Right Speech is more than no Wrong Speech

What is easier – to keep precepts or to break them ?

This is a question Abhidhamma teacher Phra Maha Pangsak asked his students recently. Most people feel it is easier to break them. He disagreed. To break a precept you have to actually do something. To keep them, you don’t have to do anything. Well known Thai scholar and teacher Phra Pasakorn points out that att he very least you keep the precepts while you are sleeping.

The principle behind abstention precepts is fairly clear, but as a meditator, simply trying not to do something is not the whole story. According to Right Effort, you should also try deliberately to arouse wholesome states of mind. With speech this means setting out to speak kindly with a view to bringing people together in harmony rather than being divisive.

A curious bit of research shows how very simple things can be effective in reducing even physical pain. It examines women who are given a stab of heat on the arm, and measuring their pain response – they all agreed to it of course. Apparently, if they are holding hands with someone they know well, or even seeing a picture of someone they are close to, they report less pain.

The 25 volunteers were mostly students who had been in a good relationship with their boyfriends for at least six months.

Tests revealed that if the young women were given a mild burn, they felt less discomfort by looking at photos of their boyfriends.

As a control, the experimenters also tried the hand of a stranger, and a squeeze ball – both of which had a much lesser effect. The professor summed up,

This study demonstrates how much of an impact our social ties can have on our experience and fits with other work emphasising the importance of social support for physical and mental health.

Speech is one of the ways in which humans inflict the most suffering on each other. The famous teaching in Buddhism has it that each person has a ‘Hatchet in the Mouth’ – due to the amount of harm one can wield with it. As the above research shows, a  few words or gestures of support can go a long way to making people feel better, even to the point of lessening physical pain.

Link to the article in Impact