If a statement is ‘true’ but leads to harm, it is in fact false.
What is the real meaning of true and untrue?
That which is helpful to others is true.
—Kambala, Alokamala v 37
Right speech is an integral component of ethical conduct in the Noble Eightfold Path. It is the commitment to use words skillfully, conveying peace, happiness, fearlessness, and confidence, and bringing others closer to one another. The importance of speech in the context of ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha Shakyamuni explained right speech as follows:
And what is Right Speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech,
from abusive speech, and from idle chatter ―this is called Right Speech.
- To abstain from lying, avoid deliberate misrepresentations and deceit;
- To abstain from divisive speech, avoid using words maliciously against others;
- To abstain from abusive speech, avoid harsh words that offend or hurt others; and
- To abstain from idle chatter, avoid speech that lacks purpose or depth, such as political and religious arguments, and discussion of other peoples’ business and relationships.
A statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken.
It is blameless and 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. —Buddha Shakyamuni