How the fundamentals of Buddhist Right Speech can help you give skilful advice and feedback that gets heard.
How to use Buddhist Right Speech
In this teaching, I share how Buddhists can use the teachings of Buddhist Right Speech and Mindfulness to offer unsolicited advice to others, skilfully and kindly, and in ways that promote harmony, mutual respect, and appreciation from and for the people whom we have around us.
These days there is a wealth of information available to us on the internet and an abundance of people who do and don't take advantage of it. As a result, there are many people who feel compelled to offer unsolicited advice to others. Although unsolicited advice can be beneficial at times, if not done skilfully it can result in hurt feelings or disharmony between peers and friends; this is unfortunate and avoidable. Offering advice and constructive feedback like a Buddhist means doing so from a heart of compassion and loving-kindness rather than from a mind of ego or aversion, and doing so will pave the way for your feedback to be heard and appreciated.
It may be worth mentioning that, from the recipient's perspective, advice is generally best received from two different groups of people:
When we receive unsolicited advice from those who fall beyond the confines of these two groups, we tend to do so with shields and skeptical minds engaged. This is something worth keeping in mind when considering to offer advice to others.
OFFERING ADVICE AS A FORM OF BUDDHIST PRACTICE
As Buddhists, it is important to seek every opportunity to practice the Path and apply the teaching if we wish to cultivate the views and skills that make measurable progress along the path possible. Giving feedback is just such an instance.
The act of offering advice can become a Buddhist practice if the act is approached skilfully and with the dharma in-mind. If giving-feedback is to be a proper reflection of our desire to apply our Buddhist practice to our everyday lives then we have to ensure that our motivations and intentions are coming from wholesome, compassionate, and skilful wellsprings. Not only does this ensure that the act of offering feedback helps us to cultivate the views and practices that enable progress along the Buddhist path, but it also paves the foundation for feedback to be viewed and received with an open heart and a clear mind by those to whom we offer it.
So how do we begin?
Before we get started it's important to reflect on some preliminary notions before we decide whether or not we should make the effort to offer advice. The following preliminary steps shall provide the litmus test on whether or not you should provide your thoughts at all.
Please consider the following:
NON-DELIVERY / RETREAT / NOBLE SILENCE
If these preliminary considerations and conditions can not be sufficiently satisfied, then your most skilful and wholesome option is to maintain your Noble Silence and silently offer your good wishes, positive affirmations, and prayers of compassion and loving-kindness in their direction, with the aspiration that they may meet with their future growth and enlightenment as soon as possible.
This is referred to as a practice in skilful acceptance and it reflects a clear knowing that just as they are imperfect as sentient beings, we too are imperfect; and just as they possess the seeds of their Buddha-nature within themselves, we too possess the infinite seeds of the potential of our own continued growth and spiritual enlightenment; but, only if we continue to recognise and water the seeds of our wholesome and wise qualities, instead of watering the seeds of our attachments, aversions, and delusions.
This is a very practical way in which we can practice patience, acceptance, and tolerance of the differences of others in our everyday lives and to promote harmony, humility, and right views despite our everyday frustrations and problems.
Skilfully and wholesomely not-speaking-up can sometimes be a very powerful form of Buddhist practice and one that should not be quickly dismissed or overlooked.
BUDDHIST RIGHT SPEECH
(a brief overview)
OK, so now that you have considered and reflected upon the preliminary steps above, you can be assured that your intentions are wise. Now let's consider the ability of the other person to receive your feedback by considering the content and tenor of your approach.
First and foremost, whenever we speak, but all the more so when the fragile ego of others is at-play, we must be mindful of the five qualities of Buddhist Right Speech.
Buddhist Right Speech has the five qualities of being truthful, beneficial, altruistic, kind, and timely. While I could easily write out a lengthy discourse on these five facets of Right Speech, let's for the purposes of this teaching keep it brief and just quickly review what these mean at a very high-level:
So now that we have Buddhist Right Speech in mind, how do we construct and deliver our feedback skilfully?
Listen to their thoughts, opinions, and feedback with an open and non-judgemental mind. Receiving feedback from others can be difficult for people, and therefore, offering unsolicited advice to others is a precariously treacherous endeavour.
We can never truly be certain of how someone will react (externally or internally) to our altruism, so we must be willing to accept their reaction no matter how skilful or unskilful it may be, and we should do so with a mind imbued with patience, understanding, loving-kindness, compassion, empathy, and equanimity.
Remember, receiving constructive criticism isn't always easy. Whether or not a person is receptive enough to our advice to receive it, hear it, or appreciate it, we should be mindful to be grateful for our opportunity to help another with compassion and loving-kindness in our heart and mind.
As long as we offer advice and feedback with humility in our hearts, the offering of guidance to others is an excellent way of practicing the Buddhist teachings and making a genuine effort to cultivate the Buddhist Path in real life.
Finally, if the advice we offered is not well-received, or we inadvertently cause offense, or promote defensiveness or anger within them, then we should apologise and acknowledge their right to feel as they do. Later, we should take the time to reflect on what we said or the manner in which we said it, that caused them react in the way that did and how we, ourselves, can improve our own ability to provide guidance to others in the future in way that is more conducive to harmony and peaceful relations with others. Perhaps, it may be our turn to seek out the advice and feedback of others so that we too can learn, grow, and develop. :)
Anagārika Michael Turner
Pre-monastic Buddhist Teacher
Advanced Applied-Dharma Trainer
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Michael Turner is a pre-monastic ariya-puggala and a full-time Buddhist anagārika; and he is also a deeply accomplished streamentry mentor and applied-dharma teacher. He emphasises and teaches the practical application of the Buddha's teachings in our everyday lives to overcome our human problems that stand in the way of making measurable progress toward Buddhist enlightenment and he is particularly adept at explaining them in ways that can be easily understood and practiced by Western Buddhists. He has been meditating and cultivating the views and techniques that generate indestructible resilience, inner-strength, and direct experience for almost 30 years and has helped countless numbers of students and peers enhance and course-correct their practice to make veritable progress along the path toward Nibbāna.
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