Straightforward Gentle in Speech (Metta Sutta #4)

This is a part of a series going line by line from the Metta Sutta. It starts here.

Straightforward and gentle in speech

This line is of course all about Right Speech, one of the steps of the Eightfold Path. Of course, there’s more to Right Speech, but if one can really practice this teaching, that is a major step along the path. I invite you to notice the speech of your teachers. Are they really straightforward in their teachings, or are they vague and platitudinous? Are they gentle or demanding? And can they skirt the line between those two fault lines without being inauthentic or just unhelpful?

For me a great challenge in my practice is speaking to my children. Can I remain gentle even when they have to be told for the 10th time to put on socks when it’s -10 F? Can I explain to them simply and plainly enough that they understand why you absolutely must carry the 1?

Another application of this teaching that isn’t from the canon but is useful to me is practicing straightforward and gentle speech to myself. In Buddhism there is a lot of emphasis on clearing the mind of ceaseless prattle, but that doesn’t mean that inner dialogue is always useless or avoidable. Sometime a part of recovering from mistakes is giving yourself a good talking to, and then as with other people the lesson of gentleness and straightforwardness is worth remembering. Now, it turns out that this otherwise lovely translation does have a slight mistake.

The Pali word that is here translated as gentle in speech, as much beautiful as that teaching is, actually means something like, “easy to admonish”. So it is the quality of being accepting of helpful criticism. I think gentle is also a good teaching, but this teaching of being easy to admonish is another powerful and difficult teaching for most of us. It is hard to heard our faults, and it is a powerful practice to do so with equanimity.

The next article in this series is here.

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