Everyday Wisdom #33

Gossip Free Zone

I feel really passionately about the Buddhist concept of “wise speech”.  So today’s post is a follow up from yesterdays’ on listening rather than talking.

When we talk about another person, a lot of care should be taken regarding what is said.

Even if the intention of the talk is not harmful – as in harsh speech, or gossip – it is still possible to cause harm.  We cannot know the effect that our speech may have.

I am reminded of this story:

In a small German village, a woman differed with her minister and became so angry that she began spreading ugly rumors about him around town. As fate would have it, she eventually became ill and called on the minister to pray for her. He came gladly, and she asked his forgiveness of her gossiping.

“I will grant you forgiveness,” the minister said, “but there’s something you must do.”

“I’ll do anything,” the woman said.

“As soon as you get well, go pluck the feathers from a black chicken and put them into a basket and bring them to me.”

When the woman got well, she did what the minister asked her to do and presented the basket of feathers to the minister.

“You did well,” the minister said. “Now take this basket of feathers and scatter them in the corners of the marketplace and from the towers of the church. Scatter them throughout the town. Then return to me.”

So the woman did. She walked from one end of town to the other, scattering the feathers. Then she returned to her pastor. “I have done as you asked,” she said.

“Very well. Now take your basket and collect all the feathers. Make sure not one is missing.”

“But that is not possible!” the woman said with a choking cry. “The wind has carried many of them away!”

“So it is with your words,” the minister said. “While I have gladly forgiven you, do not forget that you can never undo the damage your untrue words have done.”

Personally I try to uphold a practice of not talking about someone if they are not present.

It’s an interesting practice… and surprisingly difficult to do.

It’s a great opportunity for analysis though – why do we want to talk about that person?  For what purpose?  What is our intention?


With our speech we can cause great change

Words can hurt and words can heal.

The basic Buddhist guidelines for wise speech include:  no slander, no harsh speech, no gossip, and no idle speech. In addition to the fundamental precept of not lying.

Speech is such a fascinating area to be mindful of, and practice mindfulness in.  I will explore the topic more in future blog posts.

But for today, try this practice:

Do not speak about anyone who is not present

And be mindful of the challenges that this exercise creates for you.


Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Miguel Angel Ruiz


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14 responses to “Everyday Wisdom #33

  1. Great post. I agree with your emphasis on the importance of Right Speech, and I like your rule of not talking about someone if they are not present (except if one is praising the person, I suppose?). Right speech in general is something I need to work on!

    • Thanks for your comment :-).

      That’s a really interesting question actually – I got the idea for not talking about anyone who is not present from a talk given by Gil Fronsdal.

      He was saying that even if we are praising the person, that we can still create problems.

      He gave this example: Say for instance that you attend a meditation centre with someone (I’ll call her Jane to make it easier). The next day you are at the shops, and run into a mutual friend of yourself and Jane’s. And you say what a wonderful person Jane is, and how she makes such a difference at the meditation centre etc. Then this other friend happens to know Jane’s parents, and passes along your praise. Except Jane’s parents don’t know that she attends a meditation centre. And they are ultra ultra conservative, and are not happy that she is mixing in “those circles”.

      This is an extreme example, but one I thought was pretty thought provoking.

      Love & blessings, Meg 🙂

      • Dear Meg,
        Thanks so much for your kind reply. Actually, when praising someone, I was thinking more about just saying something like “He/she is such a nice person.” Keeping it simple, without any additional information. But I do know what you mean!

      • Dear Meg,
        Thanks so much for your kind reply. Actually when praising someone I was thinking more along the lines of simply “He/she is such a nice person.” without sharing any specific information. But I do know what you mean!

        Blessings, Renata

  2. gossiping is the worst, and you can guarantee if you say something bad, it will get back to that person

    • That is so true Terry. And it also feels awful. If we are mindful of our bodies we can literally feel how yucky it feels if we speak harshly or say bad things about someone else. Love & blessings to you ♥

  3. I’ll echo Renata: Great post. Thank you!

  4. I too share your same passion for guarding our speech dear Meg. We have in our home on our fridge a list of what our home stands for and one of it is “This is a backbiting free zone”. Thank you for this precious message. Much love to you.

  5. It’s a little hard for me to work on this one in totality.Sometimes i start thinking aloud! 😦
    But i first need to work on my mind then!….
    It actually radiates when we THINK negatively.If we don’t we wont speak negatively!

    • I do know exactly what you mean. And that’s so true – our mood, our emotions and our intentions all affect our speech. Which makes it very challenging! And easy to say something that we might later regret.

  6. Perfect!! Gossiping is the worst thing to do. It destroys lives and destroys a person!

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