My Take On The Buddhist Virtue of Right Speech

The neurotypical take on Right Speech is a confused mess.

I’ve never encountered anyone who will explain Right Speech the way I’m going to explain it. Let’s start with the typical neurotypical explanations. They run like as follows.

Right Speech involves four things you should not do:

  1. Don’t tell lies.
  2. Don’t cause disunity through language.
  3. Don’t use language to produce harm.
  4. Don’t engage in idle talk, or gossip.

Conversely, there are four things that you should do:

  1. Tell the truth.
  2. Use language that favors unity.
  3. Use language that makes people feel good.
  4. Use purposeful language.

I called this the neurotypical explanation due to the simple fact that neurotypical individuals rule the world. Thus, the explanations we are likely to get are going to be informed by neurotypical views.

If you are autistic, you are probably already be uncomfortable with this list. For one thing, what is this “idle gossip?” Is this not what 90% of neurotypical talk consist of? A bunch of empty vocal rituals. “It’s hot today.” What purpose is there to saying this? The person you are telling this to, assuming they are standing next to you, knows exactly how hot or cold it is. They don’t need your assertion. Is stating that it is hot today really the speech that should be disfavored for being idle talk?

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Then, how do you reconcile “use language that makes people feel good” with “tell the truth?” There are times when the task of making people feel good will require you to lie. A friend asks, “Do I look okay in this?” but they look awful. Do you lie to them, and make them feel good, or do you say it as you see it, and make them feel bad?

Some people will also make a big deal of the fact that sometimes we don’t know the truth. Yes, this is true. (Har har!) We don’t always know what is true. However, I think this rule is easily followed if we simply say what we consider to be true in our mind. We may be wrong, but if we are honest that what we are saying is what we think is true, then there is no issue.

Note that this is not absolution of those people who like to hate, for they often ignore what is patently true. They self-lobotomize in order to be able to utter their harmful rhetoric. When presented with evidence, they merely wish it away.

At any rate, my neurodivergent explanation is that these rules should be implemented in the context of Buddhist practice. Yes, telling the truth is admirable, but consider what happens when you tell lies to people. Any significant lie will come at a mental cost. Once you start lying, you have to maintain your lie. Then you start being fearful that your lie is going to be uncovered. When this happens, your mind becomes preoccupied with the lie even during meditation practice.

The same thing happens if you use language to cause disunity, or to harm other people. You become wrapped in a scenario that has already happened, or that you wish to happen. So it is too with the idle speech. It can become the cause of much rumination during meditation.

I think it is thus that these rules should be examined. Not as moral edicts, but as tools to help the practitioner meditate.






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