Improving Our Behavior with the Help of the Guru - Part 2

Part 2 of 7 - Continuing Bodhinatha's first Guru Purnima class on the role of the guru, focusing on the guru's major task of helping us improve our behavior by giving us guidelines for how we as a spiritual person should behave. In looking at refining our adherence to the yamas and niyamas, we begin by looking at the first and foremost yama, ahimsa, not harmind others in thought, word and deed, particularly the refinement of making sure our speech to others is true, kind, helpful and necessary.

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Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to mastercourse@hindu.org.

Unedited Transcript:

So, let us look at the first yama, Ahimsa, Non-injury.

Ahimsa, is to practice non-injury, not harming others by thought, word or deed, even in your dreams. Live a kindly life. Revering all beings as the expression of the One divine energy. Let go of fear and insecurity, the sources of abuse, knowing that harm caused to others unfailingly returns to oneself. Live peacefully with God's creation. Never be a source of dread, pain or injury. Follow a vegetarian diet.

Of course, most of us do not indulge in physical violence. Therefore we may conclude that Ahimsa presents no challenge to us. However, let us look more closely at the definition of Ahimsa, which is not harming others by thought, word or deed. This points out that we need to practice ahimsa in our speech, even our thoughts. Today we are focusing on speech, specifically looking at words that hurt. The common forms of hurting others with our speech is joking, teasing, gossiping and backbiting.

Let us look at some examples illustrating joking and teasing.

First example: Someone has a special privilege or position that we don't. He got to skip the work today that we did. "He has really got it easy."

Second example: Someone is a bit overweight. "He certainly likes those desserts."

Third example: Someone speaks English with a foreign accent. You repeat his mispronunciation and laugh.

Fourth example: Someone has difficultly such as in multiplication. When *he is* having trouble making a calculation, you make fun of him.

The rationale for this behavior is, "I am just joking, trying to be humorous, creating some laughter." However, in truth your words are himsa. You are harming another through your speech and justifying it by saying you are joking.

Gurudeva has given us a useful guideline for seeing if our speech is appropriate. It provides a four-fold test. Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary.

In terms of joking and teasing, the first test to apply is, is it helpful? In other words, everything I say to someone else should be designed to help them do better in some way.

Let us look at our four examples again and see if any of them pass the test of being helpful.

Someone has a special privilege or position that we don't and we joke that he got to skip work today. Someone is a bit overweight, we joke that he likes those desserts. Someone speaks English with a foreign accent, we joke about his mispronunciation. Someone has trouble multiplying and we make fun of him.

Certainly none of them pass the test of being helpful.

Let us look at the example of someone who is overweight and who is a friend or a family member. We are genuinely concerned that it is best for their health to lose some weight. Therefore our words pass the test of helpful. But to tell them simply straight out that you are very fat, fails the test of being kind. We need to express our concern more gently such as, "It might be good for your health if you lost a little weight."

Moving on to gossip. Gossip is talking about the details of others' personal life when they are not present, for the delight of it. Gossip is like creating and watching our own television soap opera. It clearly fails the test of being helpful, as it is designed to entertain the participants, at the expense of the individual being gossiped about.

Some wives regularly indulge in the practice of gossiping about their husbands. While their husbands are at work, they spend a great deal of time on the phone or the internet with other wives, sharing at length the details of their husband's life. How can the husband be successful when the wife's mind is working and plotting against him? Imagine the husband going on a spending spree and buying all kinds of unnecessary items with money that was supposed to cover the mortgage payment. This is clearly misusing the family's financial resources and hurting the family's well being. The wife gossiping at length about her husband is dissipating the vital energy of the family and harming its well being in another way. Gossiping about your husband of course fails the three tests, kind, and helpful and necessary.

Husbands don't usually gossip, but they do tease their wives and that too, fails these three tests.

Last but not least, is backbiting. Finding the faults in others and sharing this finding with others is a hobby many enjoy. It is so much easier to look for faults in others and complain about them, than to see the same faults in us and change them.

Tirukural devotes Chapter 19 to 'Avoidance of Backbiting'. "If men perceive their own faults as they do the faults of others, could misfortune ever come to them?"

Of course, backbiting fails our speech test of kind, helpful and necessary. The truth is that unless we are responsible for someone's upbringing or training such as parents to their children or supervisors to their staff, then it is best to ignore the faults of others and indeed focus on finding and improving our own faults.

So remember the test, speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary.

Okay, now you can make use of your paper, you have a five-minute assignment here.

As we are talking about the idea in improving our behavior, is based upon honest self-reflection. It is easy to say, "Ahimsa, Non-injury. I don't hit anybody, I am not harming anybody." But the spirit of Gurudeva's writing on it is to think deeper. Think about our words and in particular, think about these three kinds of inappropriate speech. Joking and teasing is the first one, gossiping is the second one and backbiting is the third one.

So, we want to just take a look at ourselves for five minutes and write down any areas in which we think we can improve. Be honest, you don't have to read it or show it to anyone. This is just for self-improvement, based upon what we have just heard here. I give you five minutes.