Layfolk and right speach

Continuing the discussion from Community guidelines revision:

It’s an interesting point to reflect on, but I have to say I’m really not at all sure about the proposition here. One of my favourite suttas is MN41. It is delivered to brahmin householders of Sālā. Within it, the Buddha describes the kind of actions (including verbal actions) that lead to a happy and unhappy rebirth. I think both the given audience and the fact that the Buddha describes what leads to different kinds of rebirth (rather than to full liberation), clearly indicate that the teaching (including his advice on speech) is for laypeople. He advises:

And how, householders, are there four kinds of verbal conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct? Here someone, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech; when summoned to a court, or to a meeting, or to his relatives’ presence, or to his guild, or to the royal family’s presence, and questioned as a witness thus: ‘So, good man, tell what you know,’ not knowing, he says, ‘I do not know,’ or knowing, he says, ‘I know’; not seeing, he says, ‘I do not see,’ or seeing, he says, ‘I see’; he does not in full awareness speak falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for some trifling worldly end. Abandoning malicious speech, he abstains from malicious speech; he does not repeat elsewhere what he has heard here in order to divide those people from these, nor does he repeat to these people what he has heard elsewhere in order to divide these people from those; thus he is one who reunites those who are divided, a promoter of friendships, who enjoys concord, rejoices in concord, delights in concord, a speaker of words that promote concord. Abandoning harsh speech, he abstains from harsh speech; he speaks such words as are gentle, pleasing to the ear, and loveable, as go to the heart, are courteous, desired by many, and agreeable to many. Abandoning gossip, he abstains from gossip; he speaks at the right time, speaks what is fact, speaks on what is good, speaks on the Dhamma and the Discipline; at the right time he speaks such words as are worth recording, reasonable, moderate, and beneficial. That is how there are four kinds of verbal conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct.


I agree that that teaching is for lay people as well as monks. However, the standard that we hold ourselves as laypeople living lay lives is only the first of the 4 forms of right speech. It is common for parents of most peoples AFAIK to teach their children not to lie. Many people, including myself, will call someone out of they’re found to be lying. It’s pretty universal for lying to be condemned by good people.

But telling someone off for the other 3 forms of speech is less clear. The lines between slander and what is not, and what is harshness and what is not are unclear. And I would never tell a layperson off for idle chatter, that’s just what we do. :stuck_out_tongue:

OTOH this is a Buddhist forum and we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. But this is also an online forum with people from all different backgrounds and it can be hard to gauge people on the standards of right speech. Intentions and emotional state are far harder to judge online. How far that standard should extend here is debatable, as seen in the proposed revision of community guidelines thread.


Yeah, I completely agree, but that’s not the point in this thread at all - it might have come out of the guideline discussion, but this is just discussion discussion. :grinning: As such, for me, the issue of being ‘told off’ just does not apply. For me it’s about purifying ones own internal world, for ones own benefit (although it’s so obviously beneficial for others, too) and the only person that can really do any ‘telling off’ there is oneself, and even then I’d think ‘telling off’ might be an approach that’s kinda off of the mark.

However, there is of course a place for good friendship, support and encouragement.


As far as purifying one’s own mind, I agree we should try to meet all 4 aspects of right speech as well as the making our speech like that outlined on this ATI page, like in Ven. Dhammanando’s post here, we should try to answer questions right (AN 4.42), and we should try to live up to all the other teachings on speech that we haven’t covered.

Of course this is very hard to do, but we should try. Drops in a bucket eventually fill it up.


True. But we just know when it is Right speech. It is hard to know if it is Wrong speech (unless it is obvious) and maybe it is best to stay equanamous, and perhaps even give the benefit of the doubt.

with metta

Yes, the first step is coming to an agreement that these are worthy of being our personal standard for speech (Right view).

Then, the next step is slowing down and reviewing what we type before we type it (Right mindfulness, Right effort). Thinking in terms of Right speech and also in terms of ‘is this beneficial for me as well as others’. With time, this will become seamless as the mind internalises it.

It will slowly change and it will change only if gentle effort is initiated.

Being positive about one’s ability to change (sakko) is also helpful.

with metta