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kind speech

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This is a follow-up to my posts on street begging of April 2 and 3). Basic to Buddhist practice is the intention of Right Speech. Not right-ness in the grammatical or legal sense, but about avoiding gossip both negative and positive, not talking about people behind their backs, but speaking directly to each other, and from the heart. Conscious or kind speech are good descriptors as well.

After I wrote about my annoyance with people begging on street corners, I read the responses from blog readers and talked with my monastic teacher on this — and resolved to experiment with kind speech the next time I’d meet someone asking for money.

On a corner near my house a man regularly hits on cars as they stop at the light; he knocks on windows, holds out his bare hands, and then just stands there, staring. I’ve often found him bothersome but this time I stopped near the curb, lowered the window, and said, “hello, how’s it going?” His cupped hands extended towards my face he looked at me for a moment, then said “Okay … what r’you doing?” I explained that I was coming from volunteering at the hospital and he asked “on what floor?” Just then the light turned and we parted.

A couple of days later, this time on foot, I said “hello” and we shook hands. “How’s business,” I asked. “Can you give me five bucks for lunch?” he replied. Keeping eye contact, I said “No, I can’t … glad to see you.” To which he replied “Yeah, you too” and turned to the next car waiting for the light to change.

In Moon in a dewdrop, Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) writes: 

‘Kind speech’ means that when you see sentient beings you arouse the mind of compassion and offer words of loving care. It is contrary to cruel or violent speech. … You should be willing to practice it for this entire present life; do not give up, world after world, life after life.


8 responses »

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I like how directly you are working with this. I can imagine that guy almost never gets that kind of response. He probably was pretty surprised.

  2. amazing how the dynamic changes with real person to person contact…

    • equally amazing, dear nancy, that making personal contact wasn’t my first reponse.

      Michelangelo’s motto: Ancora imparo — And still I am learning.

  3. Very awesome! Way to engage with compassion. I wonder what his thoughts are after your encounters, how much his view has changed…..

  4. a reply to the 3 Comments above.
    Thank you all for your thoughts. I’m encouraged in my practice, knowing you’re out there watching.

    as for what the man at the corner made of my approaches … who knows?! in a selfish way I’d appointed him my teacher; I went to him to learn about fears (overcoming), honesty (instead of avoidance), and generosity (non-monetary). For that I bow to him.

  5. Wow, that was a really great responce. “No,… glad to see you.” There are some really wonderful layers there, thanks for being such a great example.
    with palms together,
    Chong Go


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