Today, like a huge number of people, I am reeling from the result of the referendum whereby the UK will leave the EU. This will have huge repercussions far beyond the shores of the island on which I live. Millions of people will be affected, including, of course, some of our Order. some of the effects are to come during the next weeks and months, although we have seen resignations and financial institutions moving their staff, the stock market hit already. There will be much uncertainty in the future, including the possible breaking up of the UK itself.
I have been dismayed, during the last few weeks, over the quality and content of the rhetoric used. Lies, half-truths, blaming, finger pointing, promises without substance, threats.
What did the Buddha say about speech?
"And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.”
— SN 45.8
Five keys to right speech
"Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?
"It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”
— AN 5.198
The danger in lying
"For the person who transgresses in one thing, I tell you, there is one evil deed that is not to be done. Which one thing? This: telling a deliberate lie."
The person who lies,
who transgress in this one thing,
transcending concern for the world beyond:
there's no evil
he might not do.
— Iti 25
Speak only words that do no harm
"One should speak only that word by which one would not torment oneself nor harm others. That word is indeed well spoken.
"One should speak only pleasant words, words which are acceptable (to others). What one speaks without bringing evils to others is pleasant."
— Thag 21
Self-purification through well-chosen speech
"And how is one made pure in four ways by verbal action?
"There is the case where a certain person, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech. When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty, if he is asked as a witness, 'Come & tell, good man, what you know': If he doesn't know, he says, 'I don't know.' If he does know, he says, 'I know.' If he hasn't seen, he says, 'I haven't seen.' If he has seen, he says, 'I have seen.' Thus he doesn't consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world."
So much of what we have heard and read about during the campaign has been divisive, abusive, bigoted and against all of the principles the Buddha taught. Was it, as it was portrayed, to educate and benefit the electorate? How much of it was manipulative? How much of it was to divert attention from the real sources of dissatisfaction? How much of it was to serve the aspirations of the politicians in question? I cannot see into their hearts, it’s true.
Words have led us into this uncertain situation. And words, slogans, aped by others, have led to the death of a young woman of principle. It was following the shooting and stabbing of Jo Cox, herself a fearless defender of the defenceless, in the face of threats she was receiving, that we saw a different rhetoric.
As Dharmavidya wrote in The Feeling Buddha:
“Buddha saw the potential of communication…..The purpose was to convey the message of peace in the world through peace in the heart.”
The reaction, as Jo was celebrated in cities around the world on what would have been her 42nd birthday, showed how people were inspired by her words, her fearless championing of those who needed such support, with positivity and joy and determination. She was someone with a firm and positive purpose in life. And her words lit up and inspired so many.
So, on a day that has come from much darkness, let us not lose sight of the light that words can engender.