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Gossip and backbiting

Bodhinatha utilizes input gathered from Innersearch participants to expand on the topic: Gossip and Backbiting. Bodhinatha explains the four tests for speech: true, kind, helpful and necessary and discusses how one can improve oneself to produce positive spiritual advancement.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone. Nice to see you all, good to be back. Four weeks is long enough to be away.

So our teaching program on the Innersearch was a little more practical than usual. We're calling it "Spiritualizing Daily Life" and one of the techniques we used was to break up into discussion groups which, because of the topic, worked out very well and usually we had four discussion groups and Deva and Gayatri Rajan each lead one, Easan Katir led one and Manon Mardemootoo led one. So we had four groups and so they would break off and after I had presented the topic, discuss it and focus on some specific questions regarding how to apply it and the challenges of applying it. And then they'd give back all their ideas and I'd write them all down. And so the idea is for me to take those ideas and develop the material further, because as I was saying from the, in the talks, I was calling it the, you know you have the ivory tower in the academic world? So in the monastery you have the ivory cave. So while we can come up with ideas but what everyone actually experiences out in life could be somewhat different. So we were testing our ivory cave theories against what people are really experiencing in the world and got some useful feedback, in a number of areas which, all of which needs to be incorporated in the material to upgrade it.

So I thought I'd share one section which is the section I upgraded first, it's only one that's fully upgraded. So you've heard this general idea before; we have the six facing life's challenges, the six challenges, and then we have opportunities to serve or help others. We have six of those so this is the sixth challenge: Gossip and Backbiting.

When those around us indulge in backbiting and gossip including rumors and scandals we have a choice to join in or to not participate and even among those close to us, make it clear that we do not approve. Let's begin by looking in general at the concept of harming others through speech. There are four common forms of hurting others with our speech. They are joking, teasing, gossiping and backbiting.

In joking and teasing the individual is present and therefore it is obvious that our words can hurt the individual who is the brunt of the joke or being teased. However gossip and backbiting are about individuals who are not present, therefore, what is the harm? The harm is more subtle but definitely present. Negative words spoken about another person are felt by that person and the impact of the words makes it harder for them to do their best. It is the opposite force of being supportive and encouraging to another individual. It is also a subtle form of violence: himsa. Ahimsa as we know means to be nonviolent in thought word and deed, and gossip and backbiting are forms of being nonviolent in word.

Benefits: So this is a...

(It's talking, did it move? No! it's trying to tell us something. Beg your pardon. It's telling us the batteries low, that's what it's telling us. See it had a message, think it'll make it? OK.)


So this is a section I added because in presenting it I noticed I hadn't stressed; well what's the benefit, why bother? That's important, we need a reason for doing something. So in each of these six challenges I stuck in a section called benefits.

What are some of the benefits in not participating in gossip and backbiting? As we mentioned gossip and backbiting harm those who are the subject of it and therefore those involved in such discussions are creating a negative karma. Therefore a significant benefit of not participating is not creating negative karma for ourselves. A second benefit is that refraining from this practice helps keep our energies in the higher chakras and thus be more creative and spiritually inclined.

What are common situations in which gossip and backbiting is likely to occur. (These are ideas from the different discussion groups.) When there is a leader he or she is often the focus of gossip and backbiting. Students gossip about teachers and employees about their bosses. Those who are different are often picked on, vegetarians or nondrinkers for example. If one individual gets a promotion at work he or she is an excellent target based on the envy of the other employees. Social situations such as cocktail parties, coffee breaks at work and the informal meeting that takes place after the formal meeting is over, are all likely situations for gossip to occur.

Let's look now at a very useful guideline Gurudeva has given us for seeing if our speech is appropriate, which definitely applies to gossip and backbiting. His guideline is in the form of a fourfold test: "Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary." I know some of Gurudeva's devotees who initially took this guideline a bit too literally and decided most speech was unnecessary and almost stopped talking altogether. Of course that was a misinterpretation. Social interaction requires a certain amount of polite speech that needs to be included in the concept of necessary speech.

Gurudeva also stated his guideline for speech as: "Think before you speak and speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary. " Reflecting on what we were going to say is necessary because otherwise we too often speak inappropriately. Therefore the practice is in two parts. First, before you speak, stop and think. Second, think specifically about whether what you plan to say really is true, kind, helpful and necessary. In terms of gossiping and backbiting the first test to apply is the test of helpfulness. In other words everything we say about others should be designed to help them to do better in some way.

Let's look now more closely at the practice of gossiping. Gossiping is talking about the details of others personal lives for the delight of it when they are not present. Gossip is like creating and watching our own television soap opera. It clearly fails the test of being helpful as it is designed to entertain the participants at the expense of the individual being gossiped about. Some wives and husbands regularly gossip about their spouse. They spend a great deal of time on the phone or on the internet sharing at length the details of their spouse's life. The gossip you spread about your spouse may be true but it fails three tests: kind, helpful and necessary. Husbands and wives need the support of their spouses to be happy successful and secure. Gossip disastrously undermines spousal support in any marriage.

Next is backbiting. Finding faults in another and sharing this finding with others is a hobby many enjoy. It is so much easier to look for faults in others and complain about them then to see the same faults in ourselves and change them. "Tirukural" devotes chapter nineteen to avoidance of backbiting. Here is a verse from it that echoes this thought: "If men perceive their own faults as they do the faults of others, could misfortune ever come to them?" Of course any backbiting fails our speech test of kind, helpful and necessary. The truth is that unless we are responsible for someone's upbringing or training, such as parents to their children or supervisors to their staff, then it is best to ignore the faults of others and focus instead on finding and improving our own faults.

Improving ourselves is the practice that produces positive spiritual advancement and differs greatly from backbiting and entertaining ourselves at the expense of others. Next time you find yourself criticizing the faults in others ask yourself if you might not have the same fault yourself. For what disturbs you in others often indicates what you need to improve in yourself.

A way that some people find effective in harnessing the tendency to gossip and backbite is to imagine that the person they are talking about is also present in the group. Oops! As you do not want to ruin your relationship with the person this visualization keeps what you say from being inappropriate speech.

What are the options to participating in gossip and backbiting. I received an e-mail on this subject not too long ago from a young woman who asked me: "My question is what should you do when people around you gossip and backbite and you know that is wrong? Do you simply walk away or try to say something? How does one deal with the situation?"

Here are some suggestions and you can vary your approach depending on how well you know the people involved. If you don't know them well politely excusing yourself and walking away is acceptable and won't create another problem. However, if they are individuals with whom you associate regularly at work, school or elsewhere, then immediately walking away would indeed create a problem. In that situation one option is to say something positive, or share a more compassionate insight about the individual who is the subject of the gossip or backbiting. You can also suggest that they take up the issue directly with the person. Another approach is to switch from talk to task if there is a group project everyone is supposed to be helping on.

If you try some of those approaches and they do not work then you can walk away and your colleagues will understand that you are not happy with what is being said and do not support gossip. In the case of individuals who are close family members you can be quite direct and explain that you are not comfortable with the gossiping or backbiting that is occurring and would rather talk about something else.

So that's where it stands now, nicely improved thanks to all the input on our Innersearch group. So we're hoping to have some topics on each Innersearch where we can have discussions and you have to choose the right topic. You can't say let's discuss Parasiva, have half an hour tell me your findings you know; has to be something practical something that everyone can relate to in a meaningful way and contribute. So the area of "Living with Siva" is the easiest because it's what we, it's what everyone faces every day. You know he's trying to get through the experiences of the day in a spiritual way so that was why this particular round of questions worked well.

It's probably a three minute warning. Battery about to fail. Very nice to be back. Have a wonderful phase.

Aum Namah Sivaya

Photo of  Gurudeva
Give yourself in to the real you. Turn your mind inward. Turn your will inward and live that glorious spiritual life and be ready as a spiritual being to meet the experience of death.