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PUBLISHER’S DESK The Power of Kindly Speech


Words can hurt others, so it’s always good to avoid harsh language, backbiting and even friendly teasing BY SATGURU BODHINATHA VEY LANSWAMI


O


ne of the key teachings of my guru, Sivaya Subramuniya- swami, is that we are a soul, a divine being. However, we


live in a physical body—as embodied souls—with strong thoughts and emo- tions. Thus, we have a soul nature, an intellectual nature and an instinctive na- ture. He describes this plurality as three phases of the mind: superconscious or spiritual (which is the soul); intel- lectual or mental; and instinctive or physical-emotional. It is the instinctive, animal-like


nature which contains the tendencies to become angry, jealous, fearful or hurtful to others. Part of making progress on the spiritual path is learning to control the instinctive mind. This is where the yamas, the ten ethical restraints, come into play. They provide a list of tendencies we need to subdue. The classical Hindu depiction of restraining the mind is the chari- ôô


5 3 ô ô 3 UL ô 3 J ôôL 5 ^Rô ô 3 U


words need to be expressed in a kindly way if they are to have the intended effect. There are four common forms of hurting others with our speech: joking, teasing, gossiping and backbiting.


Joking & Teasing Let’s look at some examples that illustrate joking and teasing. First example: a peer has a special privilege or position. We grumble, “Look at Mr. I’m-better-than-you! Why was he exempted from the work we had to do today?” Second example: someone speaks with a foreign accent. You mimic his faulty pronunciation and laugh. Third example: a S


ô 3 õ ^ U U 5 -


bers. When she struggles with a calcula- tion, you make fun of her. The rationale


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to keep them under control. The yamas are the reins which help us control our instinctive and intellectual natures, which are like strong steeds that can work for us or run wild if not kept in check. + ô ^ 3 U


thought, word or deed. Noninjury, as we all know, is a central Hindu principle. Of course, most of us do not indulge in physical violence. We may conclude from this that ahimsa presents no challenge to us. SôRô L


5 ô 3ô U ô õô^ 3 L Sô 3ôô


that it includes not harming others by our thoughts or words. Hence those following a spiritual life need to practice noninjury in our speech and even our thoughts. To make progress on the spiritual path we need to focus on our


weak points and strive to improve them. Furthermore, we need to hold the attitude that no matter how well we are doing in a particu- ôL Sô


S U3 õ ô ô L ^ õ S U3 ô ô^ ô


behavior. Speech is perhaps our most powerful tool for communica- tion and a worthy focus for our attention. Gurudeva provides a fourfold guideline to judge if our speech is


appropriate: “Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and neces- sary.” Let’s take the example of a friend who is overweight. We are genuinely worried that it is vital for his health to lose some weight. We voice our concern by saying, “Ravi, you are way too heavy.” Our message passes the test of helpfulness but fails the test of kindness. We need to express our concern more diplomati- cally. Perhaps, “I hope you won’t mind my saying this, Ravi, but it would be good for your health to get serious about diet and exercise.” Even helpful


10 hinduism today april/may/june, 2017


is “I’m joking,” “Just being humorous,” “Entertaining my friends.” In truth, your words are himsa; you are harming others through your speech and justifying it by saying you are just joking, as if humor removes or exempts the hurt. Words can cause real pain, even if they are said in jest. Many don’t realize this. Criti- cal humor comes at the expense of the person you are joking about. In evaluating these examples with our fourfold test, we can see that they are neither true, kind, helpful nor necessary.


Gossip Gossip is talking about the details of others’ personal lives for the delight of it when they are not present. It’s like creating and watching our own soap opera. Such talk entertains those present at the expense of the person being gossiped about. Some wives regularly gossip about their husbands, on the phone or on the Internet, with other wives. Some husbands complain about their wives among coworkers. Such idle talk may perhaps pass the test of being true, but it fails the other three tests: kindness, helpfulness and necessity. Husbands need the support of their wives to be suc- cessful. Wives need the support of their husbands to be secure. Telling tales and teasing disastrously undermine support in any relationship.


Backbiting Last but not least is backbiting. Finding faults in another and sharing such shortcomings with others is a hobby many enjoy. It is so much easier to look for faults in others and complain about them than to


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