Some friends here at SF Zen Center recently asked me to share my thoughts on right speech for a series we have been doing on the theme. Specifically, they wanted some comments from me about right speech on social media.
I’m sorry, I thought. There is no such thing. Right speech is impossible on social media – I have nothing to say on the matter.
And that’s why I’ve been away from No Zen in the West, from facebook. Busy, sure. Committed to my in-the-flesh Sanghas, sure, and the whole swirl of so-called “actual life.” But also and maybe mostly because I came to feel that right speech online is impossible, and wrong speech online is excruciating.
Right here on this blog and at least as much on the uncountable facebook posts attached to it, I have seen how impossible and excruciating it is. I have seen, in myself and in the community, how the vitriol spews and cycles and pollutes and is reborn – exuberant proliferation of hatred, violence, one-upmanship, competition, division. Missing one another, and missing again, and missing again, an entire vitriol-based ecosystem emerges… a whole vitriol-based world system.
Thus behold the utter frailty of right speech online! It is like a flash of lightning in the night sky, overtaken in an instant. We await then the next flash of kind speech, of understanding, of curiosity, of compassion, but we know even before it comes that it won’t last when it does – night will seal up right behind it as quickly as it came.
So, no – sorry, I thought. I have nothing to say about right speech online. I’ve never done it, and I think it’s impossible.
But my friends kindly persisted, so I had to reconsider. Is my view really so dark, so defeatist?
If I am resigned to hate and fear being the main thing going on in my heart and our hearts, all the time and forever, then yes, right speech is impossible, or pointless, or both. If I see right speech as just policing of others expression or sugar-coating my own pain, suppressing the hate and fear in my heart and turning away from the hate and fear and suffering in others’ hearts, then yes, fuck that right speech.
But there are other ways to see right speech, and other ways to deploy it. Speech is a mirror, and right speech is a path. So I found it in me to write this for Zen Center, and with this spirit, and this intention, I take one vulnerable, tentative step back into the storm and the night:
Lately I haven’t felt at all like my goal in getting my speech “right” is to achieve “right speech.” I respect the karma of words, but I’m honestly not working on my speech for speech’s sake. I’m way more worried about my heart. I’m trying to get my speech right so that I can try to get my heart right, that’s all. I’ve awakened rudely to the fact that my speech is a window, a mirror, to my heart. Through my hateful speech, I see my heart full of hate. Trying to mend my hateful speech, I’m trying mostly just to mend my hateful heart.