the eightfold path: on skillful speech, skillful action + skillful livelihood

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Sangha is studying how we “live into community” and the purpose of gathering as spiritual friends to build our capacity for skillfulness and resilience. To that end, we’re contemplating the Eightfold Path as a set of embodied practices that help us develop wisdom, ethical action, and various faculties that support our meditation.

The Eightfold Path is the fourth of the 4 Noble Truths:

There is Suffering.
There are Causes of Suffering (craving/attachment).
There is an End of Suffering.
The Noble Path is the End of Suffering.


The wisdom pair of Skillful Understanding and Skillful Thinking carries us to gates of the three ethical actions where we may examine how silence and discernment give shape and dimension to:

Skillful Speech — What we choose to say, how we choose to say it, and when we choose to say it. Speech is a form of action (the cause of karma) that is fueled by the quality of our understanding, thinking and intentions. It may be guided by factors that create a more skillful impact (the effect of karma) in the world.*

*(I use world here to encompass our daily encounters with people, places, and all manner of things.)

Skillful Action — How we choose to respond to the world as embodied in our conduct (direct/indirect; personal/interpersonal; private/public). The behaviors/activities we engage in and abstain from that reflect the quality of our understanding, thinking, and intentions.

Skillful Livelihood — I am compelled to expand livelihood beyond its common denotation as the work we do to earn a living. This is also coupled with a desire to suss out the snares of privilege and shame that arise when we narrow in on ethical employment without considering socio-cultural and economic factors that influence where and how we work. Looking deeply at the root meaning of the word itself unearths a broad view of how we cultivate our “way of life” and includes all the choices/actions we make to nourish and sustain a sense of living well (values, interests, experiences and relationships). Our livelihood then reflects and is informed by the quality of our understanding, thinking, intentions and actions.

Our contemplation draws on Audre Lorde’s essay, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action:

What is the quality and impact of our silence?
Where does our silence show up as fear or avoidance?
When can it cause harm?  When can it be a tool for healing? 

Where can it be shaped into a tool of resistance — a healthy boundary to guard against toxic communication?  A way of standing in our commitment to non-violent, compassionate action?
In what ways do we use meditation and practices of discernment as skillful means to transform silence into skillful speech and skillful action?



other liberating actions of the eightfold path

on skillful understanding + skillful thinking
on skillful effort, skillful mindfulness + skillful concentration

 

criteria for skillful communication

3jewels-vacasutta

Last December, I was invited to give a presentation to fellow members of my local Facilitators Guild on the 4 Gates of Speech after referencing them in one of our monthly meetings. As I prepared, I discovered overlapping ideas across various wisdom traditions and expanded my presentation into a list of Criteria for Skillful Communication below. 


Cultivating skillful communication is more than an intellectual endeavor. It is an embodied mindfulness practice comprised of Deep Listening and Skillful Speech.

We learn to listen deeply by paying attention to our thoughts, perceptions, bodily sensations, and emotions while listening to others and while speaking. Through this process, we can discern what to say, how to say it, and when, if at all, to say it–which is the foundation for impeccable speech.

Intention: To foster understanding and compassion.

Actions: Draw upon silence in order to give full awareness to our experience in the moment and to reflect on our speech before, during, and after speaking.

__________

Before speaking, let your words pass through these gates.
__________

Origins in Philosophical + Wisdom Traditions

I. 3 Sieves/3 Filters ~ Attributed to multiple sources (i.e. Socrates, Quakers, poets).

Is it True?
Is it Kind?
Is it Necessary/Useful?

II. 4 Gates of Speech ~ Possibly Sufi; misattributed to Buddhism.

Is it True?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Kind?

III. 5 Factors of Right Speech ~ Buddhist; from the Vaca Sutta (italicized text mine).

It is spoken at the right time.
Will it be Heard, Received and Understood? Does it Improve Upon the Silence?

It is spoken in truth.
Is it Factual, Sincere, from the Heart?

It is spoken affectionately.
Is it delivered Gently, Kindly, with Compassion, Equanimity, Empathy?

It is spoken beneficially.
Is it Useful, Constructive, Informative, Necessary, Life-Affirming?

It is spoken with a mind of good-will.
Is it offered with the Clear Intention to Not Cause Harm, to Inspire, to Comfort, to Support?

[16 December 2015]


in the dharma circle

So what does this look like in action? Following our meditation practice, Sangha exercises the capacity for skillful communication through a discussion on a selected topic of contemplation.

Our skillful speech has the opportunity to become refined by three factors: silence, bowing (gassho), and breath.  

We speak from discerning through silence — using the sacred pause to garner clarity of thought/feeling and to measure those formations alongside the (3, 4, or 5) criteria named above.

We bow when we wish to speak. Sangha bows in return.
It is an embodiment of our commitment, as speakers, to speak skillfully and, as listeners, to listen deeply in order to cultivate our skillful understanding of what will be shared. 

We bow again at the completion of our sharing. Sangha bows in return.
It is an embodiment of our commitment to give space for understanding to unfold and for discerning whether to contribute a subsequent insight, question, or experience.

We pause and breathe, for at least 3 full cycles, to center and ground ourselves before contributing to the dharma circle.

The pausing, bowing, and breathing not only bridge the sacred energy of mindfulness to the practical aspect of turn-taking. But these practices also disrupt common communication patterns and de-condition our habits of interrupting, cross-talking, or sparking side conversations.

Whichever of the 3 Sieves, 4 Gates, or 5 Factors resonates most with you, use these criteria to gauge the quality of your awareness and ensuing impulses to respond when holding conversations. It can be jarring for practitioners who intentionally cultivate deep listening and skillful speech to recognize how wide the gap is between how we experience and participate in communication inside and outside of the dharma circle.