Buddhist teachings: communication – skilful speech
Communication: How we connect
Communication occurs at many different levels. There is communication through speech, the words and meaning we convey. At a deeper level we communicate with our body language and our mindset. As soon as someone comes into our awareness they are communicating something to us and we to them.
The Buddhist teachings explain that the person we are is the product of our karma. Karma literally means action and the results of action, or cause and effect. We are thus the sum of all we have done and experienced. Good or bad.
All the actions and experiences that make us up have occurred in relation to other beings and environments. The person we are is therefore an expression of this inter-relatedness.
The connection among beings is far greater and deeper than we are normally conscious of. This is because of our sphere of awareness. Merely by someone coming into the field of our awareness they enter into our very being. In doing so they come with all the faults and qualities in the way that we view them.
At a deep level they become a part of us and we become a part of them. Thus all interaction changes our state of being. It changes who we are. You are not a static being, fundamentally always the same. We change constantly and evolve according to momentary experiences and interactions with others.
So communication is interaction and all interaction changes those involved.
How we are influenced by our interactions
In this way, if we see ugliness in someone, that ugliness becomes a part of us. If we see beauty and goodness in others, that beauty and goodness becomes a part of us. To acknowledge others faults as faults while realizing that these faults are not their true nature is realistic. It is not judgemental. Doing this we lessen the hold our own faults have on us. We reinforce being able to acknowledge our faults and weaknesses while realizing these not to be our real nature.
In seeing the goodness, truth and beauty in others and delighting in this, we reinforce those same qualities in ourselves. We foster our joy in them and naturally and easily communicate this joy to all those whose field of awareness we enter.
By wishing others to be free of suffering and causes of suffering, we reinforce our own similar aspiration. When we wish others happiness and causes of happiness we reinforce this within ourselves.
Some misinterpret this Buddhist teaching to mean that we should only see good in others. We should learn to accept terrible behaviour in others, whether that be terrorist monstrosities or some horrible injustice. However the Buddhist teachings are quite the opposite. In our spiritual path we are to cultivate wisdom and that wisdom involves discernment and the ability to discriminate correctly. When we view atrocities with discernment, then that wisdom view of the others negative karma is what becomes a part of us, not their negative karma itself. However if we view atrocities with weakness and acceptance then a similar negative karma becomes part of us.
Buddhist teachings on communication
How we view ourselves and others then, becomes the fundamental basis of our communication. Our state of mind determines how and what we communicate, whether that communication be through speech or body language. Mind is the source of communication; body and speech the conduits.
If we view others through love, compassion, generosity, wisdom and patience, we will naturally give off a warm feeling. We will project good will, friendliness, trustworthiness, openness and warmth in our communications with them. We can communicate heart to heart.
On the other hand if our view of others is distorted by grasping, desire, expectation, defensiveness, belligerence, arrogance and the like, then we will project our own distortion and discomfort. Our communication will be a cold, agenda driven form of spin and excessive negative manipulation. All of this stems from an excessive sense of self, an ego grasping state of mind, or just plain ego.
The problem of ego
The Buddhist teachings put ego grasping, or an inflated sense of self, as the basis of mental distortion. It is the foundation of attachment, anger, jealousy and all other negative states of mind. As the foundation of non-virtue, it is the root source of negative karma and the ensuing suffering.
When we fall into this ‘small-ego’ view of the world we are immediately cut off from others. No longer fully interactive and relational, we remain ‘an island unto ourselves’. We see everything and everyone else through the prism of our own self image and this prism becomes the lens of distortion.
Once we believe our self image is who we really are, we limit our view of everything and everyone accordingly. We cut ourselves off from the unpleasant or challenging. You cling painfully onto what is deemed the pleasant in an insecure bid to prop up and reinforce your self image.
“Refined and sensitive artist”
Take an example of a person who develops his ego image as being the ‘refined and sensitive artist’. Holding on to this fabrication of self he is unable to break out of the solitary confinement of self image. In accordance with his view of self he becomes attached to the positive reinforcement that he finds in the similarly ‘refined and artistic’ violinist. He easily becomes attached to this ‘wonderful person’ who is ‘very much like my good self’. On the other hand our refined and sensitive artist is somewhat repelled by the rough, tough and rugged football types who seem so utterly alien. With this discrimination, defensiveness and anger are an easy response to the alien and threatening.
From anger and attachment come other delusions, and from them negative karma and the cycle of suffering. Ego takes a small part of who we really are and makes this our totality. It denies the reality of our interactivity with all else and sets false boundaries between self and other. We therefore become isolated from the moment by moment ebb and flow of constant relationship.
Ego erects its defensive barriers, digs its moat and then selectively builds bridges according to its distorted view of the world. It builds a fortress with a million bricks of mental agendas. Locked up in this, the immense stress and strain of enacting and maintaining these agendas is quite exhausting. Ego becomes the source of all barriers to truly open, honest and spontaneous communication.
What lies beyond ego
We realize the emptiness of ego when we see clearly that ego is just a fabrication. Ego is a story about ourselves that we have adopted because, from our limited and ignorant perspective, it seemed to pay off in some way. For example, the ego sense of ‘I’m the best’ may have paid off in some areas of our lives by giving us the strength to succeed and prevail. The ego sense of ‘refined and sensitive’ may have nurtured our interest in art.
The problem though is that the pay off is a temporary benefit for which we go on paying forever. This is because our limited view of self prevents us from knowing our true nature and thus cuts us off from the immense possibilities and limitless happiness of unbounded, unconditioned self. Our true nature is referred to as our Buddha nature, pure nature, ultimate nature, divine nature, or awakened nature. It is the potential for, and eventual fulfillment of, enlightenment, the full development of all qualities and complete elimination of all faults. Our Buddha nature is bliss, peace, emptiness, openness and a transcendent state beyond ego and beyond ordinary thought. Thus it is our true spiritual heritage.
When we get to this state and relate to this true nature in others all barriers to honest, open, supportive and happiness producing communication are completely overcome. The gateway to this state is the Buddhist meditations on the path to enlightenment, particularly the wisdom meditations on emptiness and dependent arising.