wise speech

Updated On — 11th Jun, 2021

We each find our own way in these challenging times. Take good care of yourself. Breathe. Meditate. Exercise. Connect with others. And practice wise speech.


These are tough times, for sure. Many struggle to find a hand-hold while sliding down the face of a cliff of strong emotions and reactions, of fear, rage and despair.

We each find our own way in these challenging times. It helps to take good care of ourselves. Consider disconnecting our devices for a few hours each work day. Breathe. Meditate. Exercise. And connect with others.

But let’s be careful how we connect with others

These days I am trying really hard to work with the Buddhist fourth precept of ethical conduct. The Buddha called these precepts “The Five Gifts,” because by doing our best to live by them we give a precious gift to others and to ourselves – the priceless offering of safety, fearlessness, and kindness.

I need to work on wise speech big time

The jury only took five minutes to deliberate, and their verdict is unanimous, I sincerely need to work on the fourth precept: wise speech.

Especially as I engage with others who may not share my feelings of outrage and despair in the current polarized cultural and political spheres.

Some guidance on how to work with wise speech

I like the way mindfulness teacher Phillip Moffitt describes how to work with this fourth Buddhist precept:

To the best of my ability, I will say what is true, useful, and timely, and practice deep listening such that both my speaking and listening reflects loving-kindness and compassion.

The Buddha was very clear about wise speech. In many sutta passages he urges folks to restrain themselves from false, malicious or harsh speech, as well as idle chatter and gossip.

Jack Kornfield elaborates:

In the vernacular this means not lying, not using speech in ways that create discord among people, not using swear words or a cynical, hostile or raised tone of voice, and not engaging in gossip. 

Re-framed in the positive, these guidelines urge us to say only what is true, to speak in ways that promote harmony among people, to use a tone of voice that is pleasing, kind, and gentle, and to speak mindfully in order that our speech is useful and purposeful. This is wise speech.

That’s a tall order (for me, anyway).


Fortunately, it is also a mindfulness practice par excellence – meaning we can actually train ourselves to listen and speak from the heart.

For example, while interacting with others, I am trying to consciously feel my breathing, relax any tightness in my body, and try not to concoct a response in my head while the other person is still talking.


You certainly feel she is pracicing wise speech--she looks so gentle and calm.Pin
Inu no Koku by Utamaro Kitagawa (1753-1806), a print of a traditional Japanese woman writing on a long scroll and talking to a an apprentice behind her. it feels she is practicing wise speech, she looks so gentle and calm.

find your secret pause button

You who practice know very well how mindfulness allows us to recognize what we are about to say before we say it. This is like hitting a secret pause button before responding. Mindfulness gives us the sacred freedom to choose wisely when to say something, which words to use, in what tone of voice, and to check that the words come from the heart.

Joseph Goldstein once commented he would like to change the name of wise speech “speech from the heart.”

Speaking and listening like this can be profoundly transformative.

Christine Longaker, a hospice worker, writes:

You must listen with your whole being, not just your ears.”

Thich Nhat Hanh calls this “deep listening.”

Joan Halifax calls this “listening from the heart.”

And let’s not forget the Quakers, who call this “devout listening.”

Sharon Salzberg adds that practicing with this fourth precept of wise speech :

… nurtures that karma of joy, or serenity in truth, or integrity, so that our speech and our actions — our being in the world — manifests from the heart. It’s called sila in Sanskrit — uprightness of heart.

I will leave you this week with the words of Jack Kornfield, describing the umbrella practice of sila, or refining our ethics and behavior:

Sila on one side means restraint, non-harming. On the other side, its positive dimension is loving, caring. My teacher Achan Chah used to love to talk about sila and the precepts. He would just light up, go on for hours, and be so happy talking about a virtuous heart.  

We hear so little about it in our culture, in our time, and yet it’s so important. It’s the foundation of any path with heart. And it’s beautiful. It’s like the heart gets cleansed by our true words, by our virtuous action. It makes our life upright and strong.

Wishing you all well as walk this path with heart together.


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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.