Right of free speech

What would Buddha say about right of free speech?

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He would kill them :crazy_face:

Sorry, just kidding.

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Well we don’t have any record of him wanting other ascetics or philosophers and their followers being shut down. In that sense we can say he adhered to a notion which we would call free speech today.


I’m sure he would have advised monarchs to do what is customary and/or conducive to social harmony, which includes giving citizens the right to be heard.

No question what he would tell someone trying to practice towards freedom from suffering…that requires a person to reign in their speech. “Free speech” implies a lack of perspective upon virtue, as if to say the aspect of freedom supersedes the value of the precepts. He would not advise that person to speak freely - putting the business of the world in front of one’s own development.

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This may be of use in exploring the topic, especially of Right Speech as the Buddha taught, versus free speech.

This issue has been discussed many times on the forum. There are many good threads about it if you do a search. Here are a couple more :slight_smile:


It’s one of those interesting conundrums, because it’s such a focal point of modern conversation, yet in the Buddha’s day it seemed to be a non-issue. At least, there’s no explicit discussion of it. There are a couple of passages that hint at a certain reticence in talking badly of the current king, but that’s about it.

The Buddha focused instead on the responsibility to use “right” speech. We should use the gift of speech to make the world a better place and help free ourselves and others from suffering.

Here’s the interesting part. Was the Buddha able to do this because there was already an implicit guarantee of free speech? Or is it rather because the very notion of free speech did not exist?

This is a meta-ethical question, and it’s the kind of problem that is, to me, most interesting in how we understand the Dhamma. There are a whole range of philosophical problems that are conceived of as major issues in the West—and hence in our western-dominated global culture—but which are simply framed completely differently in Buddhism (mind/body dualism, hard determinism, consciousness to name a few).

A meta-ethical question doesn’t ask “what is right or wrong in this case?” It asks, “what kind of language or framing should we use to talk about ethical questions?”

It seems almost impossible to conceive of what that might look like. How do we talk about the very idea of what kinds of speech we use without invoking the idea of rights?

And the theoretical problem is just the start. Assuming that we find a better way of talking about speech, when we convert the meta-ethical problem into practical ethics we run into the momentum of culture: how do we educate ourselves and others to approach the question of speech in this better way, when everyone is so deeply conditioned to think in terms of their “right” to free speech?

Not easy! But to start with, we can look at the way the Buddha taught, and instead of asking, “how does this fit into modern paradigms”, ask “what exactly was he saying and how did that respond to the people and ideas around him?” Once we have a good handle on that, we can start to address the contemporary problem.


Well put venerable.

It seems the two different traditions of ethics here are based on two different questions about speech.

The western discourse often seems to be framed in a legal sense and asks “what are we allowed to say?”

The Buddhist discourse seems to be asking “how should be speak skillfully”?