My initial, shallow curiosity of Buddhism began with a class in college around the philosophy of religion. While most of my classmates slept, my impressionable college mind became intrigued by Buddhism’s intrinsic connection with the suppression of ego and mindfulness. Not only that, but I examined the many ways it is both different and similar to the religion I was raised to believe, Catholicism. One of the big differences is Buddhism does not require worship to a God, instead there is a concept of abiding a universal law, or a series of truths.
Along with the Four Noble Truths, one of the principal teachings of Buddhism is the Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. The path details a way of living to end suffering and achieve the sublime state of Nirvana, or self-awakening. Not meant to be understood as sequential steps, the aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path intend an interdependent relationship with each other. Meditating on elements of the path and other Buddhist philosophies often bring me great benefits like deepening self-knowledge and working to disband the illusion of ego.
The factor that always stands out to me was right speech. As the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path, it iterates speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way. In many ways, I think this is why I always enjoy writing. It allows for more time to construct and deliver thoughts. But even then, I constantly consider whether there is a better way to convey my ideas.
I was further reminded by this principle after a particularly stressful week at work. My co-worker recognized she was thinking negative thoughts about some of the people she was working with on various projects. Rather than allowing those thoughts to strangle her mind and say them aloud, she replaced her negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Whether she realized it or not, she channeled right speech when composing short positive notes to each member of our team. By thinking and saying positive thoughts about and to others, you can gradually create a positive change in the person, but also in yourself.
Her actions reminded me of the adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Nothing affects workplace morale more than persistent negativity. It sucks the energy out of the people around you and diverts attention from the work. I can only speak for myself, but that short note significantly affected the way I charged through the rest of my day.
What other ways can you integrate right speech and the eightfold path into your communications with others and yourself?