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PostPosted: Fri 8 Feb - 08:43 (2013)    Post subject: Harmlessness Reply with quote

I undertake the training rule to refrain from taking life (the first precept)

“I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, live supported by my actions. Whatever actions I do, whether good or evil, to that will I become heir” is to be reflected on often.
-Gotama Buddha (AN V.57 tr. J. Kelly)

Introduction

The Buddha recommended five specific training rules for the maintenance of an ethical life. If we do our best to follow these guidelines, they produce a beneficial effect on ourselves and others. If we ignore or reject the guidelines, painful feelings follow, especially regret or shame.

The first of the five guidelines or precepts is “I undertake the training rule to refrain from taking life”. Every major religion recommends a similar restraint. There is no escape from the damage done to oneself when one kills or harms another living being. The precept is framed as a training rule, inviting you to undertake an attitude of non-harming towards all living beings. This training relates to your actions, speech, and thinking, and their effects on other beings –all animals, human and otherwise, down to the smallest creatures. To practice with this training, pay attention to what happens when you are successful in maintaining an attitude of non-harming, and also when you are unsuccessful. It is not a commandment, with a specific penalty for breaking it, but a training regimen. It invites you to notice and heed your actions and their results. The opportunity to learn appears in the situation at hand, and upon later reflection.

The training rule is difficult to translate exactly from the original Pali language. The precise meaning could be to refrain from harming, striking, or killing living beings.

The Buddha explains (and we can plainly see) that every living creature loves life and fears death. In this we are all the same — mammals, fish, birds and insects. All flee from a perceived threat. The sensations of fear are common to all.

All tremble at violence;
Life is dear for all.
Seeing other as being like yourself,
Do not kill or cause others to kill.
(Dhp 130, tr. Fronsdal)

What’s happening when you are intending to harm?

What urge or thought must be present for you to intentionally harm another living being? Is it in your mind or your body? What does it feel like? Examine the impulse, apart from the action. Undertaking the first precept brings your attention to this – the origin of the harmful impulse. Whether the intention is pre-meditated or reactive, it feels compulsive, as if there is no choice. Mild annoyance and rage share this quality. They seem to rise up, unbidden. And yet, it is possible to refuse the urge, in the moment after it comes up – if you recognize it. Not so much “free will” as “free won’t”.

Think about when your “striking out” feeling appears. Does it come when someone cuts you off in traffic? When you feel slighted, overlooked, or unfairly treated? When you see a loose dog? A spider? Cockroach? When you feel ill or tired, do you just want everyone to go away? What are the circumstances under which your sphere of concern shrinks down to just your immediate feelings of irritation or anger? When you feel fearful or intimidated? Training with the first precept begins with noticing the arising of the impulse to strike or harm another being, when the impulse arises.

Degrees of harming

Killing an ant by accident is not a failure to keep the precept; intention is a critical factor. If you saw an anthill and stomped all over it, the harming intention would affect both you and the ants negatively. If you drove a car recklessly, and accidentally hurt or killed someone, it would be the result of a poison in your mind (anger or carelessness) and it would cause regret. When the stakes are high, your attention level must also be high. One positive result of training with the first precept is that you can more easily see the potential for harming others in time to protect against it.

Killing a mosquito, even with malicious intent, is not the same as killing a person. Some people believe that the more spiritually developed a person is, the higher the spiritual cost of murdering her. So killing a Buddha, an awakened one, would result in the heaviest penalties in this life and any possible future births. Killing one’s parents is considered a greater offense than killing an unknown person. Killing a human is worse than killing other species. Killing an insect is a lesser offense than killing a mammal. However, all of these actions result from the seed of hatred. Until hatred is finally and thoroughly uprooted from one’s own heart, the first precept offers the best protection against our own unwholesome tendency to strike out.

The training rule can also apply to types of “striking” that are not physical, but verbal. For example, is malicious gossip a form of harming life? Is the mental state that causes one to abuse someone else verbally the same mental state that leads to hitting? How is it different? Is ignoring the suffering of a close relative or friend a type of harming life? Does it generate the same quality of regret? There are degrees to understanding the training rule, and the way you choose to work with it could change over time.

Consequences of harming and of non-harming

In one lesson, the Buddha said:

Here, student, some man or woman kills living beings and is murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings. Because of performing and undertaking such action, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. But if on the dissolution of the body, after death, he does not reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell, but instead comes back to the human state, then wherever he is reborn he is short-lived….

But here, student, some man or woman, abandoning the killing of living beings, abstains from killing living beings; with rod and weapon laid aside, gentle and kindly, he abides compassionate to all living beings. Because of performing and undertaking such action, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. But if on the dissolution of the body, after death, he does not reappear in a happy destination, in the heavenly world, but instead comes back to the human state, then wherever he is reborn he is long-lived… (MN135.5, tr. Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Whether you subscribe to the idea that something of us continues after we die or not, it is worth considering what effects our actions have. Could it be that it really doesn’t matter what we do, for good or ill? Is an abusive partner no worse than a loving one? Is kindness no better than cruelty? Being on the giving or receiving end of hateful behavior engenders unhappiness. Being on the giving or receiving end of loving behavior engenders happiness. Who can deny this? This is the simple truth that the Buddha refers to in the verses quoted above.

Consider the opposite

If you reject this training rule, where does that leave you? Most people would acknowledge that it is better not to hurt anyone, but perhaps they think that this quality doesn’t need to be consciously cultivated. Perhaps it can safely be left to whatever instinctive goodness one possesses. But one’s instinctive goodness is usually in conflict with one’s instinctive selfishness and sense of entitlement. Growing older sometimes brings maturity, but only if we pay attention to what we’re doing and what’s happening around us. Some people just grow older, and understanding fails to develop. This is why adopting guidelines for one’s own behavior is so important. Each precept is a gift that can help to free us from our own damaging impulses. The Buddha offered the precepts to all of us. All we have to do is accept the gift.

The story of Angulimala
Among the Buddha’s teachings is a famous story about killing and stopping killing. At the time of the Buddha, a fierce murderer was on the loose. It was said that he took a finger from each person he had murdered and wore a necklace made out of them. (“Angulimala” means “finger necklace”). The Buddha understood that this person could be taught a different path, and so he arranged an encounter with Angulimala by simply walking nearby. Angulimala saw the Buddha and gave chase, thinking this would be his next victim.
Then the Blessed One [the Buddha] willed a feat of psychic power such that Angulimala, though running with all his might, could not catch up with the Blessed One walking at normal pace. Then the thought occurred to Angulimala: “Isn’t it amazing! Isn’t it astounding! In the past I’ve chased and seized even a swift-running elephant, a swift-running horse, a swift-running chariot, a swift-running deer. But now, even though I’m running with all my might, I can’t catch up with this contemplative walking at normal pace.” So he stopped and called out to the Blessed One, “Stop, contemplative! Stop!”
“I have stopped, Angulimala. You stop.”
[Angulimala was really puzzled by this response. So he questioned the Buddha – what did he mean?]
“I have stopped, Angulimala,
once & for all,
having cast off violence
toward all living beings.
You, though,
are unrestrained toward beings.
That’s how I’ve stopped
and you haven’t.” (end quote) (from MN86, tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

As with many of the stories in the discourses of the Buddha, Angulimala had a spiritual breakthrough at that moment. He saw his actions and their consequences and immediately regretted them. He resolved to not only stop killing, but asked to become a monk under the Buddha’s guidance and protection. And so it was.

Please don’t try to replicate the Buddha’s actions by standing up to a murderer yourself. The Buddha knew before he confronted Angulimala that he had the power to wake up the brute’s wisdom. Because the Buddha actually had perfected the first precept and all its related practices, his knowledge was secure, and he was able to show Angulimala true compassion.

One lesson that could be taken away from this story is that it’s never too late to change your ways. The only action you can control is the one happening now. Any point can be a turning point. Even without the physical presence of the Buddha, his teachings can exert a powerful force in turning us towards the wholesome.

Is it ever good to kill?

Question: But surely it is good to kill sometimes. To kill disease-spreading insects, for example, or someone who is going to kill you.

Answer: It might be good for you. But what about that thing or that person? They wish to live just as you do. When you decide to kill a disease-spreading insect, your intention is perhaps a mixture of self concern (good) and revulsion (bad). The act will benefit yourself (good) but obviously it will not benefit that creature (bad). So at times it may be necessary to kill but it is never wholly good. (p.27, Good Question Good Answer by Ven. S. Dhammika, published Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society)

As Venerable Dhammika points out, some situations require one to weigh the multiple consequences of the action being contemplated. Killing disease-spreading insects might well be, on balance, a better course of action than leaving them to breed. It could benefit many sentient beings. One could first consider whether there is an alternative to mass killing, such as removing breeding places near human populations. Even if a mass wipe-out is deemed necessary, the actions should be taken with a clear picture of the compromise, consciously minimizing any hatred of the insects. Whenever one kills a living being, there is a karmic consequence to one’s own equilibrium. When one engages in intentional harm, it’s important to affirm the sadness in the act as well as the wholesomeness of the end result.

The situation of killing or being killed is vanishingly rare, unless one is a soldier on the battlefield. Even there, it’s no secret that to kill another human being is very difficult. There is resistance and revulsion, even from trained soldiers. Few soldiers completely recover from the damage done to their spirits if they are forced to kill in the line of duty. Doesn’t this confirm a deep knowledge that we oughtn’t to be doing it? Personally, I would rather be killed than kill anyone, because of the karmic consequences. I hope none of us ever has to make that choice.

Who’s included in your circle of care?

Within human society, and also within animal groups, it is recognized that kindness and safety are offered within some limit or boundary. At the most basic level, parents protect their children, perhaps motivated by an instinct to perpetuate their own genes. Unknown people (or animals) are often perceived as threats; the roots of xenophobia run deep in us. However, it is becoming more and more difficult to identify only with one’s family, kinship group, or tribe. In the developed world, our circle of acquaintance has expanded. Whenever you or someone you know travels to another country (maybe especially a developing country), your circle expands. It is hard to ignore the plight of people whom you have seen and met. Electronic communications can bring together many people who might otherwise have had no knowledge of each other. The news – radio, newspaper, television and internet — brings the far reaches of the world into our homes.

In this setting, the boundaries of our sphere of concern have tended to move outward. It is becoming easier to feel concern for people we don’t know, but do know about. It takes more effort than it used to to divide the world into “us” and “them”. Ultimately, there is only “us”.

Tough questions

People become vegetarians for all kinds of reasons. Some will argue that to eat anything that has been killed for food is to participate in murder. Others argue that eating plants, fish, and other animals are all part of a natural continuum. As far as we know, the Buddha was not a vegetarian. The only rule he made was for monks and nuns, and that was to the effect that they shouldn’t accept meat if they know that an animal was killed only for them. So if a family was eating meat and shared some of it with a monk or nun, that was acceptable. This principle derives from the precept against killing and also from the need for monks and nuns to accept whatever food is offered to them. It is reasonable to consider the first precept when you think about whether or not to eat meat, but you should probably consider other factors as well.

Another question without a perfect answer is abortion. While having or performing an abortion is certainly a form of harming life, the question never comes without a context. My own opinion is that the cost in human suffering of neglecting or abusing a child for decades is heavier than the cost in human suffering of having an abortion. Certainly, others disagree. I also feel that victims of rape and incest should be offered compassion, and abortions if they wish them. Again, others will disagree. I also feel that this is an intensely personal issue, and one that governments have no right to meddle in. In the end, remember, these are all just opinions. People will think and do what they will. Your opinion is mainly important in guiding your own actions.

A field of safety

Sentient beings have the power of choice. We can create a field of safety for others by considering our actions carefully, and holding in check our harmful impulses.

One place to start might be removing objectionable creatures from your home rather than killing them, whenever possible. The act of capturing and releasing a moth (or gecko, or spider) outside can be an act of love. It can affirm what’s best in you, and give you joy.

Remind yourself of the precept each day, and remember that it is a guide for refining your own actions, not a rule for judging others (as with all five of the precepts). In this way a zone of peace is created wherever you go.

The Buddha pointed out that the only escape from violence in the world is to remove the causes of violence in one’s own heart.

Not by harming living beings
Is one a noble one.
By being harmless to all living beings
Is one called “a noble one.” — Dhp 270, tr. Fronsdal





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PostPosted: Fri 8 Feb - 08:51 (2013)    Post subject: Harmlessness Reply with quote

I undertake the training rule to refrain from false speech (the fourth precept)
Better than a thousand meaningless statements
Is one meaningful word
Which, having been heard,
Brings peace.
- Dhammapada 100 (translated by Gil Fronsdal)
Question
What is the most destructive organ in the human body?
What is the most helpful organ in the human body?
Answer
The tongue (along with the lips, lungs, teeth and vocal chords)
Talking is our primary mode of interacting with each other. Speaking with care is the most effective tool we have for cleaning up our inner life and making our relationships better.
Words can connect and heal people and can also alienate and harm people. Words often produce powerful, lasting effects on both the speaker and the listener. Sometimes those effects are unintended, but if your words are well chosen, they can bring peace to you and others.
Whether you are aware of it or not, every word you say has the potential to ease or afflict yourself and others. Spoken or written words, sign language, and non-verbal expressions – which are all forms of speech – shape our relationships with others. For the sake of efficiency, we often communicate by rote. “Good morning” can be a helpful shorthand to say, “Hello, everything’s basically OK over here”. “Rats!” (or something similar) expresses frustration.
The physical cues that come with speech often communicate more than the words themselves. Physical posture, facial expression, and tone of voice can make “hello” sound like a threat or a lover’s endearment or take on any of a variety of meanings. Most often, communication happens first and reflection about the words comes later or never.
You receive and interpret the words and non-verbal communications of others, and they do the same with yours. Even if you say nothing, something registers. An impression is usually created within the first few seconds of meeting. People who are kindly may be recognized as kindly. Angry people may be recognized as angry; depressed as depressed; confused as confused; exhausted as exhausted; happy as happy and so on. It’s hard to hide. You can fake it for a short period of time, but your true feelings are apparent to anyone who’s paying attention.
There is no shortcut. If you want the events in your life to improve, you have to do something differently from how you are doing it now.
Developing wise speech
An American Buddhist monk in the Theravada Thai forest tradition talks about wise speech in this way:
(start quote)
As my teacher once said, “If you can’t control your mouth, there’s no way you can hope to control your mind.” This is why right speech is so important in day-to-day practice.
Right speech, explained in negative terms, means avoiding four types of harmful speech: lies (words spoken with the intent of misrepresenting the truth); divisive speech (spoken with the intent of creating rifts between people); harsh speech (spoken with the intent of hurting another person’s feelings); and idle chatter (spoken with no purposeful intent at all).

In positive terms, right speech means speaking in ways that are trustworthy, harmonious, comforting, and worth taking to heart. When you make a practice of these positive forms of right speech, your words become a gift to others. In response, other people will start listening more to what you say, and will be more likely to respond in kind. This gives you a sense of the power of your actions: the way you act in the present moment does shape the world of your experience. You don’t need to be a victim of past events.
(end quote) (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Right Speech [article posted on AccesstoInsight.org])
Note especially that the author affirms that we shape our world of experience with our words: we create harmony or discord, meaning or nonsense, trust or distrust. How we can direct this process of “world-making” in a wholesome direction is shown in more detail below.
Before, during and after
Think before you speak. Before you speak, there’s a moment’s opportunity for reflection. If you set the intention to think before you speak, one positive side effect might be that you are better able to hear what the other person is saying, or to check whether they are really listening. Pause, even if only for an instant, before speaking or responding. In that short time, you can mentally check where you’re going, and interrupt yourself before the wrong thing comes out of your mouth.
When in doubt, go for kindness and postpone saying anything difficult. Silence is also a viable option in most situations. The response “perhaps” can suit many needs.
Listen while you are speaking. The mind is quick enough to revise a planned statement on the fly. Try to listen to yourself. Hear your tone of voice. Remember that you are having an effect on others, even with your posture and your attitude. Hear what words you choose as you speak. You may discover something about your mood or intention. Listen with an open mind and give a name (to yourself) to what you hear– is it kindness? Impatience? Boredom? Just by listening to yourself, you will come to know yourself better. Your understanding of how you affect others will deepen, and your sympathy for them will grow.
Notice the effects of your speech. It’s not too late to learn something from your words after they’ve been released into the world. Slow down and take the time to notice. Sometimes what you intended was clumsily presented or misinterpreted. Consider how you might phrase it better next time. Sometimes you might bring joy to someone else, or help them bring energy into the present. Notice how the good feeling generated is mutual, and affirm your intention to continue in this way.
So, to review, it is good to attend closely to your speech before you speak, while you are speaking, and after you have finished speaking. The following three questions can guide you in paying attention.
Is it true?
Ask yourself how you know that what you are about to say is true. Did you see it with your own eyes? Did you hear it from a forgotten source? Is it an assumption you’ve made? “Everyone says” is a poor source, and memory can be unreliable. (More on the importance of truth-telling below).
Is it helpful?
Think about it from the hearer’s point of view. Are you saying something she asked to hear? Are you trying to arrange an outcome you desire but the hearer may not? Do your words include an effort to make yourself look good, or important? Consider: is it helpful to the person you’re talking to? Would she agree that it’s helpful? If the subject of your talk is a third party, would that person agree that it’s helpful?
Is it the right time?
How do you know when the time is right? For one thing, be sure that you have the other person’s attention. If you don’t have that, it’s not the right time. In the current situation, does the hearer seem receptive to your words? What is your mood or mind-state? If you are speaking from a mood of irritation or impatience, it’s the wrong time — silence would be better. Is there time available to complete the conversation? Sometimes asking a question can help you know whether the time is right.
Silence
Talking comes naturally to most people. Sometimes it’s as if we don’t really know what we think until we’ve produced words on a particular subject – “thought out loud”. But how can we make sure our speech is worthwhile, and not just blather? Without a bit of silence woven into the conversation, there’s no time to think, to hear, or to connect. Filling our surroundings with continuous noise generates a nervous and uncomfortable urgency. It’s a way of blocking out reflective thinking, and it wears out both the speaker and the listener. Allowing for silence invites listening, thoughtful speech, absorption of what’s said, and contemplation.
Allowing silences has the added benefit of slowing things down. We’re likely to make fewer mistakes if we think and speak at a deliberate pace. We can take responsibility for what we say more easily if we’re not rushing.
For an extrovert, try moving in the direction of more silence. For an introvert, maybe the best way to develop right speech is by overcoming your reluctance to speak. If you listen closely to yourself, it will be easier to find the right balance.
Observe speech and silence in others. What do you see? Is the non-stop talker an admired person? Some quiet people are keen observers and listeners, others might just be tuned out. Notice the effects words have on the people hearing them. Is the speaker aware of how she’s being received? Who do you most enjoy listening to? What is it about their talk (or tone) that makes it welcome?
Words of the Buddha:
FOUR KINDS OF WISE SPEECH
And how is one made pure in four ways by verbal action?
There is the case where a certain person, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech. When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty, if he is asked as a witness, “Come & tell, good man, what you know”: If he doesn’t know, he says, “I don’t know.” If he does know, he says, “I know.” If he hasn’t seen, he says, “I haven’t seen.” If he has seen, he says, “I have seen.” Thus he doesn’t consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world.
Abandoning divisive speech he abstains from divisive speech. What he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he does not tell here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord.
Abandoning abusive speech, he abstains from abusive speech. He speaks words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, that are polite, appealing & pleasing to people at large.
Abandoning idle chatter, he abstains from idle chatter. He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, & the Vinaya [the way to freedom from suffering]. He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal.
This is how one is made pure in four ways by verbal action. (AN 10.176, tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
Some thoughts on each of these elements of wise speech follow.
Truthfulness
In the Buddha’s teaching about wise speech, the first quality to be developed is truthfulness. This is the most comprehensive area for awareness to be honed. Most people are generally truthful, but will stretch or distort the truth for convenience. There may not be any conscious malice behind a distortion, but any carelessness with the truth is still a danger. It reveals an underlying belief that one’s speech, actions and thoughts don’t really matter. There are many forces that matter in the world, but your speech and actions (and thoughts) are the only things that you can use to directly affect any situation; and the most important thing you can do with your speech is monitor it for truthfulness. This is your area of responsibility. Truthful speech is powerful speech.
Consider whether your speech is generally truthful. Is there room for improvement? Are you prone to exaggeration or inflating facts to enhance a story? Are you willing to repeat news of dubious origin? Do you speak ill of yourself? (Self-denigration is not humility). Before, during and after speaking, reflect on the truthfulness of your words.
The Buddha’s instructions about truthfulness are very specific. If you know, say you know. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Do not say anything you know to be untrue for your own ends or another’s. If your silence would convey a false impression in a legal or official setting, speak. (paraphrased from MN41)
Listening to yourself and checking for truthfulness can also improve your self-awareness. You may develop a clearer sense of your motivations, your moods, your gifts and foibles. It is a highly portable and flexible tool for creating more confidence and happiness.
Refraining from malicious or divisive speech
The second quality of wise speech to be developed is to forego malicious or divisive speech. This type of speech is recognized by the intention to put someone up or down, to set one person or group against another. “Isn’t he awful?” “I heard that she had an affair.” “This person said some very unkind things about you.” “Once a drunk, always a drunk.” “People of that faith (or nationality, or social class, or profession) are all stupid (or without scruples, or arrogant, or corrupt).”
Setting yourself apart from (or above) someone else is rarely beneficial. Setting others against each other can be a way of making yourself feel powerful, but it carries a lot of negative energy. Stirring up resentments can generate excitement – but only of a harmful type. Do you sometimes join in with general carping or criticism to feel part of a group?
When you hear yourself using (even moderately) malicious speech, see if you can stop, breathe, and reflect. If you can pause long enough to feel the impulse to use divisive speech before saying anything, just hold your tongue for the duration of three breaths. See how it feels afterwards. If you restrain the impulse often enough, the desire to speak maliciously will come up less and less frequently. Use what wisdom you have to interrupt this common but careless activity.
Refraining from harsh speech
The third area of practice is recognizing and abandoning harsh speech. Harsh speech includes both specific words and the tone of voice in delivering ordinary words. First on the list is cursing, which is a potent de-sensitizer. Saying “effing this and effing that” is a way of making everything uniformly distasteful, a way of hardening the heart. Where’s the space for joy? Or even for variety? All cursing does is reinforce your anger, even if you’re not angry every time you swear. Substitute either silence or gentle (but clear) speech. Treat yourself and others with respect by refraining from cursing.
Other types of harsh speech are angry speech, including sarcasm, belittling speech, and unnecessarily loud speech. When I was in grades seven and eight, a major form of social interaction was the “rank out”. We students competed to deliver the most elaborate and pointed public put-downs. At some level, the competition was funny. But inevitably, there was an object of the scorn, who was hurt, though they might not show it. It is not hard to find examples of people bossing each other around without any sensitivity or kindness. Is this you? Is it someone you know? It does matter what you do, not only to others, but to your own heart. Every time you speak harshly to another person, you are damaging yourself. Start to notice this process and it will help you restrain it. If you replace harsh speech with silence or kindness, you will be happier. You will have the contentment of knowing that you have taken responsibility for your verbal actions.
Refraining from useless speech
The fourth and last area of practice is useless chatter. This one is less clear-cut than the others, because human bonding often occurs through mundane conversation about weather, food, clothing, relatives and the like. The danger comes in two forms: (1) when the conversation is hurtful to someone, even if they are not present (gossip), and (2) when the words are truly empty chatter and are being used to prevent reflection or solely to keep attention on oneself. A useful reflection on this training rule is the list of questions posed earlier: is this speech true, helpful, and timely? Are you speaking purely to fill a silence that is making you uncomfortable? Can you reflect on the feeling of discomfort and its source? Maybe you are avoiding something.
The Buddha recommended reflecting before speaking, during speaking, and after speaking. If you are ready to focus on developing kind and wise speech, do it wholeheartedly. Really listen to yourself honestly. Listen to others, with commitment. Don’t be discouraged – it is challenging. Rejoice in your successes.
Words in Memory
It is a quirk of human nature that our memories of terrible moments can remain long after the memories of tender and happy moments fade.
Long ago, when I was fifteen years old, I had an argument with my mother. In the heat of it, I shouted at her, “I hate you!” The fight was over right there. Tears welled up in my mother’s eyes. I was shattered. It came as a shock to me that my words could hurt her (I was perhaps a slow learner). I felt deep remorse. I can’t remember if I ever apologized to my mother for those words, but the impression that moment made on me has lasted for decades. Developing kind speech is an ongoing practice for me. Every time I succeed, I feel good. When I fail, I feel bad, and often someone else does, too. The balance has shifted over the years, and I expect to continue my efforts to move towards the goal of all my words being motivated by, and communicating, kindness.
When you are the listener
(words of the Buddha)
Monks, there are these five aspects of speech by which others may address you: timely or untimely, true or false, affectionate or harsh, beneficial or unbeneficial, with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. Others may address you in a timely way or an untimely way. They may address you with what is true or what is false. They may address you in an affectionate way or a harsh way. They may address you in a beneficial way or an unbeneficial way. They may address you with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. In any event, you should train yourselves: “Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading him with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with him, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.” That’s how you should train yourselves. (from MN21, tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
When you are far along the path to making all of your speech wholesome, you may arrive at the place described in the quote above. Your inner confidence is such that it cannot be rattled by the praise or blame of others. You understand that whatever you are confronted with, your security lies in responding with care and good will.
Meanwhile, you can remember that whatever others bring to you, it is theirs. Try to avoid taking it personally. If you can feel empathy for the speaker, let it show. Whether you respond or not, you can try to develop a steady, peaceful awareness.
Internal speech
One additional way to practice wise speech is to listen to your internal monologue. What tone of voice do you use within your mind? Is there a tendency to build yourself up or put yourself down? To complain? It is likely that your internal and external talk run in parallel tracks. Both can be heard and heeded. If you can hear and improve your internal monologue, it will benefit you and others.
Getting started
It would be difficult to practice any of the activities recommended here without including the intention to speak truthfully; everything rests on the foundation of truthfulness. It will be worthwhile to at least review where you stand on truthfulness. How meticulous are you in telling yourself and others only what you know to be true? How often do you speak divisively or harshly? Are you satisfied with the current level of wholesomeness in your speech? If not, then this precept may be the most fruitful place to begin your work.
Recommended activity: memorize and reflect on the principles of wise speech:
a. Refraining from false speech (trustworthy speech)
b. Refraining from divisive or malicious speech (harmonious speech)
c. Refraining from harsh speech (comforting speech)
d. Refraining from frivolous or useless speech (speech that is worth taking to heart)




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