A middle-aged Korean man failed in his business and lost his home due to debts. His wife had to put their children in child-care and started to work outside, returning home very late every day. The husband tended to get very angry whenever he looked at the messy condition of their home. His wife also became often very angry, especially after she received the document of asset seizure for their house. She did not exchange a single word with her husband for several months.
Instead of continuing this miserable way of life, one day the wife made up her mind to try and stop the anger towards her husband and instead to open her mind by first talking with him. The home atmosphere began improving little-by-little as she began talking in a pleasant and compassionate way with her husband and children. Eventually, the husband started another small business and eventually paid off all his debts. They were able to repurchase the house where they had previously lived.
One day, the husband wanted to share something with his wife and showed her a letter he had written. It was stained with tears and contained his will. In the letter, he asked his family to forgive his suicide. Though he loved his wife and children dearly, he had neither hope nor courage for a second chance. He expressed his sorrow for driving his family into agony due to his incompetence.
When his relationship with his family was at its worst and he had no hope left, after writing his will, he intended to jump from the 7th floor of their apartment. Just before his attempted jump, he wanted to smoke a cigarette for one last time. When he went out onto the balcony to smoke that last cigarette, he saw his wife returning from work. She was waving her hands to him and saying, “Honey, I’m home!” At that moment, he realized his choice was very wrong. His wife’s simple words, “Honey, I’m home!”, aroused in him great hope and courage. He made up his mind that night to revive his family.
In just this way, our simple words may revive or harm the minds of people.
Sotaesan, the Founding Master of Won Buddhism said, “As the saying ‘going around blowing one’s horn’ suggests, everyone has a trumpet. When it is played, one melody produces peace in the listener’s mind; one melody creates a feeling of uneasiness; one makes someone sad; another produces pleasure; another makes people live in harmony; another makes people quarrel. Accordingly, the path of blessings and suffering are divided. Such being the case, when you play the trumpet in whatever situation you may be, produce only good melodies making all people live in harmony and making all people’s public and private affairs prosperous. Do not produce any tune that makes people quarrel or ruin themselves. If you follow these admonitions, the trumpet will create innumerable blessings. Otherwise, the trumpet will be the cause of unlimited transgression.”
There is another saying “one word can end deb”’, but there are many more occasions where one word can cause ten times greater debt.
A notorious thief in Korea, once explained how he came to commit evil deeds and steal other people’s belongings at an early age. He was born into an extremely poor household and most of the time he could not pay his elementary school tuition on time. One day, his teacher was very angry and scolded him, “You there! How can you come to take class when you do not pay tuition? Get out of this classroom right now!” The thief recalled, “At the moment when I heard what the teacher said to me, I felt a demon was born and began to grow in my soul.”
We don’t know who the teacher was. He wasn’t necessarily a terrible person. Any person can say terrible things when he or she loses composure. However, that one word from the teacher eventually changed the child’s life and drove him toward complete darkness. Because of the one bad word of the teacher, many Korean people had to endure many troubles because of that thief. It also was reported that the thief once said, “If the teacher had patted my head and given me praise even once, I wouldn’t have turned out like this.” It is especially true that the words we say to a child or that they hear through public media can change their mind, their views and their value systems. These words alter the path of their lives in a powerful way.
Buddhism has the Ten Precepts as its basic ethical code of conduct. A substantial portion of these principles refer to precautions of speech with other people.
In Won Buddhism, we have the following precepts:
Do not use harsh speech.
Do not speak about the faults of others.
Do not talk while someone else is talking.
Do not speak flowery and ingratiating words.
Do not tell lies.
Do not make impertinent remarks.
It is unavoidable to make errors when one talks too much. Human relationships are based upon verbal communication with others, so there are many precautions concerning our words.
My teacher once said that the reason we have one mouth and two ears is that we should listen to others twice as long as we speak. Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, said, “The one who knows, does not speak. The one who speaks, does not know.”
Chongsan, the Second Head Dharma Master of Won Buddhism, said, “There is a saying, ‘The mouth is the gate of calamity’; but in fact, the mouth is the gate of both calamity and blessings.”
There is a Korean saying that “a man’s word is as valuable as gold”. This means a man must keep his word once spoken.
Let us reflect on how many good relationships have been broken by carelessly spoken words or how many mistakes have been made because we did not control our tongues.