Understanding Right Speech & Right Action

All thoughts, speech or actions in life should be directed towards two basic goals; one, to provide happiness to others and secondly, attain self-happiness in consequence.

Our ancient texts and scriptures – Upanishads, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – have discoursed on “the right speech” and so did Buddha. According to Gautam Buddha, the right speech has three components:

  1. It should be based on truthfulness.
  2. It should be necessary, and
  3. It should be kind.

All the three components have to be in the same sequence with truthfulness being on the top.

For example, a patient asks a doctor, “Am I going to die in the next few weeks or will I survive longer”? The truth may be that he is critically ill and may not survive but it is not necessary to speak the truth and also it is not kind. Therefore, that truth should not be spoken.

Lord Krishna in Mahabharata explained when not to speak the truth and when to speak a lie. The truth which is going to harm the society may not be spoken and a lie which can save the life of a person without harming others may be spoken.

  1. A truth which is necessary and kind may be spoken.
  2. A truth which is not necessary but kind may not be spoken.
  3. A truth which is necessary but not kind may not be spoken.
  4. A truth which is neither necessary and nor kind may not be spoken.

Vedic teaching says that one should live according to dharma or “the right action” to achieve good karma. This means doing what is right for the individual, the family and for the universe.

According to the Bhagavata Purana, righteous living or life on a dharmic path has four pillars: truthfulness (satya), austerity (tap), purity (shauch) and compassion (daya). While, adharmic or unrighteous life has three main vices: pride (ahankar), bad company (sangh) and intoxication (madya).

Manusmriti also prescribes ten essential rules to tread the path of dharma: Patience (dhriti), forgiveness (kshama), piety or self-control (dama), honesty (asteya), sanctity (shauch), control of senses (indriya-nigrah), reason (dhi), knowledge or learning (vidya), truthfulness (satya) and absence of anger (krodha). Manu further writes, “Non-violence, truth, non-coveting, purity of body and mind, control of senses are the essence of dharma”.

The very first word of the Gita is “Dharma” – “Dharmakshetre Kurukshetra Samavetayuyutsavaha”, which means the battle of dharma and adharma. The Gita concludes with the word “Mama”. The essence of Bhagavada Gita is contained in these two words ‘Mama’ and ‘Dharma’. Combined together, these two words become “mamadharma”, meaning ‘your true Dharma’. This is what the Gita teaches us, “What is your Dharma?”

To live your life as per your dharma signifies the right action in every moment of the life. To inculcate the spirit of Dharma, practice random acts of kindness. Do not follow the dictates of body and do not indiscriminately follow the mind, for the mind is like a mad monkey. Follow the conscience.

Follow Buddha’s principles of right speech: Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it the truth? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If the answer to any is ‘no’, do not speak.

Follow Buddha’s principles of right action: Before doing any action ask yourself: Is it the truth? Is it necessary? Will it bring happiness to me? Will it bring happiness to others? If the answer to any is ‘no’, do not do that action.

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