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Right Speech And True Compassion – Abhaya Sutta
For a complete understanding of this sutta within the context intended by an awakened human being, please read the suttas linked inline and at the end of this article. ([x]) Inline links will open in a new window.
Everything the Buddha taught was taught in the context of Dependent Origination and the ongoing stress, suffering, and distraction that results from ignorance of Four Noble Truths.  Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
His first teaching was taught to describe the results of this common ignorance and the singular path the Buddha taught to recognize and abandon ignorance. [2,3] Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta | Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
The Abhaya Raja-Kumara Sutta teaches the importance of responding to questions from a well-concentrated mind supporting the refined mindfulness that frames experience through the Eightfold Path, including Right Speech. Framed by the Eightfold Path, Right Speech will always support speech that ultimately leads to an understanding of Four Noble Truths and liberation from the greed, aversion, and deluded thinking that follows ignorance of these Four Truths.
Right Speech is:
- Abstaining from lying
- Abstaining from divisive speech
- Abstaining from abusive speech
- Abstaining from gossip
- Abstaining from idle chatter
Right Speech is always compassionate speech as it is speech informed by the wisdom of Four Noble Truths developed through the Eightfold Path.
Noble Silence is not forced silence. Noble Silence follows wise restraint and is then active engagement with the Dhamma at the point of contact.  Wisdom Of Restraint
My comments below are in italics.
Right Speech And True Compassion – Abhaya Sutta
Majjhima Nikaya 58
On one occasion the Buddha was staying at the Squirrel’s Sanctuary in the Bamboo Forest near Rajagaha.
A local prince, Prince Abhaya, went to the Jain, Nigantha Nataputa.
The Jain religion was a popular religious sect during the Buddha’s lifetime and is still practiced today.
The Prince approached Nigantha Nataputa, bowed, and sat to one side.
Nigantha Nataputa said to Prince Abhaya “If you would refute the teachings of the ‘mighty and powerful’ Gotama the contemplative, an admirable reputation of you will spread far.”
“Venerable sir, how will I refute the teachings of the ‘mighty and powerful’ Gotama?”
“Come now, prince! Gotama the contemplative is at the Squirrel’s Sanctuary in the Bamboo Forest near Rajagaha. When you see him ask him this: ‘Would you say words that are not endearing or are disagreeable to others.’ If he answers that he would say words that are not endearing or are disagreeable to others than you say to him ‘then how is there any difference between you and ordinary, run-of-the-mill people?’
“However, prince, if Gotama the contemplative answers that he would not say words that are not endearing or disagreeable to others than you say to him ‘then why did you say that Devadatta is headed for deprivation, a living hell, beyond redemption. Devadatta was upset at these words.
“When you ask Gotama the contemplative this two-pronged question he won’t be able to swallow it or spit it out. It will be as if he swallowed a two-horned chestnut that became stuck in his throat.”
Prince Abhaya responds “As you say, lord.” He left Nigantha Nataputa with respect and went to the Buddha. On arrival, he bowed and sat to one side.
As the prince was sitting with the Buddha he thought ‘This is not the time or place to confront Gotama the contemplative. I will invite him to my house and refute his words there.’
“Great teacher, would you join me with three of your sangha members for tomorrows meal?”
The Buddha accepted the offer by his silence. The prince left with a show of respect.
The next day the Buddha adjusted his inner robe and took hi alms bowl and outer robe and left for Prince Abhaya’s home. Upon arrival, he sat on a seat prepared for him.
Prince Abhaya served the Buddha and his friends a lavish meal. The Buddha finished his meal and removed his hand from his bowl.
The prince then sat on a lower seat to one side of the Buddha and addressed the Buddha “Would you say words that are not endearing or are disagreeable?”
The Buddha responds “There is no categorical yes or no answer to your questions.”
Categorical refers to an absolute definitive answer. As the Buddha teaches here, whether words can be taken as endearing or agreeable does not define a skillful answer framed by the understanding developed through the Eightfold Path.
“Well, Gotama, you have just refuted the Niganthas.
“Just yesterday Nigantha Nataputa told me to find you and ask if you would use words that are not endearing or are disagreeable. He said you would choke on the answer as if you had swallowed a two-horned chestnut.”
At that time a baby was lying on the prince’s lap. The Buddha asked prince Abhaya “If this baby was neglected and swallowed a piece of gravel what would you do?”
“I would remove it. If I could not remove it easily I would hold his head with one hand and reach into the baby’s throat to remove the stone. This may hurt the baby but would save its life. I would do this out of sympathy for the baby.”
“In the same way, out of sympathy for others, words that I know to be false, unendearing, disagreeable, or not helpful in developing the Dhamma, I do not say them. (Noble Silence)
An uncontrolled mind lacking the framework of the Eightfold Path will constantly be craving for self-establishment. Wrong or hurtful speech will often follow. Remaining mindful of Right Speech provides the framework for wise restraint.
“In the same way, out of sympathy for others, words that I know to be true but likewise unendearing, disagreeable, or not helpful in developing the Dhamma, I do not say them. (Right Speech informing Noble Silence)
“In the same way, out of sympathy for others, words that I know to be true, unendearing, disagreeable, but helpful to developing the Dhamma, with a sense of the proper time, I do say them. (Right Speech)
Developing the wisdom and understanding to know that words that may be uncomfortable to hear but are true and supportive of the Dhamma also brings the clarity of mind and gentle courage to maintain Right Speech and teach a simple and direct Dhamma.
“In the same way, out of sympathy for others, words that I know to be false, not helpful in developing the Dhamma, but are endearing and agreeable, I do not say them. (Right Speech informing Noble Silence)
The Buddha’s entire teaching career is an example of the cruelty of teaching false and misleading “Dharmas” simply to “be positive” or to not upset those whose minds insist on continuing ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
“In the same way, out of sympathy for others, words that I know to be true, endearing and agreeable, but are not helpful to developing the Dhamma, I do not say them. (Right Speech informing Noble Silence)
“In the same way, out of sympathy for others, words that I know to be true, endearing and agreeable, and are helpful to developing the Dhamma, with a sense of the proper time, I do say them. (Right Speech)
“Lord, when others have questions for you and approach you do you know how you will answer or do you formulate a response in the moment?”
“I will counter-question you, prince. Answer how you see fit. Are you skilled is the parts of a chariot?”
“Yes, I am skilled in the parts of a chariot” answered the prince.
“Well, prince, when people ask you about the parts of a chariot do you know how you will answer or do you formulate a response in the moment?”
“Great teacher, I am known as an expert on the parts of a chariot. As such, I formulate a response in the moment.”
“Prince Abhaya, in the same manner when others question me I formulate a response in the moment. I formulate a response in the moment because I thoroughly understand the Dhamma.”
When this was said Prince Abhaya replied “Magnificent, Lord, magnificent! It is as if you have set upright what was overturned, revealed what was hidden, shown a clear p[ath to one lost and carried a lamp in the darkness for those with eyes to see.
“Through many lines of reasoning, you have made the Dhamma clear. I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Remember me as a follower from this day forward.
This last is a reference to taking True Refuge.  True Refuge – The Ratana Sutta
End Of Sutta
- Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
- Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
- Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
- Wisdom Of Restraint
- True Refuge – The Ratana Sutta
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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.
Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.
I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.
Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.