Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The second nonvirtue of speech: Divisive speech (part 2)

The second nonvirtue of speech: Divisive speech (part 2)

The fourth of a series of teachings on the four nonvirtues of speech recorded at the Luminary Temple in Taiwan.

Criticizing somebody out of jealousy it doesn’t make them look bad; it makes us look bad. It doesn’t make us look good either, it doesn’t fulfill what we’re wanting. But it creates so much of a mess, because we’re jealous, and instead of acknowledging our jealousy and applying the antidotes the Buddha taught against jealousy, what we do is we go around we talk to everybody about, “Did you know what so and so did? And they did this and they did that…” And it’s all motivated by jealousy and we ruin somebody else’s reputation, we create massive disharmony in a family, at a work place, yeah?

This kind of thing can happen at a workplace, with your job. Very often, what happens is a certain group of people at the workplace will bond together by criticizing somebody else. We call it blaming the black sheep. You pick out one person, then everybody stands around gossiping. “This person…” And the result is, they’re so bad and we’re friends, and what bonds us together is our divisive speech against that person. Now, what kind of friendship bond is it when you speak badly of somebody else? How does that bond you together with another person as a friend? Because we’re both creating negativity. So if that person had any sense at all, when I was badmouthing this person, they would stay away from me. If I had any sense at all, when this group of people were badmouthing that person, I would stay away from them. Because anybody who badmouths one person today, is going to badmouth me tomorrow.

But it’s so strange how our minds think, that we think that by putting one person down, that it makes us look good. Or it’s somehow satisfying to us. We got our revenge. But I don’t think that kind of behavior really helps us in terms of our own self-esteem. Because we know what we did and we know why we did it and we know it was a rotten thing. So even if everybody else in the workplace or everybody else in the family agrees, ugh, that person’s terrible, do we really feel peaceful in our own hearts? Yeah? We don’t. So whether or not other people agree with what we say, it doesn’t really matter. We know the reality and we have to deal with our own feelings of contrition when we act against our own ethical discipline.

On the other hand, using our speech to create harmony is a really beautiful thing. When you really try to do it, you know, give yourself a homework assignment. Every day, you need to say something that brings people together in harmony. And when you really practice that, you feel very good in your own heart. When you point out this person’s good qualities to someone else, when if two people are quarreling if you help them reconcile and let go of their anger and forgive and apologize, you know, you feel really good about yourself. So it’s a very wonderful practice to try and sincerely engage in. It helps us, it helps others. We’re all saying we want peace, so we should use our speech to create that kind of peace.

The question sometimes arises, that we’re part of a group, and everybody’s talking badly about a person, but they don’t realize they’re doing it because they’re so into it and it’s such a bonding experience. So what do you do in that kind of situation to bring awareness to the situation, to what’s happening?

I think it’s good just to say how we feel. Don’t tell people, “Oh you know, you’re committing the nonvirtue of divisive speech.” Don’t do that. That won’t help anything. But just say how you feel. So if everybody’s speaking badly about somebody, just say, “I feel really uncomfortable with this discussion, because we’re speaking about this person and they aren’t here to tell their side of the story, and I just feel uncomfortable.” And then excuse yourself and leave the discussion. It’s very simple.

I find very often that we say, “How do I deal with the situation, how do I deal, what do I do?” And actually the thing to do is just say the truth. Yeah? But sometimes it’s so hard for us to say that because we’re afraid, “If I say I feel uncomfortable, then these people are going to think I’m criticizing them, or I won’t be part of the group, or you know, who knows what. But I think if we say it in a very nice way: “I feel uncomfortable, and I don’t want to continue speaking this way.” We’re not commenting on them, we’re just telling them about ourselves, and then we excuse ourselves, and that’s fine.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.