Chapter 17 Shraddha Traya Vibhaga Yoga Verse 15
Anudwegakaram vaakyam satyam priyahitam cha yat;
Swaadhyaayaabhyasanam chaiva vaangmayam tapa uchyate.
Speech which causes no excitement and is truthful, pleasant and beneficial, the practice of the study of the Vedas, are called austerity of speech.
After talking about the austerity of the body in this shloka Lord Krishna narrates what exactly is declared as the austerity of speech. He says that those words that never cause any distress to others should always be spoken. Then those words have to be truthful because pleasant words that are not truthful should never be spoken. The third point that Lord mentions here is that one should always speak beneficial words and stay away from speaking harsh, negative and distressful words. Apart from all this Lord also says that those words which are spoken during the practice of Vedas also comes under the austerity of speech.
Extending Interpretation to Mankind’s Life!
There is this famous quote from Manusmriti which I read a few years ago, that fits aptly to interpret this shloka. Manu says “One should only speak what is true. One should only speak what is pleasant. But one should not speak the truth if it is not pleasant, nor one should speak an untruth which is pleasant. This is the ancient dharma”. This I think I read somewhere at the beginning of 2015 and from then on it has become the cornerstone of the philosophy of my speech. The purpose of our speech is to communicate and we need to always keep the purity of our communication. The austerity of speech can be attain only if you follow this philosophy.
Lord is telling two things here. First is you should always speak good. You should always speak things that motivate others, makes them positive and brings something good out of them. Second is one should always tell the truth. If you say anything which is untrue, it takes away your credibility and makes you a person who is seen as an untrustworthy liar. The underlying thing is, we speak for our benefit and we also speak for our dharma. We need to align these two, our dharma is our benefit and thus what we speak, if we align with our dharma then automatically we get benefitted out of it. But if we look at only our benefit, side-stepping dharma, then we might end up speaking things that are lies and that if caught, will take away the trust and credibility that we carry.
If this is about speaking good thing and things which are true, there can be a situation where we have to tell a truth which causes a lot of distress and which is unpleasant. Should you tell that truth and fulfil your dharma? This is where we are in “Dharam sankat” or “dilemma of truth”. Here, Lord says don’t speak the truth which spreads unpleasantness even if it is your dharma. Let time decide the way and means for the truth to come out. You should not be the reason for spreading that unpleasantness. The other part is people feel that they should always speak pleasant things so, in that process, they feel that speaking something pleasant but which is an untruth is allowed. But according to scriptures, it is not allowed. The question is why?
A unpleasant truth makes the person unhappy and demotivates him from the path that is why it should not be spoken. But a pleasant thing which is not a truth creates unrealistic expectation and over estimation of one’s abilities. Though it is pleasant it should never be spoken. Encourage people realistically, don’t make promises or give them something which is unrealistic and beyond their reach. Such a thing can damage them and their confidence forever. Thus we have permission to speak positive, good and motivating things, but those which are truthful only. If one takes this and practices in his life, his words will become so powerful that it will have the power to change millions of people around him. That’s the power of austerity of speech.