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Let Us Learn To Live: The Art Of Speaking

Published: 23.02.2012

The cuckoo chirps and the crow caws, They may look alike, but they have distinctive voices. The cuckoo's sweet chirping calms whereas the crow's cawing irritates. Similarly, the effect of one's speech is determined by the manner of speaking.

Mind, body, and speech are intertwined and together are the instrumental forces of life. Speech, the foundation of human relationships and social interaction, has been a boon to civilization. Animals cannot speak, and therefore any grouping of them (like cattle) is not deemed a society. Speech reveals and expresses intentions. It is the fundamental means for communication between individuals. Although animals can make a few simple sounds, they lack the ability7 to converse verbally. Only human beings have been empowered with comprehensible speech and have used it to formulate clear languages.

Speaking abilities vary from person to person. Some of us are more articulate and expressive. Some of us stutter or have other speech impediments. Some others, despite speaking distinctly, are unable to put forth their ideas in a meaningful manner. Few are those who can enunciate clearly and convey their thoughts intelligibly. This dexterity in speech can be a natural gift or a learned and mastered art.

Words and sentences transmit thoughts. Words tend to play a dual role; they can create problems and also solve them. Words can misguide as well as elucidate. In order to be effective, speech needs to be moderate, soft, truthful and thoughtful.

Speaking With Moderation

Moderation in speech can be described as the use of right words in the right number at the appropriate time in all conversations and transactions. Some people talk more than required and so deviate from the subject. Their indiscretion can easily make a mountain out of a molehill and cause trouble. There is truth in the saying, "If a word is worth a coin, silence is worth two".

In ancient Jain scriptures, Moun (silence) used to refer to knowledge but now it generally means not speaking. Observing Moun for a few hours can be peace rendering, energy saving, and relaxing. But often people tend to speak after Moun as if to make up for lost time! I believe that although remaining silent for a specified period of time is good, it is even better not to speak too much and unnecessarily at any time. There is likely no need for the self-imposition of complete silence if one can routinely control the amount and content of their speech. Limited speech is the simplest way of keeping Moun vrata (the religious observance not to speak).

Maintaining silence may appear easy, but it is actually a very difficult practice. An anecdote illustrates just how arduous it is:

Once four youths encountered a celebrated Sanyasi (ascetic and asked him to teach them yoga and meditation.

The Mahatma observed that they were too talkative and restless to meditate. He said, "Look. Before you learn meditation, you must learn to keep silent. Once you have disciplined your tongue I'll teach you. But first observe complete silence for an hour and" The youths agreed. They all sat in silence.

It was evening. The sun had begun to set and as they watched the darkness fall one of the four youths commented, "Nobody has lit a lamp yet." The youth sitting beside him said, "Keep quiet. We are observing silence." The third youth warned the second, "You both broke your vow." When his three friends spoke the fourth said, "Only I have kept my vow." Hearing this conversation, the Sanyasi said, "None of you could keep silent for even an hour. How can you meditate?"

Controlling speech is indispensable for meditation. It is also a prerequisite for leading a spiritual life. The Jain scriptures Dasavaikalika and Uttaradhyayana advise monks to restrain speech. Many people come to us seeking advice to control their anger. We suggest that they keep silent for ten minutes whenever they feel angry. This practice prevents quarrels and subdues violent instincts.

A Sanskrit poet composed a beautiful metaphorical verse that says:

"Moukharyam laghavakaram, mounam unnati-karakam, mukharo nupuro pade, kanthe haro virajate."

"Talkativeness marginalizes a person whereas silence elevates him. A garland around the neck is for beautification but why are ankle-bells placed on the feet?"

The poet suggests that the ankle-bells are too noisy and are therefore relegated to the feet, whereas the silent, peaceful garland gets a place of honor on the neck. This example illustrates that silence earns respect and loquaciousness invites censure.

An economical use of words is always more effective than using too many. Sometimes, disregarding the mood and receptiveness of the audience, speakers pour out all they know, and thereby lose their attention. Reading the mood of the audience is the key to mastering the art of public speaking.

Silence is important, but knowing when to be silent and when to speak is imperative. The following story illustrates this point:

Once, a religious leader sent three of his pupils to a village to spread his message. They stayed there for four months. When they returned, the Guru inquired about their preaching experience. The disciples replied that they taught nothing. They observed silence the entire period. The Guru reproached them. "You were sent to teach and guide the people spiritually. By observing silence you ignored my directive and failed in your assignment."

In this instance, silence was inappropriate. Speech as well as silence can be unsuitable if wrongly chosen. One must use discrimination at all times to speak or stay silent.

Speaking Sweetly

A sweet and melodious voice soothes the burning heart. Calming words have the power to tame even the most aggressive people. They also help nurture healthy relationships. A poet has said:

"Priyavakya-pradanena, sarve tushyanti manavah. Tasmad tadeva vaktavyam, vachane ka daridrata."

"Loving words are a pleasure. Why be stingy with this treasure?"

A student once failed his examination. His furious father scolded him for wasting his time watching television and hanging around with friends instead of studying. He labeled his son as an incompetent and chastised him saying, "You have taken the hard earned money I've spent on your education and thrown it down the drain!" These harsh words made the boy rebellious. He thought, "What is a big deal in failing an examination? Everyone fails some time or another." He began hating his father and made up his mind to one day avenge himself for this rebuke.

One of the boy's classmates had also failed the same examination. However, this boy's father politely told his son that he should have concentrated more on his studies and tried harder to succeed. He suggested that he practice meditation to improve his concentration, and study diligendy during his summer vacation. Empowering his son with confidence, the father predicted success for his son the next time. The encouraging and reassuring words of his father built self-confidence in the boy and he scored the highest grade in his class at the next examination.

Loving and kind words are much more effective than the harsh reprimand. Sweet, comforting comments are capable of healing wounds whereas abrasive language can create deep divisions and generate vengefulness.

Speaking Truthfully

Bhagavan Mahavira said that Truth is God. Truth is like a fragrant flower which can be enjoyed by all. Speaking the truth, as we all know, is being honest without being malicious. People tell lies out of fear, cowardice, greed and anger, and sometimes even for fun. Liars can never be trusted.

Monks observe the vow of being truthful in all circumstances. Such a rigorous practice may be difficult for a lay person. However, a person lacking the willpower and resolve to follow this principle is likely to deviate from truth. At the very least a lay person should refrain from unnecessary lies. Since honesty can be equated with truth, both candor and integrity are perhaps the most practical form of truth.

Truth has the power to cultivate other good virtues. Even Godliness is manifest through the practice of absolute truth. A poem written in the Rajasthani language says:

"Sanch barobar tapa nahin, jhooth barobarpap.
Jake hirade sanch hai, ta hiradeprabhu aap"

"No austerity equals truth. No offense equals lies. Those who hold truth in their hearts harbor God within."

Speaking with Awareness

Analytical speaking is another important aspect of communication Analyzing while speaking is like chewing while eating. What you speak is important, but how and when you speak will make your message more effective. Even with the right thoughts, if you are blunt and hasty, you tend to lose impact. Therefore, it is crucial that your oral presentation be as organized and thoughtful as possible. Reflect before speaking, do not speak without purpose or occasion or thought. Weigh your words before they are uttered.

Moderation, modulation, truthfulness and awareness are the pillars of artistic speaking, which enhances and enlivens all-round personality.


Let Us Learn To Live

Jain Vishva Bharati, Ladnun With Best Wishes:
Buddhmal Chordia Charitable trust
Charwas - Kolkata 1. Edition: June 2011
2. Edition: November 2011

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anger
  2. Body
  3. Concentration
  4. Fear
  5. Greed
  6. Guru
  7. Mahatma
  8. Mahavira
  9. Meditation
  10. Rajasthani
  11. Sanskrit
  12. Sanyasi
  13. Tapa
  14. Uttaradhyayana
  15. Vrata
  16. Yoga
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