Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.4.2
What is Sammāvācā - Right Speech

This chapter presents various suttas that support understanding and applying the outstanding principles of right and noble speech. Sammāvācā is probably the most difficult link of the Ariyo Maggo to be maintained and is depicted here in a further short selective part of the Vibhaṅgasuttaṃ1. Sammāvācā often stands on slippery grounds in an environment where one can so easily fall into the trap of wrong speech not only due to ignorance but mostly due to hope of āmisakiñcikkhahetu – some imaginary little gain.

Right speech is characterized by the abstention from the four constituents of wrong speech: ‘musāvādo, pisuṇā vācā, pharusā vācā, samphappalāpo – ayaṃ, bhikkhave, micchāvācā’ – ‘false speech, backbiting and slander, offending and harsh words and useless chatter, this O’ Bhikkhus is wrong speech!’

Safeguarding right speech through the determination to uphold it by avoiding unwholesome verbal actions, reinforces positive social behavior and wholesome conduct. However being embedded within the Noble Eightfold Path, as the first link in the threefold section of sīla, indicates its importance for spiritual achievements. Upholding all the three parts of moral and ethical standard enhances harmony and peace, not only for the outside world around but it also operates as a base for mental calm and natural harmony within, itself again a prerequisite for spiritual development:

Sace cuto sīlavatato2 hoti, pavedhatī3 kamma virādhayitvā4;
Pajappatī5 patthayatī6 ca suddhiṃ, satthāva hīno7 pavasaṃ8 gharamhā.9

If one cuts oneself off from moral conduct, one trembles, failing in action;
And then desiring and craving for purity, he will find himself like someone lost - far from his caravan and far from home.10

The ability to communicate orally and in writing is one of the special features of mankind – words can bolster friendship, concord, boost amity and convey wisdom. But words can also create disharmony, break friendship and foster enmity, yield conflicts. Performance of wrong speech is linked to micchāsaṅkappo where the drive to achieve possible desired benefits results in the volition to deceive, delude or harm, thus rooted in rāgadosa and – moha. Micchāvācā will result in detrimental effects while maintaining sammāvācā represents a prerequisite for higher achievements. Right speech is always based on commitment to truthfulness which again grounds in wisdom:

Viññātasārāni11 subhāsitāni,
sutañca viññātasamādhisāraṃ;
Na tassa paññā ca sutañca vaḍḍhati, yo sāhaso hoti naro pamatto12

The ability to comprehend is the substance of well spoken words,
The substance of learning and understanding is concentration.
But wisdom and learning won’t augment for a reckless and negligent man.

[1] See preceding ones under 3.2.2 & 3.3.1

[2] sīlavato (gen of sīlavā): observing the sīla precepts, being of moral conduct

[3] pavedhatī: tremble

[4] virādhayitvā: virajjhati (caus./ger): fail, miss, lose

[5] pajappati: hunger for, yearn

[6] patthayati/pattheti: wish for, aspire to

[7] hīno: low, inferior, here: forsaken; deprived

[8] pavasati: living abroad, afar from home

[9] The commentary details this comparison by explaining this desperate situation with one who has lost his caravan and only desires to be back home: Gharamhā pavasanto satthato hīno yathā taṃ gharaṃ vā satthaṃ vā pattheyyāti.

[10] Khuddakanikāye, Suttanipātapāḷi, Aṭṭhakavaggo, Mahābyūhasuttaṃ

[11] viññātasārāni: viññāta (pp of vijānati) + sārāni (nt./pl): understood, perceived + essence, innermost

[12] Khuddakanikāye, Suttanipātapāḷi, Cūḷavaggo, Kiṃsīlasuttaṃ

Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.4.2

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Last modified: Thursday, 28 December 2023, 10:43 AM