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Jun 11
Dharma Teachings
The Dharma Talk: Right Speech for Burma

INTRODUCTION: The Venerable Ashin Issariya is one of the few Burmese Buddhist monks speaking out against extremism and hate speech in his country.  From his experience as a pro-democracy leader during the 2007 Saffron Revolution, Sayadaw views the current violence in Burma as an intentional obscuration of the Dharma directed and sponsored by the Burmese military. In the Dharma talk that follows, he explains Buddhist teaching about Right Speech, and how it can protect societies from harm, in Burma, America, or anywhere in the world. During his tour of the United States in the spring of 2019, Sayadaw spoke to Shambhala and Burmese Buddhist communities, university classes, and officials of the U.S. Congress.


The Dharma Talk: Right Speech for Burma

By the Venerable Ashin Issariya, aka Min Thu Nya (King Zero)

photo credit Larry Steele

The Noble Buddha left us with 84,000 discourses. Nowadays, the world’s religious leaders and many scholars and individuals agree and support ideas that are right, beneficial, precious, and essentially the same as the Buddha’s teaching. We need, therefore, to analyze this carefully.

As we are the followers of the Noble Buddha, we need to carefully study his teachings as instructed by him. The Buddha guided us with many discourses concerning Right Speech. There are six kinds of speech among human beings. The Buddha Himself practiced two kinds of speech, both of which are beneficial and right. If we want to make good use of our speech, then we need to carefully consider whether our ways of speaking follow the Buddha as he directed.

The kinds of speech that the Buddha refused to practice are: 1. Unbeneficial, wrong and unpleasant speech, 2. Unbeneficial, wrong and pleasant speech,  3. Unbeneficial, right and pleasant speech, and 4. Unbeneficial, right and unpleasant speech.

The Buddha never spoke using these four kinds of speech, as using these puts the speaker at a disadvantage. We must ask ourselves, how many times have we spoken to others via these unbeneficial and unpleasant kinds of speech? There are many people who lost their value because of their use of these ways of speaking. We need to think wisely and speak before we take action.

Although many Burmese people are proud of saying to themselves that they are Buddhists and followers of the Buddha, they never do as the Buddha instructed. They are very often practicing and using the unsuitable and unbeneficial ways of speaking, which were refused by the Buddha.

When meeting others, we often waste our precious time talking about playing the lottery, soccer, bull-fighting, cock-fighting and gossip, and some people are proud of and enjoy talking about such unbeneficial things. This is such a shame — they don’t even realize that because of their unpleasant, unbeneficial ways of speaking, they are losing their own value, the value of their village, town, and country, and the Buddha’s Sasana in which we believe. They do not think about this deeply. And so, because of this, many Burmese people lose their value and are looked down upon whenever they go. The only reason for this is because of their unpleasant, unbeneficial ways of speaking; they never become united, they break relationships, they cannot be patient and they start arguments, and ultimately, they come to fight each other. It is essential to learn what kind of speech the Buddha taught if we want to live a valuable life.

The Buddha taught us two kinds of speech to practice, which are as follows: 1. Beneficial, right and pleasant speech, and 2. Beneficial, right and unpleasant speech. The reason the Buddha taught these two kinds of speech is because they are both right and beneficial.

During the Buddha’s time, one Brahmin asked the Buddha a question as he could not understand the second statement about beneficial, right and unpleasant speech. The Buddha explained to the Brahmin with an example, asking him, “What will you do when you see one of your children has swallowed a piece of broken glass?”

The Brahmin answered, “I will control my son’s head carefully until I get the glass out although he is bleeding.”

The Buddha asked him why he would do it like this, and he answered, “I have to do it for his survival, even though he is crying and does not like it.”

The Buddha told the Brahmin that, “Yes, you are right, Brahmin. I also have to do like this for the sake of the people although they do not like some of my speeches.”

Once there appeared a student monk who put this into practice in Sri Lanka. He was studying under a monk scholar who was always teaching his class. Because of his teaching, many students practiced and became Arahants.

Among them, the student monk understood that his teacher had not realized certain high stages of attainment, and he approached his teacher and asked, “Sir, may I ask you a verse, when you are free?”

“I have no free time. I have classes full-time,” the teacher monk answered.

The student monk continued to ask, “Will you be free at the time of your death?”

When the teacher monk was asked this question, although he did not like this unpleasant speech even though it was right and beneficial for him, he understood his situation and became an Arahant, eventually realizing high stages of attainment.

Nowadays in Burma, the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (a state-sponsored Buddhist monk’s association) issues orders restricting monks again and again, despite us pointing out the inappropriateness of this. As a result, they never learn the real situation about things. They even get angry with us, and this is such a shame. While many saints are practicing and following the Buddha’s teachings and are dedicated to him, in Burma, from the Sangha Maha Nayaka monks to the lowest levels of society, people are practicing against the Buddha.

As a result of this, Burma remains backward-looking, and around the world the Burmese are looked down upon, pitied, abused and made to feel inferior. The Buddha taught us that the art of speech as it is of vital importance, but the majority of Burmese people never follow or practice the teachings of the Buddha, and instead they speak the opposite; bad, harsh, unbeneficial and unpleasant ways of speaking which go against the teachings of the Buddha. To be able to speak in right, good, beneficial and precious ways, it is necessary to read books, study and learn, to listen to Dhamma talks, to approach scholars to ask questions about things we want to know, and to try to get knowledge and education. We have to keep the highest moral standards if we want good results. It is unworthy to talk of playing lotteries, of soccer, of gossiping, to use the words of Bodaws (a kind of saint in worldly affairs) and mediums.

As the Buddha did not want us to lose our value due to unbeneficial speaking, he again and again taught us:
– To abstain from false speech; not to tell lies or deceive,
– Not to slander others or speak in a way that causes disharmony or enmity,
– To abstain from rude, impolite or abusive language, and
– Not to indulge in idle talk or gossip.

To be good at the art of speech, to be able to speak preciously and precisely, the Buddha taught us through the Jakata stories. The Buddha’s teachings must be put into practice rather than merely read, studied and memorized. Merely being satisfied with hearsay and reading without practicing is similar to a monkey that finds a coconut and, not knowing what to do, eats the shell and finds it very bitter, ultimately throwing the coconut away. Yet people in foreign countries, knowing the sweet interior taste of the coconut, peel the shell and enjoy the taste of the white flesh of the coconut. It is unworthy for us to meet the Buddha’s Sasana if we merely enjoy the shell and the exterior. If we do so, we will most likely and most unfortunately end our lives as mogha purisa (misguided persons).

With this article, the author, a Burmese Buddhist monk, points out the teachings of the Buddha and declares it to those who want to walk from the wrong path to the right one.

May you all be good citizens for the nation, the people, and for religion, abandoning the wrong way and walking by the right way!

— King Zero

Translated by: Nay Nyo Chan

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