Are unkind words wrong speech?


well done

‘relying on harsh speech…’ to me has the meaning of ‘resorting only to harsh speech’, which I would discourage and thinking that of others, just because they use harsh speech, would be an unkind exaggeration.

for me, this is thinking infected with wrong view and avoids one’s responsibility for one’s emotions. I would say ‘I react with sadness to…’ or something similar.

when we put ‘that’ after ‘feeling’ we are no longer speaking about feeling, but rather thought. You have already covered your feelings with ‘sad’, but maybe you also, or rather feel ‘hopeless’.

Sad to hear, indeed

I disagree, since he killed someone, I would say his morality was not pure and he could not be a noble person. Any ignoble person could fall into killing another, when spurred on by unwholesome conditions (states of mind). Just because one wears a robe does not make one a noble person and incapable of such immoral acts.


thanks Viveka

this seems to be your, or someone’s, interpretation of ‘beneficial’. I have never seen that explanation by the Buddha, but I have seen ‘connected with the goal’.


great, I hope so. I try to not assume I know where someone is coming from. I would say “I think I know where you’re coming from”.

Of course, but I would not say ‘allow’ themselves, as if it were a choice. Rather I believe they cannot help but be so affected, it is a reaction based on past kamma. If they apply wise reflection, they may break it.

This seems to imply I do not allow that we can affect others, but I certainly do. Whether they succumb to past habits, or break free is in their hands.

of course, I agree


You are right. I am using an incorrect word here. I’m glad you caught it.


though I would say ‘can influence’ rather than ‘do affect’. :slight_smile:


I’ve found this to be the crux of difficulties I’ve had with online communication. ie That the same sequence of words, be it statement or question, is susceptible to different interpretations by different readers. It’s often pointed out that the words are stripped of accompanying tonal modulations, facial expressions and body postures and get interpreted by readers according to their personal conditioning. Since I don’t know in an internet forum exactly who will read what I’ve written I feel I should strive for kindness and gentleness much more than I do in everyday life where I often have a knowledge of those I’m dealing with as a guide. … It sure ain’t always easy.


“The goal”, “the good”, “benefit” and “welfare” have all been used by one translator or another to render the attha in atthasamhita.


I recently read an excellent piece on ‘when harsh speech is acceptable’ here in Discourse. I think it was by Ayya @Vimala, it was directly quoting a sutta and along the lines of what I mentioned above. But search though I have, I can’t find it again. Does anyone have memory of this?


I’d just like to make it clear that the Sutta Central Guidelines, including those about Right Speech, are not up for debate.

This thread should be clearly recognised as a general dhamma discussion.

With regards to the Guidelines at Sutta Central, they have been specifically formulated in order to ensure access to the Dhamma, via EBTs, and for free, in as many languages as possible for everyone (public).

The existing standards and guidelines are the result of much deliberation from many experienced people.

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Moderation of a public internet forum, to ensure a respectful, welcoming and harmonious environment is a very difficult task, especially for such a diverse group of people. Based on experience, a structure for this has been established, where the moderator team works to arbitrate on specific issues, based on the guidelines.

This site has a couple of special and unique features. One aspect of this is that participation is dependent on agreement to abide by the guidelines. There are many, many other forums on the internet for those who do not wish to do so.

So please enjoy!



One difficulty with unkind words is that they are likely to be perceived as unkind, and therefore not received in a positive way.

And do we really know what is best for other people?


Sorry, no, but I do have memory of MN58 which supports your original point.


Another one to call out is MN139.

In it we see the Buddha putting on us the onus of knowing exactly when it is the right time to say what is sharp nevertheless true and beneficial.

“When you know that your sharp words in someone’s presence are true and correct, but harmful, then you should train yourself not to speak.
When you know that your sharp words in someone’s presence are true, correct, and beneficial, then you should know the right time to speak.”

In my case I don’t think that knowledge and certainty can exist unless you know the other person well enough and/or are in his/her presence.



Yes, a brilliant sutta! Pulling things back to the general Q of the OP yet another one to mention might be AN6.55:

“Sir, a mendicant who is perfected—with defilements ended, who has completed the spiritual journey, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, achieved their own true goal, utterly ended the fetters of rebirth, and is rightly freed through enlightenment—is dedicated to six things. They are dedicated to renunciation, seclusion, kindness, the ending of craving, the ending of grasping, and mental clarity.

It may be, sir, that one of the venerables here thinks: ‘Maybe this venerable is dedicated to kindness because they believe that adhering to precepts and observances is the most important thing.’ But it should not be seen like this. A mendicant with defilements ended does not see in themselves anything more to do, or anything that needs improvement. They’re dedicated to kindness because they’re free of greed, hate, and delusion with the end of greed, hate, and delusion.

It’s just one tiny example that the direction of travel should be towards kindness, not away from it.


Beautiful! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


I once tried to kill someone. And I failed.

This is why I can definitely assert that is where unkindness can lead. Having tried to kill someone out of anger is exactly why I study the teachings of the Buddha. Disagree as you wish, but in no way will you tempt me to unkindness. It is a blemish.


As I noted previously, the problem for me arises when I offer kind words that are perceived as unkind, e.g., when I file a care report on a student who is failing a class and the student resents that support staff are now checking in on them to see if they need help. Also, in these sorts of circumstances, often I do know what is best for other people. Students who are abusing drugs and in jeopardy of failing out of college are almost always not acting in their best interest (I imagine there are exceptions, but that would not seem to be a reason not to file a report to make sure they get the care they need).


the problem for me arises when I offer kind words that are perceived as unkind: @Metaphor

As long as there is a history that unpleasant words are helpful for a certain person and it’s based in compassion then it ok. We cannot control for what other people think and it’s impossible to please allways.


thanks very much for that. I understand ‘attha’ is also used in the descriptions of the two ends/goals (often translated ‘extremes’) to be avoided.

has anyone evidence that the Buddha intended the meaning/s: ‘at the right time, right place, right circumstances, right receptibility’?


thanks Gillian

I’ve found this to be true in any form of communication, online or face to face. Therefore I don’t single out one (external), but look at the skills (internal) I’m trying to apply.

I find it interesting that you first speak of knowing, then ‘have a knowledge’. For me the first is complete, but the second is partial.

In any case, I don’t claim to know anyone else, partially or fully, in person or not, unless they acknowledge that I do.

I do not think it is possible to know another until I know myself and even those who might have had those skills, e.g. the Buddha, maintained humility and asked ‘what do you think about this?’

best wishes


What is it that you will accept as evidence, and perhaps more crucially, what intention is driving your question?