The Power of the Spoken Word

Let us use with care those living messangers called words.

—W. Q. Judge

Careless, loose and inordinate speech is a characteristic of our extrovert and restless civilization. We do not understand the value of deliberate and careful speech because we are ignorant of the source of this precious faculty and totally unaware of the power of the spoken word. Our speech is too often impulsive and hence thoughtless and meaningless.

Much of the confusion and turmoil of our world today is reflected in our irresponsible use of speech. But the reverse is equally true: our foolish and wrong use of words adds to the prevailing confusion and is a major factor in creating tensions and bringing about misunderstandings. We are often divided today through words. If we could purify and control our speech we would tone up our moral fibre, improve our character, and thus become better able to seek for the solutions of the numerous problems we are facing.

All who dream of a better world should watch words, which anon save us and anon damn us. But for anyone aspiring to live the spiritual life control of speech is a sine qua non, and all the Great Ones have enjoined the purification and restraint of speech.

In Lord Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, the third step is that Right Speech:

The Third is Right Discourse. Govern the lips
As they were palace-doors, the King within;
Tranquil and fair and courteous be all words
Which from that presence win.

(The Light of Asia)

To speak is to act; for speech is an avenue of action. Wise people discipline themselves, and such self-discipline includes the control of speech. Says Lord Buddha:

Let a man be watchful of speech-irritation. Let him control his speech. Abandoning the sins of speech let him practise virtue with his speech. (Dhammapada, XVII, 12)

Well controlled indeed are the wise; they have mastery over body, tongue, and mind. (Ibid., XVII, 14)

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna describes thus the mortifications (tapas) of speech:

Gentle speech which causes no anxiety, which is truthful and friendly, and diligence in the reading of the Scriptures, are said to be austerities of speech. (XVII, 15)

In any action five agents are necessary, declares Krishna, for its accomplishment. "These are the substratum, the agent, the various sorts of organs, the various and distinct movements, and, with these, as fifth, the presiding deities." (XVIII, 14)

But what is speech? Speech is the use of words as audible symbols to establish communication with our fellow beings. Speech is a prerogative of man and is rooted in his own latent divinity. Words are the outward human symbols of "eternal Thought in the Eternal Mind." Thus the metaphysical counterpart or divine prototype of human speech is Vach, or the Verbum, the Voice and Word, the creative Logos. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John, I, 1)

When we speak we are using a creative energy whose origin is truly divine. And hence to misuse or abuse or even use vainly this gift "from above" is to desecrate it—the sin against the Holy Ghost.

There is a close relationship between the creative energy of speech and the creative force of sex. Those who indulge in obscene and vulgar talk will find themselves lapsing into sexual promiscuity seemingly against their will. Indulgence in dirty and ugly speech makes for indecent behaviour. Thus the control and cleansing of one's speech is essential for the retraint of the sex urge.

In speech resides the power of sound and this is the scientific basis for the art of mantras. That power of sound unites itself in human speech to the language of symbols. For what are words if not symbols? Symbols which mirror and project forth our thoughts. The mind of each one of us is reflected in his speech. Confused speech denotes a confused mind; loose and irrelevant speech, a distracted mind; precise and coherent speech, a lucid mind; and so on for every type of mind.

Our feelings too are expressed through our speech. The general quality of our moral nature as also the mood of the moment show themselves forth in our choice of words, as also in the tone which we use to utter those words.

Thus words are instinct with a life of their own, a life which continues after we, their progenitors, have begotten them and sent them out into the world. How wise the injunction of the old precept which states: "Watch thy tongue; out of it are the issues of Life"!

Indeed, life and death can both come from words; for words are builders and also destroyers. Words can unite and also divide; words can heal, but also wound; words can bless and curse; reconcile or antagonize; enlighten or delude and mislead; reveal or hide.

Yes, the spoken word is a great magician. Let us endeavour to heed the word of wisdom and to learn "to use with care those living messengers called words."

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubts, as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair. So long as your heart receives messages of beauty, cheer, courage, grandeur and power from the earth, from the infinite, so long are you young.

When all the wires are down, and all the central places of your heart are covered with snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and only then, are you grown old indeed, and may God have mercy on your soul.


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