Two months ago, Gil Fronsdal (a revered Buddhist teacher and scholar) gave a dharma talk on “Speaking as a Gift.” Since then, I’ve been experimenting with this approach.
Thus far I’ve found that framing my words as gifts has been one of the most helpful strategies for Wise Speech that I’ve ever encountered. This includes online.
Why Is It So Effective?
- It’s a simple method. Compared to other Wise Speech strategies, I find it relatively* easy to both recall and orient me when communicating.
- When imagining my words as a “gift,” I usually don’t have to run through a mental checklist of is it timely, true, gentle, beneficial, and kind? For me, all of these qualities are implied in the word “gift.”
It could be that the simplicity and immediacy I experience using this strategy is because I’ve spent about ten years practicing Nonviolent Communication and three years studying Buddhist Right Speech practices. But the story Gil Fronsdal starts his talk with (see below) makes it sound simple too. (Note: “simple” does not mean “easy.”)
However, I don’t know how effective this strategy might be for others. So I share it as a possibility to experiment with.
To aid me in remembering when on a mobile — one of the most difficult environments in which to remain grounded — I’ve created a wallpaper you’re welcome to download. Click on this link or the image in this post to find the high resolution version.
Its bright summery flowers are inspired by another revered Buddhist teacher: Thich Nhat Hanh. One of his many gathas to ground daily activities in mindfulness is for “Talking on the Telephone” — a forerunner of Internet dialogue.
Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems,
as lovely as flowers.
Gil Fronsdal’s Story About Speaking as a Gift
From his Dharma Talk of June 13, 2021 (slightly edited).
There was a young woman who very much wanted to meditate. She was hoping to go live in a monastery or at a retreat center — someplace where she could really devote herself full time to the Dharma and integrate all of the practice into her life — not just meditation, but an integrated life — integrated with with the path of liberation, path of freedom, path of love.
But her older sister and husband were in an accident and died. So she was left as the sole caretaker for her sister’s two children. And her plans to go off and live this integrated Dharma life didn’t work out. She found herself caring for not only the two children, but also her parents — needing to work long hours to have the finances to do all this. There was no time for even meditation, let alone thinking about engaging and integrating the Dharma life.
But she found a meditation teacher and told the teacher about her challenges, asking what could she do? The teacher said to her, “Well, if you don’t have time for meditation and you want to live an integrated Dharma life — your life integrated with practice — then what you can do is have the practice of making sure that your words when you speak are gifts.
Practice generosity in your speech. Whatever you say, think about how it can be a gift to the person you’re speaking to.
So that’s what she did. And then she learned a lot about herself. In that process she learned how often she was speaking not as a form of generosity, but as an expression of anger, spite, fear, anxiety, or desire — wanting something and trying to get someone to behave just right so that she could get what she wanted. And she got to see so much about what was operating, what was driving her. She wasn’t told to look at that, but that’s what came up. And then she had to work through that and adjust for that and find a way to come from a different place.
To have her words be gifts, arising out of generosity — generosity can’t be an obligation, it can’t be forced — it’s a kind of upwelling of goodness in the heart. She found that in practicing, letting her words be a gift, she slowly learned how to do that and, over time, it really transformed her.
She grew in amazing ways. She grew in freedom. She grew in love. She grew in this understanding and wisdom in a way that made her life integrated with the Dharma.
“Do It as a Way of Stretching Yourself”
From here, Gil Fronsdal continues with, “Are your words gifts? Could they be gifts for others?” — and then into various practicalities, in particular the Buddha’s five criteria for Right Speech:
- Is it timely?
- Is it truthful?
- Is it gentle? Or is it harsh?
- Is it beneficial?
- Is it spoken with a mind of loving kindness, care?
He ends with his hope “that it gives you some suggestions of how to practice in your life” — adding to “maybe run it as an experiment for a week and see what you learn in the process of practicing generosity and speech.”
For practicing online, my suggestion is to start by picking one activity you do frequently. I chose email. To my surprise, the result has been I’ve sent fewer and mostly shorter emails. It’s also spilled into mealtimes, when again I seem to speak a bit less — giving my husband more opportunities to initiate conversations — or not.
I’d strongly encourage listening to the original talk. It’s only 22 minutes. And if you’re like me, it could have a significant positive impact on your life.