257_wise_speech_IMG023Its been said that the most powerful tool for physical health is a fork or spoon, since the choices you make with it determine the good or bad things you put into your body.

Similarly, perhaps the most powerful tool for your mental health and the health of your relationships – is your tongue. Thousands of times each day, your tongue or your fingers on a keyboard, offer good or bad words into your world.

Siddhartha Gautama, or the Buddha, has offered us the Eightfold Path which describes the way to the end of suffering. It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing us from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. Great emphasis is put on the practical, because it is only through practice that one can attain a higher level of existence and finally reach Nirvana. The eight aspects of the path are not to be understood as a sequence of single steps, instead they are highly interdependent principles.

Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech is that, words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.

The Buddha said that our thoughts are the forerunner of our actions:

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”

Frederick Burggraf wrote, to learn to speak mindfully is to learn to consider what I am about to say even before I say it.

When I speak mindfully, I place a pause before each sentence.

This pause allows me to determine if what I’m about to say is truth or opinion, is helpful or harmful, is in praise or in criticism.

I will decide the content of what I am about to say.

I will decide the tone of my words.

I will choose how calmly and clearly I say my words.


A young woman was worried about her fingernail biting habit – a friend suggested yoga. She did, and soon her fingernails were growing normally. Her friend asked her if yoga had totally cured her nervousness. “No,” she replied, “but now I can reach my toe-nails.