On the use of Speech in spiritual life Ideally, spiritual aspirants must live alone.

They should not live in a group. Why? It is seen that if they live in a group, it is impossible to avoid comments and criticisms. Comments fly from both sides, from ours and from others. When negative comments about us reach our ears, all peace of mind is lost. Where then is the possibility of performing sadhana with a free mind? When comments about us reach our ears, we feel, „Just see how uncharitable so & so is! How could he make such a comment on me?‟ But that does not mean that we are washed in milk. It is one of the great ironies of life that we seldom realize how we talk lightly of others. Sometimes I feel, at heart we are all fascists. We too make many comments and criticisms and we make them easy. But when we are at the receiving end, Good Lord, does it hurt! Let us look a little deeply about the etiology of comment-passing in community life. [By community life, we mean both a family and a monastery. For, spiritual aspirants could be found in both these settings.] Somebody passes a comment about us. We do not forget it and let it be. No. We pass a counter-comment. Thus the war of words starts and it grows pitched, tearing apart all brotherly feeling, and dividing the community into two or more groups. Generally, people who are genuine spiritual aspirants keep themselves aloof from too many burdens and responsibilities. And in the case of monks, well, they have literally no worries, or burdens and have a lot of free time, and a relatively unfettered mind. This enables us to literally „meditate‟ on the comments made by him/her on us! Of course, we do all this unconsciously. And then, being deep thinkers, which spiritual aspirants generally are, we do not make haste; we wait for a suitable moment! Then we grab the opportunity and sting that person for what was said perhaps a year ago! Strange indeed! Just imagine the situation. We are spiritual aspirants. Instead of meditating on our Ishta and on His holy name, what are we busy with? What did so-&-so tell about me and how can I give him tit-fortat! What a travesty of the ideal! A great monk used to say: „It is better to stay in the world and think of God than to stay in a spiritual community and think of the world!‟ Hence I said that there is a necessity of staying alone. But that is not humanly possible. Why? Where indeed in today‟s world will you find solitude? Where are forests anymore? And moreover, when we stay alone, half the time is spent in arranging for the next meal. Community life solves the problem of daily chores by wise distribution of labor. So, community life has many wonderful benefits. But, all these benefits are brought to naught by our indiscrimination in words and actions. So, cultivate the tapas of speech. Don‟t speak indiscriminately. It is better to remain silent, absorbed in one‟s own thought than to interact with people, because interaction calls for great self control. One extra word, spoken in an unguarded moment, which escapes our lips in the whirligig of thoughts, will ruin our peace of mind. The great Christian Saint Thomas a Kempis says in his wonderful book „Imitation of Christ‟: “I have seldom returned from a concourse of men without a burden upon my soul.” Just think about this great observation made by a great, successful spiritual aspirant.

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But, as I already said, total isolation is neither possible, nor is it truly healthy except for a very rare few. So, we need to urgently train ourselves in the austerity of speech if we have to make positive progress in our spiritual practices. Speak with others, we have to. There seems to be no escape from that. Let us therefore speak, only highlighting the good and brighter aspects of the other person. There is a science of the „Word of mouth‟. If a word escapes your mouth, its result will invariably reach you even if that result has to travel all over the world! Know for sure, whatever comment you make good or bad, with anyone, that will reach the concerned guy, one day or other. And then reactions start. If your comments were bad, then from his mind, waves of ill feeling will rise forth and dash on the shores of your mind and you will, for apparently no reason, be feeling bad and down and troubled. The reason for this is clear. This is the „Law of Karma‟ in action! Now, bravely bear with the reactions – Titiksha. The arrow you sent has completed full circle and is now re-entering its origin! If you had sent a good word forth, that too would have come back to you bringing all goodness and glory. This is something very palpable. It happens every day, but we tend to ignore it. We get stuck with little things and miss the big picture. So, you see, you should think good; speak good, and do good, for they will one day return to you like a boomerang. You should speak good, not only to please the guy but also because you yourself require peace of mind. With a peaceful mind, you can now sit down for Japa, Dhyana, Adhyayana, etc. Knowing a secret is not an offence. Even listening to a secret when a friend confides in you is not an offence. But discussing secrets with others is an offence! Never discuss or gossip secrets. This is a rule we have to impose upon ourselves with the greatest severity. Suppose we analyze our conversations. This has to be done very strictly by some psychologists someday. It is very essential. Suppose we analyze our conversations. We shall notice that they comprise a couple of sentences of greetings and then they are filled to a large extent with who said and did what to whom, and our opinions about some other person‟s words and deeds and motives. What good will such interactions ever do to anyone? No one knows. Yet half our life is spent in such momentous gossiping! See the irrationality of the whole thing. And with all this rot we still claim to be spiritual aspirants! Where is the root of this problem? Community life is not to blame. The fault lies in us. We have developed some very rotten habits of thoughts and actions. We continue to move in the old ruts, which are totally unproductive in spiritual life. And then, after some years of living in a spiritual commune, we complain that we have progressed nowhere and that the fault therefore lies in the commune itself. No. that‟s not true. No spiritual commune can ever help you to grow spiritually, just by the fact of you being a member of that commune. Having entered a community, you need to quickly develop certain personal habits of thoughts and speech. Unless that is done, no matter how many years you live in a community, nothing will ever happen to you. The secret of community life is to suppress one‟s own stench and then sublimate it suitably. Self control is most essential – self control regarding mind, tongue and hand. *************************

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