Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
Association of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Societies International
Two minute meditations

Austerity of Speech

by Michael Smith

A collection of Quotations about Speech and the two Yamas: Ahimsa (Non-violence) and Satya (Truthfulness)

A phrase that Swami Veda has used in his talks is “Austerity of Speech,” which means finding a right balance between Satya and Ahimsa. There are some nice things written by Swami Rama, Swami Veda, Gandhi and others about Satya and Speech.

From the Bhagavad Gita 17:15:

anudvega-karaṁ vākyaṁ
satyaṁ priya-hitaṁ ca yat
svādhyāyābhyasanaṁ caiva
vāṅmayaṁ tapa ucyate
Word-for-word Translation
(not agitating-producing words)
(truthful dear-beneficial also which)
(self-study practice also certainly)
(of the voice austerity is said to be)





Speech that does not agitate,
that is true, pleasant and beneficial,
as well as the practice of self-study and japa
is said to be the asceticism of speech.

Swami Veda has cited three Sanskrit words which summarize truthfulness in speech – that it is hitam (beneficial), mitam (measured) and priyam (pleasant).

This is very much like the four rules of speech from the Buddha:

  • Speech that I know to be untrue, useless and disagreeable to others, — I do not speak.
  • Speech which I know to be true, but also useless and disagreeable to others, — I do not speak.
  • Speech which I know to be true and useful and yet disagreeable to others, — in that case I know the right time to say it.
  • Speech that is true, useful, agreeable and timely, — that I speak

Swami Veda Bharati's translation and commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra II.30 (on satya), contains the interpretations given over the centuries of various esteemed commentators and is briefly summarized here. For the full text, see pp. 473-485.

Swamiji writes that Vyasa’s compound phrase yathā-artha, “as reality,” has been interpreted to mean that direct perception, logical inference and revealed authority is in accord with one’s speech and mind, articulated faithfully with the mind maintaining an identical intent.

Furthermore, Vyasa stipulates that the speech should “not be confused.” It should not arise out of confusion, nor applied in a confused manner. Thus speech used to deceive or to confuse or to cover up the truth, is untruth. Employing a foreign language or words incomprehensible to the listener, or using uncommon words of vague meaning, all come under this category. Such a speech is purposeless because it does not lead to the transmission of one's own awareness into another. Therefore, first establishing the essential truth in the mind concerning reality, and then expressing it in speech that is simple, clear and capable of transmitting an awareness, comprises the means to truth.

Vyasa further stipulates: “Such a speech (would be) undertaken for the benefit of all beings and not for hurting or harming beings.” Speech, having been created by Brahma and therefore being sacred, cannot be employed to cause a loss to other. If it results in harm to others, it is only a pseudo-truth and not really truth. That is why it is said that truth should be for the benefit of beings. That is why it is said in the Code of Manu:

One should speak truth, speak pleasant, not speak unpleasant truth; Nor should one speak pleasant untruths, this is the perennial law (dharma). Manu-smṛti IV.138

In Sanskrit the above passage reads:

satyam bruyat priyam bruyat na bruyat satyam apriyam priyam ca nanrtam bruyat esa dharmah sanatahah.

This verse can be illustrated by the story of a king and his astrologers: A king asked for his horoscope and his astrologer said, “O King, you are indeed an unfortunate man. All your friends and relatives and going to die before you, and you will have to arrange and oversee all their funerals.” The king was deeply troubled by this horoscope and had the astrologer thrown into prison. He then he called for another astrologer to give his horoscope. The second astrologer said, “O King, you are indeed a fortunate man. You will have a long life and outlive all your friends and relatives and will be the one who lovingly honors and commemorates them at their funerals.” The king was greatly pleased and rewarded the second astrologer handsomely.

Swamiji translates Yoga Sūtra II.36 Satya-pratiṣhṭhāyām kriyā-phalāśhrayatvam:

When [the yogi] has firmly established [in himself the principle of] truth, he becomes the resort of actions and fruits [thereof] [that is, they depend on his will].

Vyasa’s commentary:

“Become Virtuous” – and one becomes virtuous. “Attain heaven” – and one attains heaven. His speech becomes unfailingly efficacious.

“The power of speech has a profound influence on the human mind and heart. One who controls his speech, who does not talk ill of others but speaks gently and never lies, his words are always beneficial and soothing to all. If the aspirant learns not to lie, he speaks the truth. And that truth which is greased with love is very helpful to others. Teaching and inter-personal communication are carried on mainly through the medium of speech. The way we use words makes a difference: if the aspirant learns to speak truth in a gentle way, his speech will have an immense impact on the human mind and soul. But when the aspirant speaks only to fulfill his selfish desires or speaks that which is contrary to his thinking, he continually creates psychological barriers for himself. The apta, the great man, speaks in accord with the way he thinks and acts; there is a complete coordination in his inward action and speech. He never intends to hurt, harm, or injure anyone through his speech. Many people waste their time speaking nonsense, talking too much, and gossiping for no useful reason. In the first stage of practice one should learn to speak little, speaking only when it is necessary. In the second step he should establish regular hours of complete silence every day, and in the third step he should determine not to lie. Austere speech is a great virtue.

The practice of non-lying is important for many reasons. Those who speak lies are afraid and lie because of fear of not being accepted. But the power of speech is lost when one lies, and there is always a conflict in the mind, for one knows that he is lying, yet he continues to lie. Such people can never be known by others; they never prove to be good friends. They become victims of their habits, and then they lose the power of discrimination.” (Swami Rama, Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, pp. 419-420.

It is said that accomplishing this yama of truthfulness yields mastery over action and fruition. In other words, one’s words manifest; one’s words become fact. “The Word became flesh.” Christ says, “Go, you are not sick,” and the person is cured by the power of speech. A complete vision of truth can only follow a complete realization of ahimsa. That’s Gandhi. So the facts that the words manifest is because of something called vac shakti, the power of speech. And it is said in the scriptures that speech itself has a power, has energy to it, like a deity, that it is a deity, and so things like making negative predictions is putting power in that direction, is creating the tendency for a self-fulfilling prophesy. You know, the prophets used words very powerfully. Remember in the Star Wars movie with Ben Obi Wan Kenobe when they were trying to get out of the first planet there where Luke Skywalker lived, and Obi Wan turns to the guards and says, “These are not the droids you are looking for.” And the guard says, “These are not the droids we are looking for.” He uses the power of speech to strengthen the fact. The word becomes fact.

And many miracles of the saints and sages are based on the sage said thus-and-so, and it came to be – by virtue of vac shakti, the power of speech. (On “Satya” from Yamas and Niyamas by Kay Gendron at The Meditation Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (1985)

One should not speak in such a way as to agitate the minds of others. Of course, when a teacher speaks, he can speak the truth for the instruction of his students, but such a teacher should not speak to others who are not his students if he will agitate their minds. This is penance as far as talking is concerned. Besides that, one should not talk nonsense. When speaking in spiritual circles, one's statements must be upheld by the scriptures. One should at once quote from scriptural authority to back up what he is saying. At the same time, such talk should be very pleasurable to the ear. By such discussions, one may derive the highest benefit and elevate human society. There is a limitless stock of Vedic literature, and one should study this. This is called penance of speech. (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in Bhagavad-gita As It Is, pp. 765-766)

The Sage Sanatkumara:

Your speech is a reflection of your thoughts. Your inner life is created by the way you think. If you want to know your inner life, first examine your speech. The more you study your speech, the more the contents of your mind are revealed. Study the connection between speech and mind, and you will find that speech is the means through which the mind expresses itself.

By observing silence, you can attain some degree of control over your speech, but this will not bring you peace and happiness. Once the disturbance at that level of speech is quieted, you will notice unexpected turbulence in the mind.

In order to attain peace, you must work systematically. First, bring peace to your tongue. This means speaking sweetly and making sure that you do not harm either yourself or others through your speech. Avoid meaningless talk. These observances will lead you to mental peace. By observing this discipline of speech, you maintain awareness of Brahman – the highest truth. Practicing Brahman awareness helps you create and maintain an environment of satsanga , the company of the wise. (The Tradition of the Himalayan Masters by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, p. 25)

The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers. (Arab Proverb)

Before words get past the lips, the first gatekeeper asks, "Is this true?" That stops a lot of traffic immediately. But if the words get past the first gatekeeper, there is a second who asks, "Is it kind?" And for those words that qualify here too, the last gatekeeper asks: "Is it necessary?"

With these three on guard, most of us would find very little to say. Here I think it is necessary to make exceptions in the interests of good company and let the third gatekeeper look the other way now and then. After all, a certain amount of pleasant conversation is part of the artistry of living. But the first two gatekeepers should always be on duty.

It is so easy to say something at the expense of another for the purpose of enhancing our own image. But such remarks, irresistible as they may be, serve only to fatten our own ego and agitate others. We should be so fearful of hurting people that even if a clever remark is rushing off our tongue, we can barricade the gate. We should be able to swallow our cleverness rather than hurt someone. Better to say something banal but harmless than to be clever at someone else's expense. (Eknath Easwaren)

“In order that a truth be heard, it is necessary that it be spoken with kindness. Truth is kind only when it is told by your heart, very sincerely. You would know that when the message you convey to another person is not understood, then at least one of the following things has occurred: your message is not true, or you have transmitted it without kindness, or both.

The only way to tell the truth is to speak with kindness. Only the words of a loving man can be heard. To tell the truth is the same as to be a good tailor, or to be a good farmer, or to write beautifully. Any activity needs practice; therefore, in order to tell the truth, you must accustom yourself to doing this. In order to become accustomed to truth, you should tell only the truth, even in small things — in the smallest things. Truth cannot make a person unkind or arrogant. The manifestations of truth are always humility, quietude and simplicity.” (Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, p. 55)

There are three kinds of action: actions of thought, speech and body. In the yoga tradition these are the three ways people can incur karma. Of these the actions of the mind are the strongest. Many of Christ’s teachings, for example, pertain to thoughts and words:

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery’; but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

"Whosoever shall say to his brother Ra-ca [‘empty’ or ‘worthless’] shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matthew 5:22)

There are two things about actions. There are acts of omission and the acts of commission. A favorite prayer in India, which must actually be a universal prayer is:

For all the things I have done today that I should not have done, Dear Lord, please forgive me. For all the things I have not done today which I should have done, Dear Lord, please forgive me.

Truth Conquers All Vincit omnia veritas

Satyam eva jayate Truth is victory

The truth will make you free. (John 8:32)

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Sincerity is a transparent diamond through which the light of God shines in our lives. (Fr. Anthony de Mello)

A careless word may kindle strife
A cruel word may wreck a life.
A bitter word may hate instill,
A brutal word may smite and kill.

A gracious word may smooth the way.
A joyous word may light the day.
A timely word may lessen stress.
A loving word may heal and bless.

(Grenville Kleiser)

Remember not only to say the right think in the right place, but — far more important still — to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment. (Benjamin Franklin)

There is no more sovereign eloquence than the truth in indignation. The Protests of Truth are always needed. Continually, the right must protest against the fact. There is, in fact, Eternity in the Right. (Albert Pike in Morals and Dogma)

Speech is conveniently located between thought and action, where it often substitutes for both. (John Andrew Holmes)

“I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said something like, ‘Hell is a place where everyone has a complaint and makes it ceaselessly.’ If he is right, much of talk radio can be considered a foretaste of hell.” (Anthony B. Robinson)

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things where with one may edify another (Romans 14:19)

Gandhi on “The Meaning of Truth”

I will deal with truth first of all, as the Satyagraha Ashram owes its very existence to the pursuit and the attempted practice of truth. The word satya (Truth) is derived from Sat which means 'being'. Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. That is why Sat or Truth is perhaps the most important name of God, In fact it is more correct to say that Truth is God than to say God is truth. But, as we cannot do without a ruler or a general, such names of God as 'King' or 'Kings' or 'The Almighty' are and will remain generally current. On deeper thinking, however it will be realized that Sat or Satya is the only correct and fully sign fact name for God.

And where there is Truth, there is also is knowledge which is true. Where there is no Truth, there can be no true knowledge. That is why the word Chit or knowledge is associated with the name of God. And where there is true knowledge, there is always bliss (Ananda). There sorrow has no place. And even as Truth is eternal, so is the bliss derived from it. Hence we know God as Sat-Chit-Ananda, one who combines in Himself Truth, Knowledge and Bliss.

Devotion to this Truth is the sole justification for our existence. All our activities should be centered in Truth. Truth should be the very breath of our life.

When once this stage in the pilgrim's progress is reached, all other rules of correct living will come without effort, and obedience to them will be instinctive. But without Truth it is impossible to observe any principles or rules in life.

Generally speaking observation of the law of Truth is understood merely to mean that we must speak the Truth. But we in the Ashram should understand the word Satya or Truth in a much wider sense. There should be truth in thought, truth in speech, and truth in action. To the man who has realized this truth in its fullness, nothing else remains to be known, because all knowledge is necessary included in it. What is not included in it is not truth, and so is not true knowledge; and there can be no inward peace without true knowledge. If we once learn how to apply this never failing test of Truth, we will at once able to find out what is worth doing, what is worth seeing, what is worth reading.

But how is one to realize this Truth, which may be likened to the Philosopher’s Stone or the Cow of Plenty? By single minded devotion (abhyasa) and indifference to all other interests in life (vairagya) replies the Bhagavad Gita. In spite, however of such devotion, what may appear as Truth to one person will often appear as untruth to another person. But that need not worry the seeker. Where there is honest effort, it will be realized that what appear to be different truths are like the countless and apparently different leaves of the same tree. Does not God himself appear to different individuals in different aspects? Yet we know that He is one. But Truth is the right designation of God.

Hence there is nothing wrong in every man following Truth according to his lights. Indeed it is his duty to do so. Then if there is a mistake on the part of any one so following Truth it will be automatically set right. For the quest of Truth involves tapas (self-suffering), sometimes even unto death. There can be no place in it even a trace of self-interest. In such selfless search for Truth nobody can lose his bearings for long. Directly he takes to the wrong path he stumbles, and is thus redirected to the right path. Therefore the pursuit of Truth is true bhakti (devotion). It is the path that leads to God. There is no place in it for cowardice, no place for defeat. It is the talisman by which death itself becomes the portal to life eternal.

In this connection it will be well to ponder over the lives and examples of Harish-chandra, Prahlad, Ramchandra, Imam Hussain, the Christians saints, etc. How beautiful it would be if all of us, young and old, men and women devoted ourselves wholly to Truth in all that we might do in our walking hours, whether working, eating, drinking, or playing till dissolution of the body makes us one with Truth? God as Truth has been for me a treasure beyond price; may He be so to every one of us.

— (Mahatma Gandhi’s Yeravda Mandir, Chapter 1)

Story of the Wise Woman

Once upon a time, there was a wise old woman who had the ability to heal the wounded and ensure the success of almost any endeavor by the judicious use of the power of her word. It was also rumored amongst those that had heard of her powers that she refused to teach her secret to anyone for fear they might use it for harm instead of good.

One day, an earnest young man decided to put these rumors to the test. He went to the wise old woman and challenged her. "I have heard it said that you have the power to heal the wounded and ensure the success of almost any endeavor using nothing more than the power of your word," the young man began.

"That is true," the wise old woman said.

"I have also heard," the young man continued, "that you have refused to share the secrets of your power for fear that it might be abused by those less scrupulous than yourself."

"That is also true", replied the wise old woman.

"I am a man of honor", the young man said boldly. "I want to share your wisdom that I too might gain your power. What can I do to prove to you my sincerity and my worth?"

The wise old woman smiled at him kindly. "I doubt neither your sincerity nor your worth, for your sincerity pours forth from your eyes and your worth has been yours since the moment of your birth. As for the power, it is not mine to give, but I will teach you the secret to access it within yourself if you agree to follow my instructions exactly as I give them to you."

When the young man excitedly agreed, the wise old woman handed him three scrolls with the following direction:

The first scroll was to be opened at sunrise on the very next morning. As soon as the instructions on the first scroll had been followed to the letter, the next scroll could be opened; when the instructions on that scroll had been carried out in full, the contents of the final scroll could be revealed.

The next morning, the young man awoke long before dawn, unable to sleep with anticipation of what was about to be revealed. The moment the sun appeared over the peak of the tallest mountain, he broke open the seal of the first scroll.

Here is what he read:

"You must climb to the top of the tallest mountain. Take with you three things - enough food to sate your hunger, a knife sharp enough to kill the fiercest lion, and a pillow filled with feathers soft enough to ease the most troubled sleep."

The young man was indeed sincere in his desire, and he did exactly as the scroll said. After many days and nights, he finally reached the top of the tallest mountain, where he was buffetted by mighty winds. He carefully broke open the seal on the second scroll, holding it tightly lest the wind blow it out of his grasp.

Here is what he read:

"Use the knife to cut open the pillow, and allow the great wind to scatter the feathers to the four corners of the earth!"

Again, the young man quickly did as he was asked, pausing only to admire the way the wind took hold of the seemingly thousands of feathers, lifting each one and carrying it far into the distance in every direction. He then opened the seal on the third scroll.

Here is what he read:

"Now gather up each feather that the wind has taken from the pillow and bring it back safely to me. When you have succeeded in your quest, I will share with you my secret."

The young man was nearly overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge, but he was indeed sincere in his desire to learn the secret of accessing the power of his word. For a full year, he journeyed to the four corners of the earth in search of every feather from the pillow. When the year was over, he returned to his village defeated.

Because he was indeed a man of honor, he returned to the wise old woman's home to admit his failure. To his surprise, she was no longer there. When he asked after her, he was told that the wise old woman had died. Heartbroken both that he had failed in his quest and that her secret was now buried with her in her grave, the man went to the cemetery to pay his respects. Instead of flowers, he left a vase filled with the few feathers he had managed to gather up in his travels around the world.

No sooner had he placed the vase atop her stone than an old gravedigger appeared and handed him a familiar looking scroll. "Begging your pardon, sir," the gravedigger said in a raspy voice, "but I was told to give this to the first one who visited the grave with feathers as a gift."

The young man hurriedly broke the seal on the fourth and final scroll.

Here is what he read:

"Like the feathers in your pillow spread by the wind, every word you utter goes out into the world, never to be returned. If you speak words of anger, despair, envy, and desolation, they will cut through others like the sharpest knife and you may never be able to fully undo their effect. If you speak words of love, kindness, appreciation, and hope, you will never need to try. Your words will carry throughout the world like feathers in the wind, bringing rest to the weary, comfort to the sick, and hope to the downtrodden. When you truly recognize that each word you speak has the power to cut like a knife or comfort like a pillow, your word will be your wand and that which you have been seeking will be yours."



The Himalayan Tradition of Yoga Meditation

Purification of Thoughts     Dhyana     Mindfulness     Japa     Dharana     Shavasana     Breath Awareness     Qualified Preceptor     Guru Disciple Relationship     Unbroken Lineage     Silence     Full Moon Meditation

Copyright © 2009-2015 by AHYMSIN ®