Day 14 of 29 Days of Spiritual Messages.
Today’s inspiration comes from the Fourth Buddhist Precept from the Pali Canon, the first Buddhist scriptures (the Pali language is a variation of Sanskrit).
It is written as Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami, which translated means “I vow (or undertake) to refrain from incorrect speech.”
We are to be “impeccable” with our speech, as don Miguel Ruiz instructs us in his best-selling book The Four Agreements.
In the Buddhist tradition, the Fourth Precept is described as refraining from four particular actions: (1) being untruthful, (2) exaggerating, (3) divisive speech, and (4) insulting language.
Incorrect speech is destructive.
While this precept is not a rule to which we must adhere like the Abrahamic/Mosaic ten commandments, it is a personal commitment we make to ourselves when we choose to follow a spiritual path. We find versions of this precept in many, if not all, wisdom traditions.
This precept tells us not to lie and not to say things that destroy relationships and friendships. Instead, we are to use “right speech,” as Buddha calls it, speaking truthfully and honestly, and speaking words that promote goodwill, not harm.
Can we disagree or criticize? Sure, as long as our words are respectful of others’ differing views or offer constructive criticism that will help another to improve.
In Buddhism, false speech is rooted in hate, greed, and ignorance, known as the Three Poisons. If your speech is to discredit or assassinate the character of someone you don’t like, to get something that you want at the expense of others, or to lie about your status to win the adoration of others, then you are breaking this promise not only to yourself, but also to your Higher Self.
To practice “right speech,” we are to be mindful of our speech at all times. We are to think about what we say before we say it. Is it going to help, edify, or exhort? Or is it going to harm, insult, or abuse?
We need to examine our own motivations for our speech. Is our speech stemming from the three poisons? Or is it coming from a place of love and compassion? What is your intent?
Note the word “refrain.” The precept doesn’t tell us we have to absolutely stop. We are human; we can’t, but that is no excuse for not trying. The more mindful we are of our speech, the better we get at watching what comes out of our mouths.
When we vow to refrain from incorrect speech, we vow to cultivate wholesome, loving speech in order to bring joy and happiness to others. We vow to relieve others of their suffering. We vow to speak truthfully, using words that inspire others.
This precept is not a directive. It’s not a commandment. But it is a spiritual practice that enables enlightenment. When we are mindful of our words, it helps us, our families, our relationships, and our community.