BuddhaSasana Home Page
English Section

When should we hold our tongue?

Rasika Quek


We are often faced with difficult choices in life when it seems equally disadvantageous not to say anything than to say it at all. If we seem apathetic about things, we run the risk of being branded a fence-sitter or a "couldn't-be-bothered" person. If we are vocal about how we feel, we run the risk of being called a "young Turk" or a "blunt" person. So when do we say what, or do we say anything at all?

Business people have this unwritten rule: not to condemn others if someone asked you for your opinion of so-and-so. But if so-and-so is real con-men, you will advice that someone who asked you to be cautious when dealing with so-and-so. There is no need for you to assassinate so-and-so's character, calling him a bloody-fool and what not. Which brings us to the next unwritten rule: if you speak ill of others to somebody, that somebody also knows that you are capable of speaking ill about him. Two simple "rules" in business we can safely adopt to avoid unnecessary trouble with others and most importantly, ourselves!

There a multitude of reasons why we choose to say something unfavourable about people: self-righteousness, holier-than-thou attitude, resentment, taking umbrage, malevolence, deceitfulness, cunning, trickery, chicanery, hypocrisy, misrepresentation, character-baiting, intolerance, bigotry, dogmatism, etc. But it all boils down to one asava (canker), that is the canker of fault finding.

Acharya Buddharakkita (from the book, Mind Overcoming Its Cankers) has this to say,

"Fault-finding mirror's one's own mind. A mirror reflects objects, and fault-finding reflects one's own traits. There is no flaw which damages one's character more, and aggravates one's mental wound, the asava, more than the habit of fault-finding."

During the Buddha's time, a group of monks who could stand it no longer complained to Him about the persistent comments of a fault-finding monk. After hearing them, the Master said,

"Monks, if one who strictly practises the rules of holy life, and who, in order to instruct others, were to point out faults, then it does not amount to fault finding. But if one, out of a censorious proclivity (tendency), goes about cavilling like this monk, for the sole purpose of seeking holes in others, such a person never achieves the ecstatic absorptions and supernormal attainments. For such, the cankers only grow."

Thereafter, in conclusion, the Blessed One pronounced this verse:

"He who seeks other's faults,
Who is ever censorious,
His cankers only grow,
He is far from destroying cankers"

                                   Dhammapada 253

Pointing out the flaw out of concern for another's well-being has been praised by the Buddha. If a person wants to remove a defect, a lapse or blemish in us, nothing can be more praiseworthy than him or her pointing it out to us. For it has been said that one who points out our faults is kalyanamitra, a true friend.

"Should you find one who points out faults,
As though indicating a hidden treasure,
Follow such a sagacious man,
A wise person who corrects you.
It is always better and never worse,
To cultivate such an association.

Let him admonish and instruct,
And let him shield you from evil.
He indeed is dear to the good,
Though he be detestable to the evil.

Do not associate with the evil companions.
Do not seek the fellowship of the vile.
Associate with true friend.
Seek the fellowship of noble men."

                                   Dhammapada 76-78

In the final analysis, it is our cetana (intentions) that matters. If we are really sincere about someone's welfare, then what we say to him or her deserves praise. But if our intention is suspect, for instance, telling for the sake of telling or to make others lose faith in another person, then we better not say anything at all. Acharya Buddharakkhita sounded this warning,

"When a portion of a hill slides down or cave in, it blocks the road and disrupts the traffic; even so it is with fault-finding."

Our spiritual path will exactly be like that if we are careless with our tongues. We will do well to remind ourselves time and again that it is Nibbana that we seek and not another meaningless role as a pseudo-judge of other people's deficiencies.

Source: Vipassana Tribune, http://www.quantrum.com.my/bwc/vtribune/

[Back to English Index]