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Speaking the Truth: The Four Gates of Skillful Speech

How do we tell the truth when the truth needs telling? 

There are many lists in Buddhism. Some of them are incredibly helpful; some of them are a little bit more difficult to discern in terms of applying them during a difficult moment or in the heat of a life situation. I find that my life is increasingly about communication -- listening and speaking. When I'm trying to figure out if it is necessary to express something to someone, the following simple framework is one of the most helpful lists I've ever discovered. It's called the four gates of skillful speech. Systematically taking a moment to actually ask myself these four questions before I say what I have to say has been incredibly helpful.

Do it the next time you're thinking of sending that text message.

1. Is what I have to say true? This is the basic question, of course. Are we actually saying something that is accurate? Also, are we taking responsibility for our own subjective experience, rather than reporting what we've experienced as absolute truth? But this question is only the beginning. 

2. Is what I have to say necessary? Are you the right person to share what you have to say? Would it be better coming from another person? Is it necessary that it be expressed at all?

3. Is what I am saying kind? Twisting the knife may feel good for a moment, but only because it is what we are used to doing. When we stop trying to hurt the other person with the truth, our expression becomes much more effective, and we also realize we don't have to bludgeon someone to get them to see where we are coming from.

4. Is it the right time? Timing is everything. So is the medium and method. If you go off on someone via email, you're probably going to experience the reverberations of your bad timing. Give it space, then pick up the phone or see them in person.

(cross posted on the ethannichtern.com - follow Ethan on Facebook or Twitter)

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Comments

thanks

thanks, Ethan, for bringing this up. this is one of the most practical and useful teachings.

in a different sutta, he adds a fifth step: It is spoken affectionately. Imagine if we did that.

"Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

"It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will."

— AN 5.198

Timing. Dosage. Tact.

These three words have been burned in my brain by all of my therapy mentors, and I find great overlap with the framework you laid out.

Nice, Ethan. Here is the

Nice, Ethan. Here is the sutta (even in audio) that presents this framework.

MN 58: Abhayarajakumara Sutta — To Prince Abhaya

The Buddha explains the criteria for determining whether or not something is worth saying. This discourse is a beautiful example of the Buddha's skill as teacher: not only does he talk about right speech, but he also demonstrates right speech in action.

Ajahn Candasiri reads this sutta: http://www.suttareadings.net/audio/mn.058.cand.mp3

Translation by Thanisaro Bhikkhu: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.058.than.html

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