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Monday, March 05, 2007

Right Speech and Thought

This post will be about the steps on the Eight-fold path of Right Speech and Right thought.

However, I do not wish to talk about the nuances of these two steps but rather talk about how they are influencing me right now.

There was a time when I didn't care much about life or anything else and I developed a pretty nasty habit of cussing. And sadly it still lingers with me to this day despite finding the Dharma. The seeds have been heavily watered so that there are great trees rooted in the fertile soil of my mind. This means that my habit of cussing is easily triggered and before I know it I am speaking in a very vulgar manner. Just about every dirty word you can imagine springs from my mouth now and then. The one that bothers me the worst is when I use the name "Jesus Christ." It makes me feel bad that I used the name of such a Holy Being in such a crass manner. It's such a strong habit to curse that way, however, that it's hard to catch it before it's said and "out there."

The other aspect of this is that I have a tendency to judge people and gossip. I find myself doing it all the time and I despise it. I try to just accept people for who they are but before I know it I'm criticizing people again!! Plus, having A.D.D. my mind tends to go where it shouldn't. My mind seems to enjoy taking me to the deepest, darkest places. Oh how it loves to torture me!! Ha!! I need to work on having good, non-judgmental, thoughts about people. I think my critical viewpoints have their genesis in a low self-esteem that I struggled with for many years.

Now I am much more accepting and loving toward myself but the critical judgments and attitudes toward others continue. It's also important not to judge and condemn myself too much either!!

I think (and am told that I am) a very loving and kind person. And I am toward my friends, family and most strangers. However, it is very difficult for me to not judge people I see that I have strong disagreements with. People that I guess I see as my "enemies" and that is part of the problem I think. I have a strong "us" and "them" mentality toward some people. Especially those that I see as opposite me. Such as neo-conservative, fundamentalist Christians. In some way I feel threatened by such polar opposites and so I feel like I have to be defensive and that leads to talking negative about them. I find it difficult to realize that certain people are apart of me whether I like it or not. It's hard for me to be loving toward President Bush for example.


So, when does positive criticism (say of our government and leaders) become an unskillful thing versus a civic duty? I follow engaged Buddhism that says it's important to work toward peace and other good things but to what degree does one "fight?" Where is the balance between our civic duty and our Buddhist practice?

Therefore, I have made it my goal to work on my speech and thoughts this year. It is my spiritual goal for this year. I am going to work hard to try and eliminate the dirty words from my vocabulary. It will be difficult but I am determined. Any suggestions on how to go about this goal? I know that I can't eliminate such talk right away but I want to reduce it as much as possible and hopefully overtime I can eliminate such words and judgmental talk altogether. Perhaps that's a dream to think we can "stop" our judgments. If we didn't have those kinds of thoughts then I guess we'd all have experienced parinivana by now, eh?!!

Perhaps it's shocking and maybe even disappointing that you know this about me but know that I am not perfect as none of us are. We all have our weaknesses and I have many but I am determined to work on them. And I do. Everyday. I work with each moment to see it as a new chance to begin a new with my thoughts, words and actions. Practicing the Dharma isn't always easy and it is a life-long, journey but it's worth it and I am making slow but steady progress. Thank goodness we have many chances to get it right.

Anyway, I'll stop rambling now. I hope some of this makes sense!!

~Peace to all beings~

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Prashant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Prashant said...

Hey, some suggestions for getting to what you want:

1.Dont think that its difficult to get rid of the things.

2.Whenever you feel like situation may go out of control, run away or be there close ur eyes and take breath to separate yourself from the moment.

3.Smile always.

4.Talk to yourself,atleast once in a day, in front of the mirror and appreciate yourself that you are improving day by day.

And then i hope you will get the avtaar you want:

"Hope is a good thing and may be the best of the things and no good thing ever dies"---ShawShank Redemption

Take Care and Enjoyyyyy

BigHappyBuddha said...


I really enjoy your Blog and I have added a link from our Blog to you, do youthink you would be interested in linking back?

Thanks so much!
Ryan said...


I've been reading your blog for just a little while, but felt compelled to reply to this. I, too, am having this same issue.

I try to be mindful about my speech, but *whoops* out comes a cuss word. I try to be mindful of my thoughts, but again, I catch myself being nasty.

I think what's important for me right now is that I *RECOGNIZE* when those things happen. Sometimes I *DO* catch them while they're happening. Most of the time I at least know that I was acting that way.

Not even a year ago, those words/thoughts wouldn't have even phased me.

I try not to think badly about myself when I see it, instead, I thank myself for trying to improve my life and the lives of others around me; and view each episode as practice.


david said...

I think this is such a common dilema, trying to live out your values consistently can be hard when you are trying. I suggest that "you" give up trying.

2 pieces of insight I have found helpful in this regard.

1. The realty of "no self" is very liberating. When we think there is an "relative" me , rather than a "absolute" me, it is much easier. We are processes not absolutes. When you can understand your self as a relative being , an unfoldingness, you can forgive yourself and let go. Also, if you set the course of you "the process" as one that is dedicated to the benefit of others, you are the 1st one to benefit. You immediately have less needs, and are not thinking about your "self" (which is a delusion anyway )and you get some relief, you get a taste of bliss.

In terms of anger towards others, the reflexsive nature of "no self" works just as well. There is no "ablsolute" George Bush, only the process of "relative" George. It's harder to be angry at relative George. The nature of infinite causation and karma will someday lead "relative" George to Buddha-hood, just like you are in the process of now. George's notions of things like "let's kill the innocent to protect the innocent", in their tautological falsehood are attachments he will have to work out in many lifetimes.

I'm sure none of this is news to you, but hopefully I have expressed it in a way that is helpful. I know I had the same exact issues, and this insight was quite liberating to me.

one love,

MethoDeist said...

First, don't be to hard on yourself as you are only human. We all have hard times in which right speech and right thought do not express themselves as they should.

I do know what you are going through as I went through it as well.

I used to think negative thoughts and had no problem using negative speech. I did it quite often and over people at work, family, politics (fundamentalists especially) and many other areas of life. Here is how I learned to deal with it.

First was experience. Now, I don't believe in a cosmic Karma but I do believe in a everyday Karma based on action-reaction. I would talk bad about someone and it would either get back to them or they would hear me say it. Either way was not a good reaction to my action.

Second was and is the Golden Rule. I don't like it when people do that to me so why should I do it to them.

Finally was and is the Dharma. I realized that most of my negative thoughts and negative speech was a result of my craving to change other people. Now, I have learned that I cannot change anyone through negative speech nor can I change them through force. Also, craving to change them brings about dissatisfaction on myself and I then put that onto others.

Mindfulness of the moment is my primary way of practicing right thoughts and speech. I accept that I cannot change the other person and I am mindful of that. I also realize that any action I take will have a reaction and that it should be positive for myself and others. I focus on loving-kindness as Buddha and Jesus did and this is the only way to bring about true change in anything. I accept that these negative thoughts will enter my mind and this acceptance allows me to "see" that they are there. Be "seeing" I can move past them and not get down on myself for feeling them or creating another form of craving over them.

I am human so I am not perfect. I will always have negative speech and neagtive thoughts and this I accept. If one is pushing against me I simply step aside and they cannot help but fall past.

In regards to standing up for what you believe in. Most times you are in a situation in which the other is simply expressing negative thoughts and speech. I simply listen without response as the other is just trying to get this off their chest. I only respond when the negative thoughts and speech are truly hurtful and wrong. I then let the person know that I feel that this is inappropriate. I get angry but by being mindful I can handle it using right thought and right speech most of the time.

Oh, and by the way, I still have problems with cussing but I work on being mindful of that as well but my Irish heritage can make it difficult.


Greenwoman said...

You are a blessing in your honesty and personal insight James. I deeply appreciate your writing here. I truly do....I appreciate listening to your thoughts about your life and your spiritual practice and about what you are endeavoring toward as a person. It helps me to see the challenges in your life as well as how using the tools of spirituality keep you in balance and successful as a person.

I wanted to share something with you that I felt springing from me as I read your words....

One is a teaching myth that I once wrote. It springs from a deep teaching that I feel relates to the yin-yang symbol...

In the story, a person who is relatively innocent, naive and flattering to herself and others...a person considered a blessing and joy to be around...but who was also shallow was challenged. She fell in love with a man who felt comfortable in the deep darkness of life. He was a good man. A man of principle...but he was able to look into people and see their darkness...see it's potential and bring it to the surface to be used for strength and good purpose. He gave this girl he loved a rattly old rattle. A rattle with a nattering spirit in it that she found smelly and detestible...something that made the people she usually blessed run away with her...and she was forced to carry this rattle for a month despite her wish to be rid of it. This cycle of time was a task given to her when her Grandmother realized that her rejection of this dark power was putting her out of balance. As the month passed, Blessing way grew isolated because the people didn't want to hear the rattle and found it just as smelly to be around with it's rotting leather all stuck on it.

Finally, she had a vision of her power, her mistakes, her immaturity and her strengths...and she more consciously took up the rattle for empowering herself and others.

I am minded of another thing as well. My spiritual teacher liked to pray this prayer. I think it is a good affirmation and has deep teachings in it:

"I am of you. You are of me. We are one."


"James" said...

You guys are great. Thanks for the wonderful support and encouragement as well.


Thank-you for reminding me to breath, smile and be easy on myself. I am often too hard on myself.


I'd be happy to link to you.


It helps to know that I am not alone. I know that a lot of people struggle with these things. I like to be honest and ask for help and advice when I need it.

I am happy indeed that I too at least recognize it's happening and want to do different. I too in the past just didn't think about it or even care.

Practice is such a great way to describe the path. Every moment is another opportunity. That's how I'm going to look at it. Thanks for the reminders.


Great advice. I've been doing a lot of meditation on "no self" lately but just haven't made the connection to this issue with it. Thanks for the shift in thinking so that I could see the link between the two. I'll be adding this to my no self meditation.


Again, more great advice. Thanks!! I will meditate upon the immediate and not so immediate consequence of such criticism and language. I don't want to hurt anyone and I guess I somehow thought before that if people didn't hear me then I wasn't hurting them.

However, when I criticize people it brings me anger and unease. That is not helpful one bit. I need to remember that we are all one. And I don't like to be judged so I should think twice about doing the same of others.

Thanks for the insight and advice.

Green Woman:

Awww thank-you for the nice words. I'm happy that you enjoy my writing. Only in honesty can I arrive at the "truth" I believe.

Interesting story. Can you give me more insight on it? My brain isn't working too well today lol.

That quote/saying is wonderful...thanks :)

"James" said...

I just remembered something that I've been doing that helps.

Something that I need to give myself credit for doing. Whenever I find myself criticizing people I try to think to myself, "Why do I care so much?" Then that usually leads me to say, "Well, whatever."

This isn't me ignoring things but it's more of an acceptance I think. A good reminder to myself that I can't change what people decide to do. I can only change how I react to it.

I have to learn to look into myself more, find the good things I'm doing and validate them. It's easy to just see the short-comings in people. Including in myself.

Anonymous said...


I have been reading your blog for some time, but this is my first time leaving a comment.

I am relatively new to the practice and I find two things really hard: observing my breath without controlling it (my need to control what I observe) and right speech/right thought, (my need to comment on what I observe, if only in my head). If I were still a Christian, I might be tempted to say, "Lord, have mercy and help me out with this!", but the task is for me alone.

Here is what helped me to concentrate on the task:

1. realizing why I started the training/practice in the first place. My original aim was to lessen my own suffering (and as a consequence the suffering of others). I try to remember that when I engage in this speech and these thoughts, the first "person" I hurt is myself...maybe not at the moment and maybe not in an obvious way, but I am choosing to increase my own suffering. This is not an act of love. I know it may seem odd, but this 'selfish' thought has helped me to stop myself many times. Perhaps it is unconsciously realizing that the suffering I may cause others with my words and thoughts is really my own. There is no difference.

2. On a practical level, I have two thoughts that help: does this speech improve on silence and is it true, kind and necessary. I find that this has stopped a lot of unnecessary speech and a few good, ranting thoughts. And when my mind really gets going, I remind myself that this is a choice, a choice that is not one of love for myself and the others that are myself, if that makes any sense.

3. I meditate on it. Sometimes, I will even think the thoughts and observe the mental and physical feelings that come up so I can explore what these thoughts do to me and then I meditate on replacing the thoughts with loving-kindness. I fully expect that given my current 'personality' I have several lifetimes to work on this (LOL), but the point is that I choose to be awake to it.

Anyway, I just wanted you to know that in no way are you alone in this. Even some lessening of unskillful speech and thought is a vast and marvelous improvement that will show immediate results in your life. Believe me, I know.

Tex69 said...

Instead of feeling negative about yourself and your speech, you should encourage loving-kindness for these people who you perceive and cruel and ignorant. I think they're cruel and ignorant too, but that cannot and does not keep me from trying to propagate loving-kindness for these people. In what ways are they suffering that makes them so judgmental and devious? Perhaps your, and my, empathy for them may help.

And besides, you are on the appropriate path, with all its roots and rocks. Peace.

"James" said...


Thank-you for the insight. Meditating upon inter-connection is a good reminder.


Thanks for changing my perspective on this. Loving-kindness is a much better tactic.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say how much I get from reading your blog... it's a true joy.

For advice, I simply give you this: "You're Only Human" by Billy Joel.

Thanks again for this wonderful blog.

Steven Crisp said...

James, I'll pick up on a simple point in your post: cussing.

You have made the intention, and I suspect that will be enough. If it is present in your mind, you will catch yourself, and over time, catch yourself earlier and earlier. And then stop.

And now here are two practical suggestions:

1. Get a jar.
2. Get a dog.

I've used both of these. The jar is where you put a dollar every time you cuss. That mechanical, laborious process just helps to reinforce your intention. And someone get some spending money (maybe you will donate it).

The dog (at least our dog Frito) picks up amazingly on the tone of my voice. If I cuss (it is usually not a happy time), he will get up from whereever he is and come over to see if I am OK. We call him the swear-monitor. One more happy, carefree intention reminder.

Have fun.

"James" said...


Thank-you for your kind words. I am humbled by everyone's support. It spurs me on to keep writing. Thanks for reminding me that I'm only human and to give myself a break. :)


Great ideas. Especially the cuss jar and donating the money after awhile. Thanks!!

Renée said...

James, I admire your sincerity! I think, you don't have to care too much. I tell you about my experience: There are several masters who speak about how important it is to be surrounded by good people. Especially if you are sensitive (I'm sure you are) a good person will help you very much and the influence of those who are near you is more important that you ever can imagine. The Dalai Lama said: For me it's much more simple. I'm protected in my monastery but you have to live in the difficult world (that was the meaning of what he said but I don't remember all his words). You cannot compare yourself with a master. It's much more difficult for us but I'm sure that we can change and reach the way of the enlightened being... Did you read the books of SAKYONG MIPHAM? He has a great understanding of our way of thinking and living. His words will certainly help you very much!
I feel that you have a very good and kind heart, James!

"James" said...


I agree that it is pretty unrealistic to compare ourselves to the masters. And that it is more difficult to live in the "real world" then in a monastery. Or maybe there are just different obstacles. Thanks for the comment.

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