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Kind Speech – Aigo 愛語 by Rev. Daigaku Rummé part 2

Section Four of the Shushogi, "Making the Vow to Benefit Beings", begins with a quotation taken from the Hotsu Bodaishin ("Establishing the Bodhi-mind") chapter of the Shobogenzo,

To arouse the thought of enlightenment is to vow to save all beings before saving ourselves. Whether lay person or monk, whether a deva or a human, whether suffering or at ease, we should quickly form the intention of first saving others before saving ourselves. Though of humble appearance, one who has formed this intention is already the teacher of all living beings. Even a girl of seven is a teacher to the fourfold assembly, a compassionate father to living beings.

This matter of arousing the thought of enlightenment may seem overwhelming to many people; even making the vow to benefit other beings may not seem that easy. And yet, our task as Buddhists is to accomplish those things. We regularly make the Bodhisattva Vows to save all beings, to cut off all delusions, to master all Dharma teachings, and attain the Way of Buddha. A bodhisattva is a being who vows to awaken to his/her own mind as well as to work for the benefit of all beings. But how are we going to do this? In "The Bodhisattva's Four All-Embracing Methods", Dogen Zenji very kindly refers us to four kinds of wisdom that we can practice in our everyday lives as a way of manifesting our vows as bodhisattvas. They are: generosity (also one of the Six Paramitas), kind speech, beneficial actions, and cooperation. These four things are, as well, not necessarily easy for us to carry out because of our attachment to the idea of a separate self (ego) and yet, these four methods point the way for giving up the ego.

The following is a fairly literal translation into English of Dogen Zenji's comments on "kind speech" in "The Bodhisattva's Four All-embracing Methods."

"Kind speech" means, when meeting living beings, first of all to feel compassion for them and to offer caring and loving words. Broadly, it is there being no rude or bad words. In secular societies there are polite customs of asking others if they are well. In Buddhism, there are the words "Take care of yourself!" and there is the disciple's greeting "How are you?" Speaking with the feeling of compassion for living beings as if they were babies is kind speech. We should praise those who have virtue and should pity those who lack virtue. Through love of kind speech, kind speech is gradually nurtured. Thus, kind speech which is ordinarily neither recognized nor experienced manifests itself before us. While the present body and life exist, we should enjoy kind speech, and we will not regress or deviate through many ages and many lives. Whether in defeating adversaries or in promoting harmony among gentle folk, kind speech is fundamental. To hear kind speech spoken to us directly makes the face happy and the mind joyful. To hear kind speech indirectly etches an impression in the heart and in the soul. Remember, kind speech arises from a loving mind, and the seed of a loving mind is compassion. We should learn that kind speech has the power to turn around the heavens; it is not merely the praise of ability. (Translated by Gudo Nishijima)

Each person could paraphrase this on his/her own, but one way to paraphrase these words in contemporary English would be:

How would we express ourselves as bodhisattvas in speech? A bodhisattva would speak kindly to all beings he or she encounters, as if the self was meeting self, for in essence all things are one. We would first of all have feelings of genuine affection for them and offer them words that express our pleasure in knowing them. To put it more broadly, we would not use language that is harsh or rude. Even in secular society there are respectful customs for asking others how they are. In Buddhism there is the teacher's expression, "Take good care of yourself," and there is the disciple's greeting, "How are you?" To speak with a feeling of genuine affection for sentient beings as if they were babies is kind speech. We should praise those who have virtue and pity those who do not. As we come to enjoy speaking kindly to others, this will only encourage us to continue to do so more and more. Even when others don't seem to appreciate our intention to be kind, there will be unseen results. Kind speech is the foundation for overcoming those who are angry and hostile, as well as for promoting harmony among others. When we hear kind speech that is spoken to us directly, we feel happy and the mind is joyful. When we hear that someone has said something kind about us in our absence, this makes a deep impression on our heart and spirit. Remember that kind speech arises from a loving heart, and that the seed of a loving heart is compassion. We should learn that kind speech has the incredible power to do things that seem impossible, and is not merely a matter of praising someone's abilities.

To be continued.