Free Speech or Right Speech?

by Chris Ward, Jan 2007

Abstract: Right Speech is a key part of a number of Buddhist teachings. It is an important factor in the Noble Eightfold Path, the five precepts and the ten wholesome courses of action. However, ‘right writing’ is not specifically described. Access to written work would have been uncommon at the time of the Buddha. This essay briefly explores some of the considerations in applying the principles of right speech to ‘right communication’. Right Communication includes all forms of written discourse and is of particular relevance to electronic forms of communication which create ‘virtual worlds’ and can disseminate good or bad ideas so pervasively.

The relationship between right communication and free speech is also touched upon. In today’s liberal democracies there is a duty on citizens to engage in debate and to give their opinions on public policy. The basis for Buddhist right communication would be that arising from non-greed (generosity), non-hatred (compassion and kindness), and non-delusion (wisdom, intelligence and clarity).

The issue of satire or mockery is also discussed and The Life of Brian is mentioned.

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