“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: At the first gate, ask yourself ‘Is it true?’ At the second gate ask, ‘Is it necessary?’ At the third gate ask, ‘Is it kind?’” – Rumi (13th cent. Persian Sufi Poet and philosopher)
There is too much falseness in this world, too much indulgence in the superficial and needless, and there is too much cruelty. These three human propensities bring with them a great deal of emotional pain and suffering; they are injurious to well-being and happiness, to personal security and the development of stable and trustworthy relationships, they are poison to the development of psychologically healthy individuals and society. Imagine how much better off we could be if these vices were not so prevalent, contaminating nearly every aspect of life. Yet, it is not helpful to simply decry these human failings. It is a negative to a negative. There is no way to actualize not being false or indulgent, superficial, or cruel. We can only actualize their opposite. We can only reverse these awful learned behaviors by deliberately being truthful, by focusing into the essential, and by practicing kindness. These are what Buddhism calls virtues, and we must realize that human vice arises from our failure to nurture and practice virtue. When focused into virtue, we begin to realize our natural goodness and goodness then becomes the product of our actions.
We can realize that goodness is our nature because when actualizing goodness we experience the sense of its rightness as a feeling state of harmony, accompanied by a sense of expansive connection with the beneficiaries of the goodness and our gentle merging with the flow of the moment. Likewise, while perhaps being pleasing to the ego, we know the felt sense of our vices because the feeling state is contracted with some degree of guilt and shame coloring our mental state. We are sharply separated from the victims of our vice and the moment has a feel of jagged isolation from Life’s natural state of harmony. We have elevated ourselves or our identity-group in our mind, but we have lost connection with all else. This is a bigness trapped in a smallness. It is uncomfortable for everyone.
The great appeal of Buddhism is that its singular focus is understanding the cause and the lessening of suffering in this world, and while Rumi is a Persian Islamic Sufi, his Three Gates of Speech – the gates of truth, necessity, and kindness – form as perfect a tripod of wisdom as there can be and is very harmonious with Buddhist, and for that matter, mystic Christian or Jewish, teaching. A person can develop a true, deep, and powerfully transformative practice of personal and spiritual self-development if they consciously deepen their self-observant capacity, monitoring their failure to observe these virtues and, through intention followed by action, increasingly embody these virtues, not only in speech but in all their manners of expression.
In Buddhism, speech is considered an action. It is how thoughts come into the dimension of form, the symbols in mind becoming spoken words, very little different from when impressions, intentions and reactions in the mind become physical actions and interactions. Both our words and our actions have shape and color, nuance, inflection, weight, intention and, most importantly, effect. Words and actions, how we bring our intention into manifestation, are what shape the reality we share with our fellow humans and with all of Life, society, and Nature. The law of Karma tells us if we want a true and kind life and a true and kind society that attends to what is necessary in the fostering of harmony, we must cultivate and bring these qualities ourselves.
We live in a society that is fractured by the elevation of tribalism and “alternative truth,” a deceptive way of saying lies, deliberately spread for purposes of causing divisions that can be exploited – and we are challenged to not allow the fracture to get worse. We must first halt the downward spiral of deception, division, and derision our society has fallen into and redirect with our sincerest intention to rise above these vices of falseness, superficiality and meanness. Whereas in the past, American political parties stood separated by policy ideas on how best to address the country’s needs, there now is a separation that seems based in conflicting notions of what is true and not true, what ought to be the depth and breadth of our democracy, and whether we are a people practicing inclusion and generosity or exclusion and privilege. This argument over truth, direction and inclusion takes our society into truly perilous waters and we must be aware it has the potential to capsize and drown the very principles upon which the country is founded.
Yet in this argument, we are challenged – how are we to know what is true from what is not true? Buddhism tells us to have faith in ourselves. As truth is virtue and falseness is vice, we can know them just as we know kind from cruel actions, by the way they feel and affect us, individually and collectively. We must allow ourselves space to consider, to meditate upon, to be quiet with the swirling contradictions of our society and politics. We must reach into our hearts to feel what feels expansive and connecting with our fellow citizens and with our civic circumstance, and so we can know this as true. Likewise, we must attend to what is said and done that feels contracting and has as its purpose separation, competition, accusation, diminishment of others or exaggerated inflation of self, and feel the cruelty of it. We can know its fruit will be suffering.
The virtues of truth, necessity and kindness meet us and nurture us at our heart. They engender our feeling complete and whole. They nurture our capacity to be and give these very virtues to others, expanding a circle of social harmony. The vices of falsehood, superficial distraction and cruelty always deplete us, individually and collectively, and when we can feel this in ourselves and see it in our society, this is how we can know what is true from false, what expands the founding principles of liberty and justice and what threatens them. We will know, we will be able to see, that liberty and justice that do not include everyone ultimately threaten the liberty and justice of even the most privileged.
Like a song, a melody, that opens
our hearts, rather than an anthem to conflict, the symphony that will stir our
people into the future with confidence and optimism will be one that allows all
the instruments to express themselves in harmony with the whole. We
must insist upon our national song being one of truth, necessity, and kindness,
and we will surely soar, but should we remain mired in the current cacophony of
lies, superficiality and cruel argument we will surely fall. Each person who heeds Rumi’s call will be themselves
rewarded with a life of greater harmony and clarity of purpose, reward enough
in itself, yet also, they will become one more harmonious voice added to the
national song, and slowly but certainly, our national chorus can move from
cacophony to beautiful melody.At every instant and from every side, resounds
the call of Love:
We are going to sky, who wants to come with us?
We have gone to heaven, we have been the friends of the angels,
And now we will go back there, for there is our country. – Rumi