Mindfulness Develops Right Speech

Ajahn Jotipālo • May 2013

Ajahn Dtoen came to visit us once, right after one of our winter retreats. During a question and answer period, I asked him if there were any exercises we could do to improve the wholesomeness of our speech or how to approach right speech as a practice. He saw right through me. He could see I was hoping there was some sort of technique I could apply before speaking that would solve all my problems around speech—a technique that would tell me when my speech was appropriate and timely. Ajahn Dtoen shook his head and said, “No, if you are looking for a method or a technique, it’s too late. What you really need to be developing is all-around, all-encompassing mindfulness. For example, right now, where are your sandals? If you were mindful when you took them off you would know exactly where they are, what direction they are facing, and possibly whose sandals are next to yours.”

After we’ve taken off our jackets or set our car keys down, if we don’t know exactly where they are right now, we probably weren’t mindful when we set them down. We can take that as a practice, a training. With everything we do we can try to make a mental note. That’s one way to bring ourselves fully into the present moment. To do that we need to carefully slow down and be aware of the action we are doing. If we practice being aware of where we place our personal items, then as a benefit from that, we have trained ourselves to slow down and be aware of our mind states. When speech then comes into play, the mind can be more aware of what we are doing and we can start seeing what is appropriate or not appropriate—if this is the right time to speak or not. We may learn to question whether we need to say anything at all. By training in this way, the ability to discern and make judgments about speech can become much stronger because we have developed it with mindfulness.