Decoding Adharma: How one should not speak


Gleanings from Hindu scriptures: Part 15

Hindu scriptures classify actions into Dharma (righteousness and duty) and Adharma (unrighteousness and prohibited) depending upon whether an action leads to the overall welfare of the person and the society, or whether the actions result in harm, pain, and sorrow respectively. These actions can further be classified into three ways: actions committed through the body, through speech, and through the mind.

In the last installment, it was seen how a person can commit various Adharmic actions through his body, which will ultimately lead to sorrow and suffering for the individual as well as for the society. In this installment, let us take up the unrighteous actions that should be avoided. Manu Smriti (12.6) says:

pArushyamanrutam chaiva paishUnyam chApi sarvaShaH |

asambadda pralApashcha vAngmayaM syAchchaturviDhaM ||

Abusing others and speaking harshly; speaking untruth; gossiping and backbiting, and talking idly and without context, shall be the four kinds of (unrighteous) verbal action.

In a single verse of two lines, Manu Smriti beautifully captures the very essence of human conduct. It clearly gives guidelines about what one should not speak and how one should not speak.

The very first action of speech which is considered unrighteous is ‘paarushyam’, which means speaking harshly such that it causes hurt to the listener. In other words, Manu Smriti is asking people to speak sweetly and calmly. But, in the present society, we witness the very opposite of this. Fathers abuse their sons, daughters talk back to their mothers, bosses shout at their employees, house owners shout at their servants, and even strangers abuse each other over trivial things.

Use of Abuse and harsh language, in many a sense, has become an inseparable part of the current social norms and media narratives. On TV, one can easily witness panelists and anchors shouting at the top of their voices, movies that are full of people using expletives in frustration. The assimilation of the act of shouting and cursing has seeped in so deep that they are today recognized as a ‘normal’ way of expressing frustration and anger.

Then, of course, there are people who cannot speak even a single sentence without inserting a word or two of abuse and there are those who love to insult and humiliate others. Harsh speech not only refers to using expletives, but also to using speech as a medium to insult and humiliate others. Humiliation has become the single most important tool used by corporate bosses to get works done in their offices.

Thus, speech and communication in the present society has been completely contaminated with harsh speech. People do not realize that hurting someone, or causing stress or depression to a person is as unrighteous an action as causing physical violence. For this reason, Manu Smriti has upheld ‘harsh speech’ as the very first of Adharmic actions through speech and has advised people to avoid it.

The second tenet is ‘untruth’, lies, and distortions. Hinduism has given highest importance to Satya or Truth. Thus, the famous saying ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’. The present conditions often force people to lie day in and day out. Sometimes speaking falsehoods are a compulsion and at some other times, they are done for simple fun. The habit of speaking falsehood becomes so ingrained in some people, that they become compulsive liars and actually end up being dishonest to their own selves.

Lies and distortions are the foundation of dishonesty and corruption. Speaking truth is at the heart of practicing righteous Dharmic life. And falsehoods take one to exactly the opposite destination- Adharma. Hence, the scriptures urge people to try to adhere to the truth, and cultivate pure, pleasant, and truthful speech. It may not always be practical to speak the truth in the present complicated life circumstances. Yet, one must strive hard to adhere to the truth to the best of one’s abilities. Otherwise, once a person gives himself to falsehood and corruption, it is very difficult to return to the righteous path and such a person will ultimately end up in pain and suffering.

The third tenet of Adharma is ‘gossiping and bitching’, another very common phenomenon that can be observed in the society. Manu Smriti explicitly asks people to avoid wasting time in this useless activity. Rumor mongering can be considered as one of the worst kind of actions that a person commits. Backbiting and spreading rumors are nothing but verbal violence committed on the victim, which has the potential to defame and ruin the reputation of an innocent victim. Thus, this behavior must be completely avoided.

The final tenet of Adharma through speech is speaking idly and without context. This phenomenon can often be observed among people who visit temples for example. Temples are places of worship and meditation. Yet, most people who visit temples are engaged in conversations on a wide range of issues, ranging from household works to political issues. A similar scene can be witnessed in a marriage or at a funeral ceremony as well. Then, there are some people who are compulsive speakers, and some, who love to intervene in any and every conversation that other people are having, to show off their knowledge. This behavior is being called as ‘Adharma’ because it is sheer nuisance and disturbs others.

Thus, Manu Smriti pretty much sums up the whole art of speech. These actions of using swear words, speaking falsehoods, gossiping, and talking too much, may appear small and trivial things. But, to avoid them in everyday life requires constant vigilance and self-control. Though they appears trivial, these may lead a person to great trouble and suffering. The best example can be scores of defamation cases that are filed across the country every year. Perjury or speaking falsehood under oath is treated as a great crime.

These actions of speech are considered as Adharma not only because they are unethical and unrighteous, but also because they cause huge discomfort and pain to others and ultimately land the perpetrator in hardships and suffering. Thus, people should strive hard to adhere to Dharma and avoid Adharma in body, speech, and mind. We will take up the Adharmic actions committed through the mind in the next installment of the series.

More in this segment:

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 7
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 8
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 9
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 10
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 11
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 12
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 13
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 14