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Vak Shuddhi-Vak Shakti

Insights from Bhagavad Gita, Ashtanga Hridayam, Vidura Neeti and Tirukkural on the power of pure speech!


Speech is one of the most potent tools at our disposal, capable of shaping our interactions, influencing our relationships, and defining our character. Ancient scriptures such as Ashtanga Hrdayam, Bhagavad Gita, Vidura Neeti, and Tirukkural provide profound insights into the significance of positive speech and the detrimental effects of harsh words. Through these verses, we can gain a deeper understanding of how to cultivate purity in our speech and appreciate its profound impact on our lives.

The Right Speech

Positive speech is characterized by speaking at the right time, using kind and truthful words, and expressing oneself in a way that benefits others. As stated in Ashtanga Hrdayam:




 

काले हितं मितं ब्रूयाद्विसंवादि पेशलम्


पूर्वाभिभाषी, सुमुखः सुशीलः करुणामृदुः

नैकः सुखी, न सर्वत्र विश्रब्धो न शङ्कितः

न कञ्चिदात्मन शत्रुं नात्मानं कस्यचिद्रिपुम्

प्रकाशयेन्नापमानं न च निःस्नेहतां प्रभोः

 

kale bruyat – speak only on the right occasion.

hitam bruyat – speak good words, be pleasant.

mitam bruyat – speak little, as per necessity."


These guidelines remind us that our words should be measured and meaningful, avoiding unnecessary chatter and focusing on the quality of our interactions. Speaking at the right time ensures that our words are relevant and impactful. Speaking good words and being pleasant promotes harmony and goodwill, while speaking little emphasizes the importance of brevity and relevance in communication.


Further expanding on this, Ashtanga Hrdayam also advises:


purva abhibhashi – be the first to greet, to start conversation

sumukhaha – have a smiling face

susheelaha – have good character

karuna, mrudu: – be courteous, be soft in speech and activity.

na eka sukhee – do not be a person who likes to be alone always.

na sarvata: vishrabdo – do not believe everything around you

na shankhitaha – do not suspect everything around

do not instantly think someone as your foe or that he is a foe of someone else.

do not publicly talk about insults that you underwent,

do not publicly talk about disaffection towards your superior


This comprehensive advice highlights the multifaceted nature of positive speech. Initiating conversations with a warm greeting sets a positive tone, and maintaining a smiling face can make interactions more pleasant. Good character and courtesy are essential for building trust and respect, while being soft in speech and activity reflects gentleness and compassion. It also advises against isolation, excessive gullibility, and suspicion, promoting a balanced and discerning approach to social interactions. Importantly, it warns against discussing personal grievances or disaffection publicly, which can lead to discord and negativity.


Austerity of Speech: Bhagavad Gita


Truthfulness is a cornerstone of virtuous speech. The Bhagavad Gita emphasizes that words should be free from causing distress, truthful, and beneficial:


 

अनुद्वेगकरं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रियहितं च यत् |

स्वाध्यायाभ्यसनं चैव वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते || BG 17.15||

 

Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting the scriptures. This verse encapsulates the essence of pure and powerful speech, or Vak Shuddhi and Vak Shakti. It teaches that our words should be free from causing distress, thus promoting peace and harmony. Truthfulness ensures integrity and trust, while pleasing and beneficial words foster goodwill and positive relationships. The emphasis on regular recitation of sacred texts underscores the importance of continuous learning and reflection, which refine our speech and thought processes. By adhering to these principles, we can cultivate speech that not only uplifts and inspires others but also aligns with our higher moral and spiritual values. This verse reminds us of the profound impact our words can have and encourages us to use them wisely and compassionately. The Bhagavad Gita categorizes such speech as an austerity, highlighting its spiritual significance and the discipline required to practice it.


Avoidance of Harsh Words and Mastery over Speech: Vidura Neeti

The Vidura Neeti, offers profound wisdom on the art of speech and the ethical use of words. Vidura Neeti highlights the virtues of humility, truthfulness, and restraint in speech, while warning against the dangers of arrogance, harshness, and dishonesty.


 

यो नोद्धतं कुरुते जातु वेषं न पौरुषेणापि विकत्थतेऽन्यान् ।

न मूर्च्छितः कटुकान्याह किं चित् प्रियं सदा तं कुरुते जनोऽपि ॥ ९२॥

That man who never assumeth a haughty mien, who never censureth others praising himself the while, and never addresseth harsh words to others for getting himself, is ever loved by all. (33.92)


शुभं वा यदि वा पापं द्वेष्यं वा यदि वा प्रियम् ।

अपृष्टस्तस्य तद्ब्रूयाद्यस्य नेच्छेत्पराभवम् ॥ ४॥

"Vidura said, 'Even if unasked, one should speak truly, whether his words be good or bad, hateful or pleasing, unto him whose defeat one doth not wish. (Vidura Neeti: 34.4)


वाक्संयमो हि नृपते सुदुष्करतमो मतः ।

अर्थवच्च विचित्रं च न शक्यं बहुभाषितुम् ॥ ७३॥

To control speech, O king, is said to be most difficult. It is not easy to hold a long conversation uttering words full of meaning and delightful to the hearers.(34.73)


अभ्यावहति कल्याणं विविधा वाक्सुभाषिता ।

सैव दुर्भाषिता राजन्ननर्थायोपपद्यते ॥ ७४॥

Well-spoken speech is productive of many beneficial results; and ill-spoken speech, O king, is the cause of evils.(Vidura Neeti:34.74)


संरोहति शरैर्विद्धं वनं परशुना हतम् ।

वाचा दुरुक्तं बीभत्सं न संरोहति वाक्क्षतम् ॥ ७५॥

A forest pierced by arrows, or cut down by hatchets may again grow, but one's heart wounded and censured by ill-spoken words never recovereth. (Vidura Neeti: 34.75)


नाक्रोशी स्यान्नावमानी परस्य मित्रद्रोही नोत नीचोपसेवी ।

न चातिमानी न च हीनवृत्तो रूक्षां वाचं रुशतीं वर्जयीत ॥ ६॥

Indulge not in slanders and reproaches. Do not humiliate and insult others. Quarrel not with friends. Abstain from companionship with those that are vile and low. Be not arrogant and ignoble in conduct. Avoid words that are harsh and fraught with anger. (Vidura Neeti: 36.6)


मर्माण्यस्थीनि हृदयं तथासून् घोरा वाचो निर्दहन्तीह पुंसाम् ।

तस्माद्वाचं रुशतीं रूक्षरूपां धर्मारामो नित्यशो वर्जयीत ॥ ७॥

Harsh words burn and scorch the very vitals, bones, heart, and the very sources of the life of men. Therefore, he, that is virtuous, should always abstain from harsh and angry words. (Vidura Neeti: 36.7)


अरुं तुरं परुषं रूक्षवाचं वाक्कण्टकैर्वितुदन्तं मनुष्यान् ।

विद्यादलक्ष्मीकतमं जनानां मुखे निबद्धां निरृतिं वहन्तम् ॥ ८॥

That worst of men is of harsh and wrathful speech, who pierceth the vitals of others with wordy thorns, beareth hell in his tongue, and should ever be regarded as a dispenser of misery to men. (Vidura Neeti: 36.8)


अव्याहृतं व्याहृताच्छ्रेय आहुः सत्यं वदेद्व्याहृतं तद्द्वितीयम् ।

प्रियंवदेद्व्याहृतं तत्तृतीयं धर्म्यं वदेद्व्याहृतं तच्चतुर्थम् ॥ १२॥

Silence, it is said, is better than speech, if speak you must, then it is better to say the truth; if truth is to be said, it is better to say what is agreeable; and if what is agreeable is to be said, then it is better to say what is consistent with morality. (Vidura Neeti: 36.12)


सुलभाः पुरुषा राजन्सततं प्रियवादिनः । अप्रियस्य तु पथ्यस्य वक्ता श्रोता च दुर्लभः ॥ १४॥

They are abundant, O king, that can always speak agreeable words. The speaker, however, is rare, as also the hearer, of words that are disagreeable but medicinal.(Vidura Neeti:37.14)


सुव्याहृतानि धीराणां फलतः प्रविचिन्त्य यः ।

अध्यवस्यति कार्येषु चिरं यशसि तिष्ठति ॥ ३१॥

Reflecting on the well-spoken words of the wise according to their consequences, he that engageth in acts never loseth fame.(Vidura Neeti: 39.31)


 

The verses from Vidura Neeti emphasize the profound impact of speech on relationships and personal integrity. They highlight the importance of humility, urging individuals to avoid arrogance and harshness in their interactions. A person who remains humble, refrains from criticizing others, and avoids using harsh words for personal gain is universally loved and respected. Speaking truthfully, even when unasked, is a mark of integrity, and this honesty should be maintained whether the truth is pleasant or unpleasant.


Controlling one's speech is a challenging yet essential virtue. Meaningful and delightful conversations are rare and require careful consideration. Harsh words can inflict deep and lasting emotional wounds, much like physical injuries that may never fully heal. Therefore, virtuous individuals should always avoid harsh and angry words, recognizing the profound harm they can cause. Slander, humiliation, and quarrels should be avoided, and one should not associate with immoral individuals or indulge in arrogance.


The verses also underscore the value of wise and reflective speech. It is easy to speak agreeable words, but it is rare and valuable to speak (and listen to) words that are disagreeable yet beneficial. Reflecting on the wise words of others and considering their consequences helps maintain one's good reputation. Well-spoken words can lead to numerous positive outcomes, while ill-spoken words can cause significant harm. The worst kind of person is one who uses harsh speech to wound others deeply, spreading misery.


In essence, Vidura Neeti teaches that silence is often better than speech, but when one must speak, it is crucial to speak truthfully, pleasantly, and morally. These principles of speech help cultivate a virtuous character and foster harmonious relationships, highlighting the immense power and responsibility that comes with our words.


Power of Speech: Tirukkural

Tirukkural has an entire adhikaram called Solvanmai on speech. The verses from Tirukkural emphasize the profound value and impact of good speech, highlighting its superiority over other forms of goodness. Speech holds the power to generate both wealth and evil, making it crucial to avoid faults in our words. Effective speech strengthens bonds with friends and can even transform enemies into allies, underscoring its transformative potential. Understanding the audience and tailoring our speech accordingly is paramount, as well-considered words surpass even virtue and wealth.

Clear, precise communication and active listening are the hallmarks of true excellence. An eloquent, steadfast, and fearless speaker is nearly impossible to defeat, demonstrating the strength of confident and unwavering speech. Pleasant and orderly words can inspire immediate action, reflecting their motivational power.

Brevity and precision are essential, as excessive words often signal a lack of skill in faultless speech. Just as a flower without fragrance fails its purpose, knowledge must be communicated effectively to be beneficial, highlighting the necessity for clear and impactful communication.


 

நாநலம் என்னும் நலனுடைமை அந்நலம்

யாநலத்து உள்ளதூஉம் அன்று (641)

The possession of that goodness which is called the goodness of speech is (even to others) better than any other goodness.


ஆக்கமுங் கேடும் அதனால் வருதலால்

காத்தோம்பல் சொல்லின்கட் சோர்வு. (642)

Since (both) wealth and evil result from (their) speech, ministers should most carefully guard themselves against faultiness therein.


கேட்டார்ப் பிணிக்கும் தகையவாய்க் கேளாரும்

வேட்ப மொழிவதாம் சொல்.( 643)

The speech is that which seeks (to express) elements as bind his friends (to himself) and is so delivered as to make even his enemies desire (his friendship).

திறனறிந்து சொல்லுக சொல்லை அறனும்

பொருளும் அதனினூஉங்கு இல். (644)

Understand the qualities (of your hearers) and (then) make your speech; for superior to it, there is neither virtue nor wealth.


சொல்லுக சொல்லைப் பிறிதோர்சொல் அச்சொல்லை

வெல்லுஞ்சொல் இன்மை அறிந்து. (645)

Deliver your speech, after assuring yourself that no counter speech can defeat your own.


வேட்பத்தாஞ் சொல்லிப் பிறர்சொல் பயன்கோடல்

மாட்சியின் மாசற்றார் கோள். (646)

expressing one's needs clearly and listening to understand the purpose behind what others say. The ideal of those who possess true excellence is to articulate their desires effectively while also being attentive and discerning about the intentions and benefits of others' words.


சொலல்வல்லன் சோர்விலன் அஞ்சான் அவனை

இகல்வெல்லல் யார்க்கும் அரிது.(647)

It is extremely difficult for anyone to belittle and defeat a person who is eloquent, steadfast, and fearless. Such an individual, who is adept in speech, unwavering in their stance, and unafraid of challenges, is nearly impossible to overcome through scorn or criticism.


விரைந்து தொழில்கேட்கும் ஞாலம் நிரந்தினிது

சொல்லுதல் வல்லார்ப் பெறின்.(Tirukkural 648)

If one receives words from a person who has the skill to speak pleasantly and in an orderly manner, those words can have a remarkable effect of prompting immediate and eager action upon hearing them.


பலசொல்லக் காமுறுவர் மன்றமா சற்ற

சிலசொல்லல் தேற்றா தவர்.(649)

They will desire to utter many words, who do not know how to speak a few faultless ones.


இணருழ்த்தும் நாறா மலரனையர் கற்றது

உணர விரித்துரையா தார்.(650)

Just as a flower without fragrance fails to fulfill its purpose, a person who cannot effectively convey their knowledge fails to make their learning beneficial to others.

 

The teachings from Ashtanga Hrdayam, Bhagavad Gita, Vidura Neeti, and Tirukkural provide timeless wisdom on the importance of purity in speech. By incorporating these principles into our daily interactions, we can cultivate a habit of speaking with kindness, truthfulness, and mindfulness. This not only enriches our own lives but also contributes to a more compassionate and understanding world. Let us strive to speak words that heal, uplift, and inspire, creating a ripple effect of positivity and goodness.


More about speech in the next article!




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