Ahimsa in Speech (Part 1)
Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami , 2002-02-22
Ahimsa is a central principle in Hinduism. Let us take a look at the words we use in joking and teasing. These words are hurting. How do we know? Gurudeva gave us a 4-fold key about how our speech affects others. Do not harm others in thought, word or deed. Gossip and backbiting are very hurtful. A Wife gossiping dissipates the energy of family, affecting the family's and husband's success. Husbands also tease wives. Backbiting is talking about faults of others when we should be directed inward. We should be looking at our own faults, not others. The exception is in a situation where someone is responsible for pointing out and correcting another's faults, such as a teacher to his student or a parent to his child.
This morning we will start out on Ahimsa.
Ahimsa, as we all know, is the central principle of Hinduism. It is first in our list of Yamas or restraints. That shows it must be important, to be first. Of course, all of us here are very good at not inflicting violence in a physical way. We don't go around hitting people. We have got that under control. We have no deeds of violence that we are participating in.
However, as you will recall the definition, Ahimsa is not harming others in thought, word and deed. It is not just a matter of deed. Also our thoughts and our words need to be in alignment with the principle of Ahimsa.
This morning I thought we could look at words, specifically words that hurt. Let us take first the interesting area of joking and teasing, something that happens a lot. We say things to one another in the spirit of making a joke, teasing someone. We are trying to produce humor, be funny, cause laughter and therefore it is supposed to be okay.
Here are some common examples. Someone has a special privilege or position that we don't. Something that might be said could go like, "He got to skip the work today that we did. You've really got it easy." We are just joking, right?
To someone who is a bit overweight, "He certainly likes those desserts." Someone speaks English with a slight foreign accent, so you repeat back the mispronunciation and laugh. Someone has difficulty such as in multiplication and they are having trouble making a calculation, you make fun of them.
The rationale is, "Well, I am just joking, just trying to make someone laugh. It must be okay." But if we look at it more carefully, we will see that our words are harming someone, either in a small way or a large way. We are not helping them. We are harming them with our words. Our words are Himsa in these cases.
How can we tell? What kind of guideline do we have regarding our speech to see if it is in line with the principle, to see if it is alignment with the principle of Ahimsa.
Gurudeva has given us a very wonderful guide line. "Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary." So, it is a four-fold test - true, kind, helpful and necessary.
I remember long ago, when some of the sishya first encountered this principle. "Okay! True, kind, helpful and necessary. Well almost nothing is necessary. So that means I don't have to speak." Well, that was not exactly the right interpretation because social situations do require us to do otherwise than remain silent. That doesn't happen anymore.
In terms of joking and teasing, the first test to apply is - is it helpful? In other words, are we trying to help this person in some way? Are we trying to help this person do better, improve? Are we concerned about this person's well being? We want to see them improve, do better in some way, in an outer way, in an inner way, in a spiritual way. In some way, what we are saying is designed to help them.
Let us look at our four examples again and see if any of them pass the 'helpful' test. Someone has a special privilege or position that we don't, So we say, "He got to skip work today that we did. You've really got it easy." We are not trying to help them at all. We are kind of jealous.
Someone who is a bit overweight. "He certainly likes those desserts." That is not helping the person lose weight.
Someone speaks English with a slight foreign accent. You repeat his mispronunciation and laugh. That is not helping him learn not to mispronounce the word.
Someone has difficulty in multiplication and they are having trouble making a calculation. You make fun of them. That is not helping them multiply better.
So, all four certainly fail the 'helpful' test.
Next test is the 'kind' test. So let us take the example of someone who is overweight, who is a friend or family member. We are genuinely concerned that they are overweight. We would hope that they could lose weight. If we simply say, "You are very fat," we are being true and we are being helpful. But, we failed the 'kind' test. Depending on their nature, it could really hurt them.
It is not enough just to be helpful in intent, we also have to be kind, to figure out how to say this in a way that won't upset someone. How can we help them and be kind at the same time? We could rephrase it such as, "You know, I was on the web the other day and I found a chart that you might find useful on height, weight and age." That is being kind. That sounds better than saying, "You are too fat."