Inside Out

Notes on seeking wisdom and crafting software.

On speech

This note is an analysis of speech based on various tidbits I learned recently. The trigger was a lesson on parenting where the Master advised to follow a mental model for deciding when and how to speak with our children. This decision framework also applies well to our day-to-day life. Let’s start with a definition and dive deeper into the mental model.

A definition

May my speech be established in my mind and let the mind be rooted in the speech 1 thus the Student prays for unification of the mind and speech before starting their study. May you both (speech and mind) be the carriers of the Veda (knowledge) to me. Our speech is an expression of the mind. It is also the precursor to our actions. Right speech is the hallmark of a pure mind. We find four stages in this transformation of consciousness from the unmanifest to the spoken word.

Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari 2 are the four types of speech.

Spiritual unfoldment traverses this path in reverse 2. Ensure Vaikhari is disciplined first, silent the inner cock-a-doodle Madhyama thereafter and move gradually to the source. Let’s connect this with practice using two hints from the masters.

Mental model

Bhagavad Gita provides a note on discipline of the speech in Chapter 17 4. Same four factors are also explained in the Abhaya Sutta discourse by the Buddha 5. It’s always amazing to see the same truth expounded in multiple ways for all of us.

Mental model

Each “row” in the Y-axis above indicates a criterion for speech. Columns determine when a particular condition is met (tick) or not met (cross). X-axis is the decision - whether to speak or stay silent.

Truth and Beneficial are necessary conditions for anything we speak. But these are not sufficient. We must wait for the right moment to speak. Why? The Buddha advises us to be sympathetic to living beings. We must preserve the peace and harmony by practicing non-violence or non-agitation.

Both the discourses list Truth as the necessary condition. Buddhism also calls out Factual along with Truth. Perhaps the idea is to exclude assumed Truth. E.g., statements which may not be factual (i.e., not perceived or examined) yet believed to be true.

Allow me to paraphrase an example the Master used to illustrate this framework. Imagine you are visiting a felicitation ceremony at the school. You see the other children getting awards. You start lecturing your child, “Son, you should study X hours a day and practice the piano Y hours like ABC. You can win the competition next time”. This statement is factual and true, and it is beneficial too. However, a comparison may trigger certain negative emotions in the child. A ceremony may not be the right place for this advice. Let’s choose better words, be compassionate and find the right moment for any discussion.

Thank you for reading this far! Hope we both will practice this in our daily life 👼.

Footnotes

  1. From the Shanti Mantra in Aiteriya Upanishad: ॥ॐ॥ वाङ्मे मनसि प्रतिष्ठिता। मनो मे वाचि प्रतिष्ठितम्। Translation is available on Wikipedia.

  2. See short video by Swami Anubhavananda for a lucid explanation with examples. Unfolding of the Self is undoing this expression of the speech leading us into the supreme silence, i.e, move ourselves from Vaikhari ➝ Madhyama ➝ Pashyanti ➝ Para. Also see this note on Shiva Sutras. Overall principle seems to be control of speech is the control of mind. 2

  3. An analysis of the works of Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari expounds on this further in 1 and 2. Pashyanti is an act of iccha shakti or the intent and will. Madhyama requires jnana shakti or the intellect. Vaikhari requires kriya shakti or the power to act. With these three forces the consciousness manifests from the unmanifest. Also see stackoverflow.

  4. अनुद्वेगकरं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रियहितं च यत् । स्वाध्यायाभ्यसनं चैव वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते ॥ १५ ॥

    Speech causing no annoyance, truthful, pleasant and beneficial, the practice of the study of the Scriptures, are called the austerity of speech. Source: here.

  5. “In the same way, prince:

    [1] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

    [2] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

    [3] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

    [4] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

    [5] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

    [6] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.”

    Entire discourse is available here.