Maxims of Effective Communication in Jain Canons

Published: 24.10.2015
Updated: 16.12.2017

Communication plays a vital role in one's life. Without communication one cannot know the feeling of the other person and cannot express his feeling to other person too. Communication is highly necessary for the development of society, as it is only through exchange of ideas and co-operation that a society can grow and develop. It is rightly said that healthy communication is essential for a healthy society therefore such communication is required to learn, to teach, to make relationships and to maintain them throughout the life. Every emotion that we portray on our faces, the movement of our hands, the way we look at someone and our speech instantly communicates our ideas to others. Although, our gestures, expressions, body language etc. are all the means of communication but speech is the direct and most effective means of communication. Speech is an Index of our personality. How we speak to others makes a great difference. Good speech is the most important factor of good communication. It is the best tool to lead a happy, successful and prosperous life.

There are many thinkers who thought upon how does a successful communication take place? The problem of communication was discussed specifically by western analytical philosophers. One of the eminent philosophers called Paul Grice dealt with this problem of communication and as a solution provided four maxims of effective communication.

They are:

  1. Maxim of Quantity - When we say something, it should be adequate
  2. Maxim of Quality - One should speak something which he himself believes upon
  3. Maxim of Relation - Our speech should always be relevant
  4. Maxim of Manner - Our speech should be clear and distinct

We can find such maxims of good communication in our ancient scriptures too. As nonviolence is the founding principle of Jainism, Jain scriptures teach how nonviolent communication takes place. Jain canonical texts state the maxim of carefulness in speech. There we also find the concept of control over speech. The technical terms used in Jainism for carefulness in speech and control over speech are bhāṣā samiti and vacana gupti respectively. Before discussing about bhāṣā samiti and vacana gupti, first it is required to know that what do the words samiti and gupti stand for.

Derivation of 'Samiti' and 'Gupti':

The word 'samiti' is derived from the root, im (to go) with ‘sam' prefix and 'ktin' suffix holding the meaning of carefulness in activity.[1] And the word 'gupti' is derived from the root 'gup' by adding suffix 'ktin'. The term gupti refers many meanings like protection, concealing, hiding, stoppage etc.[2]

In Jain literature the technical words samiti and gupti are used in the sense of carefulness in activities and control over activities respectively. As Jainism is ascetic oriented religion, Jain canons say everything addressing an ascetic. The concept of samiti and gupti is also described for ascetics. There are five types of samiti and three types of gupti and all these eight principles are known as supporting principles to five great vows. Here my concern is to talk about bhāṣā samiti and vacana gupti as explained in Jain canons and focus on those maxims which should be applied commonly in the life of both lay-man and householder.

Bhāṣā Samiti in Jain Texts

The text Uttaradhyayana Sūtra says 'To speak that language which is devoid of eight faults viz. anger, pride, deceit, greed, laughter, fear, loquacity and slander is known as bhāṣā samiti[3]

In Niyamasara, Ācārya Kundakunda says "One who does not take interest in backbiting, ridiculing others, commendation, and in speaking harsh words, but who speaks what is beneficial to himself and to others is said to have adhered to the observance of bhāṣā samiti[4]

In the commentary of Sthanaṅga Sūtra, commentator Ācārya Abhayadev Sūri says "To speak beneficial, balanced and clear language is known as bhāṣā samiti.[5]

In Yoga Sastra Ācārya Hemacandra says, "To use a speech that is innocent, beneficial to all jiva-s and balanced in form is bhāṣā samiti."[6]

In Jain Siddhanta Dīpika Ācārya Tulsi says "anavadya-bhāṣāṇaṃ bhāṣā" means careful speech consists in sinless utterance.[7]

Good communication is not only to speak carefully but also not to speak unnecessary. So along with disciplined or moderate speech (bhāṣā samiti), as per Jainism control over speech (vacana gupti) is also a part of effective communication.

Vacana Gupti in Jainism

We find the concept of vacana gupti too in Jainism while discussing the conduct of an ascetic. If we see from the real point of view then vacan gupti means complete control over speech but this state cannot be achieved easily. To reach at this stage initially one should control over unnecessary talks. Jainism defines vacana gupti in various ways so in different texts we find various definitions of vacana gupti.

According to Uttarādhyayana Sūtra prevention of mind from wishing to cause misery, thinking to cause misery and desiring to cause destruction is known as vacana gupti.

In Niyamasāra we get two definition regarding vacana gupti.[8]

    1. Abstention from speaking lie or complete silence is known as vacana gupti [9]
    2. For an ascetic avoidance of talks about women, politics theft food, etc and refraining from
      telling a lie is known as vacana gupti.[10]

In Yoga Śāstra Ācārya Hemacandra says - to observe complete silence, i.e. not to speak a single word is called vacana gupti. While observing vacana gupti one should not communicate even with gestures.[11]

Thus, control of speech can be accomplished in two ways:

    1. By taking a vow of silence for a certain period during which one should not even open his lips
    2. By regulating the tongue only to move on imperative occasions.[12]

Here it is also relevant to understand the difference between bhāṣā samiti and vacana gupti them.

The concept of Bhāṣā samiti and Vacana gupti of Jainism are, in modern language nothing else but the ways of effective communication. The question of difference between bhāṣā samiti and vacana gupti is quite natural so it is also required to throw light in this regard.

Difference between Bhāṣā Samiti and Vacana Gupti

Bhāṣā samiti and vacana gupti both are commonly related to speech so there may be question how they are different from each other.

  • Bhāṣā samiti means carefulness in speaking
  • vacana gupti means control over speech.

Samiti is positive in its form while gupti is negative in its form. Samiti means to do right, proper and nonviolent activity while gupti has two meanings viz. not to do any activity and not to do wrong, improper and violent activity. Bhāṣā samiti means to speak proper language and vacana gupti means avoid to speak lie, harsh and harmful language. When one observes the bhāṣā samiti, he speaks carefully. He uses pleasing sweet nonviolent words; here harsh harmful and violent language is automatically restricted. So follower of bhāṣā samiti naturally follows vacana gupti. When we take vacana gupti in conventional sense, it is essentially followed with bhāṣā samiti. Here between bhāṣā samiti and vacana gupti there is concomitance relation. But when we take vacana gupti from the real point of view then it deals with the meaning of complete silence i.e. not to speak anything proper or improper at all. In this state there is gupti but no samiti. In the language of metaphysics we can say in case of samiti - gupti must exist while in case of gupti - samiti may or may not exist.[13]

Thus, both concepts bhāṣā samiti and vacana gupti are necessary to be applied for successful communication. Though qualitative communication requires many qualities, speaking truth and avoiding untruth is first and foremost condition of it.

Truthful Speech

There are four kinds of speech explained in Jain canonical text.

    1. Truth - That which is spoken thoughtfully after the true understanding of reality.
    2. Falsehood - That which is spoken without the true understanding the reality and under the influence of passions like anger, conceit duplicity and greed.
    3. Mixed - That which the mixture of two truth and lie.
    4. Neither truth nor falsehood - Common man's language (it is neither true nor false intentionally). It is that which conveys the desired message and is understood by the common man. This generally follows truth and benign.[14]

Of these the first and fourth are considered to be correct and proper and the second and third as wrong and improper. So one should properly understand these four categories of speech and learn first and last kind of speech which is not sinful, blameable, rough, and hard. Besides, these do not lead to sins, to conflict and faction, to grief, outrage and to the destruction of living beings.[15] In Jainism the word truth is used in wider sense. Here, the truth does not deal with the meaning not to speak lie only, but truth is actually that which is beneficial and which does not hurt others. Here it is prohibited to address someone as one-eyed, castrate, sick and thief, even if he is truly so because it may hurt that person.[16]

Thus, to speak truth and avoid non truth is one of the main conditions for good communication. It is the basic principle of effective communication. True speaking is the qualitative speech which is must for good communication. One of the Jain maxims says "na lavejjaputtho sāvajjaṃ"[17] which means if it is asked to speak one should not speak lie or sinful.

Although like a monk it is not possible for a lay man strictly follow the vow of truth, he can avoid the avoidable falsehood. Truth is the foundation of individual and social life. It is the foundation of long life belief system. It is the law of our being.[18] Truth wins the confidence and trust of others. Without truth there can be no real progress of the individual or the community at large. It should be comprehended that in spite of being essential condition of disciplined speech, if in some cases it may harm others then one should practice control over speech at that time. Thus, to speak truth or remain silent is the first condition of good communication. One of the important conditions of successful communication is to speak sweet and soft words and that is what called bhāṣā samiti.

Pleasant and Soft Speech

Speech occupies an extremely significant place in human life. Anybody can turn a foe in to a friend and vice versa by force of his speech. He can convert a violent person in to a nonviolent submissive man, make a sinner a holy sage, a rogue a gentleman, and turn a perplexed man in to a calm and quiet tension free person and make a diseased person hale and hearty man by his sweet speech and inspiring words. Jain text states

"appaṇatthā paratthā vā, kohā vā jai vā bhayā
himsgaṃ na musaṃ būyā, no vi annaṃ vayāvae.

It means driven by anger or fear, either for himself or for others, one should not utter painful and false words nor should he inspire others to do so.

If we have sweet discourse with others, others will also treat us like wise. People who are honey tongued win admiration and honour from all; whereas the ill spoken persons are disliked and condemned everywhere.

In fact the success of our day to day worldly dealings depends on the politeness of speech. A harsh rude and impolite speech can become the cause of social bitterness and disputes. One should speak politely even while getting his work done by others because commanding language never inspires others to do our work willingly. Effective communication also demands brief and benevolent speech.

Brief and Benevolent Speech

To be brief speech is the maxim of quantity. Uttaradhyayana Sūtra says "nā puṭṭho vāgare kiṃci"[20] The same message we also find in Dasavekalika Sūtra when it says apucchio nabhāsejjā.[21] Meaning of these maxims is one should not speak unless it is asked to speak. One should have knowledge regarding where to speak. He should avoid the unnecessary talking because more speaking is also cause for creating problems in family, society, organisation, even in each and every field. So one should try to focus on listen more than talk more and should not offer opinions unless directly asked for them.

Good listening and benevolent speaking is also a principle of good communication. It is clearly mentioned in the Jain text that if by chance even a highly learned acārya, who is a scholar of the canonical texts like Ācāraṅga Sūtra, Bhagawatī Sūtra and Dṛstivāda, uses a wrong word; no disciple should make fun of him.[22] Making fun of others may hurt them and according to Jainism hurting others through words is a verbal violence. Such kind of violence may break the relations so one should always think twice before speaking.

Thoughtful Speech

In his daily conduct of worldly life a man should utter words cautiously after careful thinking. The words which are spoken without thinking create major problems. We all know that how Draupadi gave rise to the great war of Mahābhārata by her sarcastic remark 'A blind man's son must be blind used for Duryodhana'. History abounds in such inauspicious examples. To be a nonviolent speaker, one should think properly before uttering single word. Text says "na ya vuggahiyaṃ kahaṃ kahejja"[23] which means 'never use provocative language'. Such language may break years old relations too. Importance of speech is beautifully mentioned in below Rajasthani verse ­

"vacana ratana mukha kota hai, hoṭha kapāta kahāya
samaja samaja harakha kāḍhie, mata paravaṣa paḍajāya"

It means words are like gems, mouth is like a room and lips are like doors. One should think before speaking anything because unnecessary words can put one in problematic situations. Along with thoughtful speech good communication also requires words of appreciation in speech.

Motivational and Admiring Speech

One should speak in such a way which can make others motivated. Our speech should not make others feel inferior. In Jainism it is advised for ascetic that he should not put someone to shame by reminding about his vice and shortcomings. The same advice can also be applied in the case of a common man. He who does not insult ascetics or house holders, men or women, younger or old is worthy one.[24]   It is also suggested in the same text that one should never use that language which causes displeasure to others or which makes others angry.[25] Our speech should always have few words of genuine appreciation for others. This appreciation can build a strong and healthy relationship with that person.

Lucid Speech

An ambiguous language sometimes creates misunderstanding and consequently gives birth to unexpected conflicts so one should use very clear and distinct language to convey the message properly. Text says one should speak that language which is - based on his own experience, disciplined, unambiguous, correct, lucid, known or common and which is devoid of garrulousness and can be spoken fearlessly.[26]

Discriminative Speech

A man should use his speech at a place where it has some utility and carries some weight. Just as colour applied only to white cloth is stable and has a lasting effect, likewise words spoken proper to the occasion and place alone are meaningful. One of the maxims says "bhāsamāṇassa aṅtarā"[27] which means one should not intervene when two people are talking. A person who speaks at random and out of context has to suffer disgrace and is condemned by all. Talking for the sake of talking is a symbol of ignorance. Much common talk is unnecessary and foolish so avoiding it is again an essential condition of good communication.

Scriptures also describe the result of disciplined speech which is very necessary to be known because it can motivate a person to communicate effectively. Disciplined speech benefits a person at not only social level but also spiritual level. It uplifts the soul along with establishing good relation in society and providing success in each and every field.

Outcome of Disciplined Speech

In Uttarādhyayana Sūtra when Gautam asks Lord Mahāvīra - Lord! What does the soul acquire by disciplined speech? Lord Mahāvīra says - Gautam! By disciplined speech he obtains development of faith, whereby he acquires facility of becoming enlightened, and destroys preventing causes.[28] According to Dasavekālika Niryukti - That language which purifies restraint and emotions and supports the vow of non-violence is known as disciplined speech. In other words we can say that disciplined speech purifies restraint and feelings and creates a nonviolent personality.[29]

Thus, it can be concluded that speech is precious and so it should be used not to wound but to heal, not to darken but to enlighten, not to condemn but to please. The wounds of the iron nails cause pain only for a limited period and those nails could be removed from the body easily. But the thorns that are harsh words are difficult to remove and they provoke animosity and are frightful.[30]

In this way we have seen that how Jain canons provide the maxims of effective communication. Although, maxims mentioned here are for those ascetics who are practising spiritual life, but on the other hand they hold same significance to a lay-man too who lead a practical life. Application of these maxims in day to day life can make one's life progressive, peaceful and prosperous.


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  1. 6. Tirthankara Padmaprabha
  2. Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
  3. Amar Muni
  4. Anger
  5. Bhāṣā
  6. Body
  7. Calcutta
  8. Churu
  9. Compendium of Jainism
  10. Conceit
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  15. Greed
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  17. Hemacandra
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  24. Kalpa Sūtra
  25. Karnataka
  26. Koham
  27. Kota
  28. Kundakunda
  29. Ladnun
  30. Mahābhārata
  31. Mahāvīra
  32. Motilal Banarsidass
  33. Muni
  34. Muni Nathmal
  35. Nath
  36. Niryukti
  37. Niyamasara
  38. Niyamasāra
  39. Non-violence
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  55. Uttarādhyayana Sūtra
  56. Vacana
  57. Vacana gupti
  58. Violence
  59. Vṛtti
  60. Yoga
  61. Ācāraṅga
  62. Ācārya
  63. Ācārya Mahāprajña
  64. Ācārya Tulsi
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