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Gossiping, Useless Talk, and Jealousy: How We Can Quit Them

by Fleda BrownSeptember 26, 2011

Sangha is a Sanskrit word that roughly translates as a community or association with a common goal, vision or purpose. In this blog, poet and writer Fleda Brown reflects on the gatherings of her weekly meditation group, speaking to you as one who has long practiced meditation but still comes to the practice with a learner’s mind.

Our local sangha had 11 people sitting with us this Sunday. We always sit for 10 minutes before we begin our discussion. At the end of the first hour, we have our hour-long sitting time. In our discussion this week, we continued looking at Chapter 5 in Joseph Goldstein’s One Dharma, “Doing No Harm.” We talked about the last of the unskillful actions involving speech: gossip and useless talk. To start, I read aloud a portion of Trungpa’s book, The Myth of Freedom, which seems useful. About “right action,” he says: “’Right’ translates the Sanscrit samyak, which means ‘complete.’ Completeness needs no relative help, no support through comparison; it is self sufficient. . . seeing life as it is without crutches.”

So the way “right speech” is accomplished, we said in our discussion, involves simply looking at what we’re saying, seeing it completely. If we draw back from our unskillful talk—“Oh no! I shouldn’t have said that!” or “How silly I am to say that,” or “I am SO arrogant. Shame on me!” —any of these keeps the wheel turning. We recoil from our action, we make all sorts of vows about our behavior, and then we do it again.

Instead, if we just look squarely at what we’ve said, not condemning or condoning, just looking, we see directly what harm we do to ourselves and others. We say “Oh, I see.” We don’t form concepts or vows around it. Our actions begin to change, just from seeing clearly.

Many books on meditation—as well as lots of self-help books!—offer advice about how to speak more skillfully: Goldstein quotes the poet Antonio Machado: “If you want to talk, first ask a question, then listen.” This can be helpful. But it seems that if we just look—meaning stay aware of what’s just come out of our mouths and what the reaction to that is—we’ll best aid our own waking up.

We next began looking at unskillful “actions of the mind,” the first being covetousness. How can we ever be happy if we live in the realm of the hungry ghost, never satisfied? I notice that Goldstein doesn’t offer any “tips” for this. It seems there’s nothing to do but observe our own greediness, our own longing, and the suffering it causes us. Feel the suffering deeply. The body/mind learns to quit doing things that we’re aware are causing us pain. The operative word is aware. It all comes down to that.

We’ve had some good discussions about this chapter. We should be able to finish Chapter 5 next time. Next week is our local sangha’s four-hour block sitting, a chance to sit long enough to let some of our concepts about what we’re doing fall away, so we can see more directly. Which is what this is all about! What is the truth? No way to know, really, but to look.


Poet and writer Fleda Brown reflects on the gatherings of her weekly meditation group, speaking to you as one who has long practiced meditation but still comes to the practice with a learner’s mind.

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