equation; listening as well as skillful means of intentional speech.
When we think of all the ways we can cause trouble between individuals, it can be due to refusing to talk with someone, not making ourselves clear when we speak to them, or not listening to them undistracted so we can respond back in an intelligent fashion. If we speak to others and listen when they talk, we develop the possibility of mutual connection, understanding and acceptance. Speech and listening are like all other phenomena in the Universe, they are subject to the rules of causality. In the ordinary way of experiencing things, when something good appears, we have a positive reaction, and when something bad appears, we have a negative reaction. When we listen to others we experience a body-mind moment, that over time, will effect our actions, either knowingly or unknowingly. Thus, the Buddha’s concept of Right Speech pertains mainly to the ethical dimensions of speech, to the importance of the subject matter of what we have to say. But the Buddha was also concerned with how we speak, with those qualities that can make our words a positive and productive means of human communication. The Buddha always talked in a way that was ‘serious and beneficial for opening the mind’ as we hear expressed so often throughout the Pali Nikayas. He instructed his monks to speak without rambling and in a gentle tone, and to use language that is polished, clear, free-flowing, meaningful, comprehensive and unbiased. As we speak it is important to connect with whom we are speaking in order to gauge their reaction that gives us clues to how we are being understood. In other words, how are they listening. Speaking in such a manner makes ordinary social interactions more pleasant and harmonious, and teaching the dharma in such a way makes it more attractive and convincing too, I might add. Continue reading