There are three ways we act on the inclinations, impulses, and intentions that come through the mind. We act on them through body, speech, or mind. Particularly in a monastery, we notice speech because there are many restraints on the activities we engage in. Things are often expressed in the form of speech, so it’s good to focus our attention on the habit of speech. We can learn a lot about ourselves through speech patterns. In the monastery, we attempt to speak not only the truth, but also to speak gently without anger, to speak without tale bearing, and to refrain from using frivolous or unnecessary speech. Overall people really do a good job with that. However, speech is a very difficult area of practice, and wrong speech can come out unexpectedly.
We come to the monastery with a lot of conditioning around speech formed from family upbringing and the company we have kept. Western culture tends to encourage people to speak what’s on their minds, sometimes without much thought about how it affects other people. This conditioning can manifest in actions or speech indicative of trying to get our way, trying to be persistent, or trying to get what we want. We can also express frustration or impress people or present ourselves in ways in which we’d like other people to see us, which might be different from how we really are.
These influences in our lives and on our minds can spill out into speech in the monastery, and it takes constant vigilance to restrain ourselves from speaking in unskillful ways. Sometimes it’s appropriate not to say anything as with the practice of noble silence. But in a monastery there is a need for communication. We need to talk with each other to engender a sense of communal living and support. So a certain amount of speech is necessary to maintain harmony and well-being, and noble silence isn’t always the answer. If something needs to be communicated or somebody needs support or encouragement, then skillful speech is appropriate and encouraged. But we must watch the underlying impulse or mood in the mind that serves as the basis for speech. It’s important to be careful with our speech because people are sensitive creatures and many regrets can arise around wrong speech The Metta Sutta says that we need not only to be straightforward in speech but gentle as well. Even if our speech is true, we must be mindful of the impact our words have in a community. So I’ll leave that for this morning’s reflection.