The Four Communication Principles of Buddhism

28 May, 2020
The principles of communication are important in Buddhism, since the right use of words and silence depends largely on the harmony of a particular social environment. Each one of these principles refers to communication with oneself and others.

Buddhism claims that four communication principles must be preserved in order to reach harmony among human beings. This approach doesn’t involve “commandments” per se but, instead, proposes some patterns to follow when you have a genuine desire to keep healthy relationships with other people.

The goal of the four communication principles is to reach greater clarity and respect in your relationships. Human beings use speech to introduce their own ideas, feelings, and emotions to others. When you do it right, people can better understand you and, consequently, your relationship with them improves.

To Buddhists, the four communication principles are truthfulness, kindness, usefulness, and peace. Each one of them aims to make conversations more valuable and meaningful. However, they require awareness and work.

“Truthful words are not beautiful; beautiful words are not truthful. Good words are not persuasive; persuasive words are not good.”

-Lao Tzu-

1. Truthfulness

The first communication principle is truthfulness. It’s a more complex concept than it seems at first. In fact, being truthful means sticking to reality when speaking. The problem is that people don’t always know what the truth is; sometimes they may be lying to themselves.

Therefore, in order to speak the truth, you must do an honesty exercise with yourself. If you can’t tell what’s true and what isn’t, you won’t be able to be truthful to someone else. Furthermore, keep in mind that it’s easier to do it if you speak from the heart, with the intention of expressing your ideas, and without any other interest in mind.

2. Kindness, one of the communication principles of Buddhism

There’s a big difference between being sincere and being mean, inconsiderate, or disrespectful. Respect and consideration are fundamental in order for healthy and enriching communication to occur. Disrespectful expressions can cause infinite difficulties to maintain a nurturing exchange.

On the other hand, anger and fear are expressions of ego, which can lead you to treat others harshly. In these cases, the ego speaks instead of the heart. This often leads to a chain reaction of difficulties and takes peace away from your life. Thus, it’s better to make sure you’re at peace with yourself before you speak.

3. Usefulness

Buddhists insist on the importance of learning to value silence. To many, silence is a void they must fill right away. But Buddhism considers it a natural space to listen to yourself and others. Without listening, there can’t be communication; it’s a two-way street.

Speaking just for the sake of it is an expression of anxiety that strips away the value of words and prevents good communication from happening.

It does, however, wear down the mind and harms relationships with other people. It also makes the most trivial emotions feel bigger than they truly are.

A happy couple sitting on a bench.

4. Peace

The last communication principle according to Buddhism is peace. Buddhists say that words are only justified when they aim to keep the peace between people. Every message with another goal only contributes to creating misunderstandings or negative emotions in people.

Amicable communication also chooses the clearest and most concise words in order to express a message. Evasive sentences, subtleties, and unnecessary words create nothing but noise. It discourages comprehension and, instead, leads to confusion and dilutes the message.

All communication principles can seem a bit odd in Western culture because it’s one in which it’s becoming harder to stay silent. There’s a constant display of information that makes the absence of noise a very strange thing.

The most unsettling fact of it all is that we, as a society, are going through a time in which most communication focuses on completely unimportant matters. This not only affects our inner peace but also limits our thinking as individuals and makes us less capable of expressing ourselves and listening to others. Words no longer have the same value, and perhaps that’s what has made the world so tough. 

Alsina, M. R. (1999). La comunicación intercultural (Vol. 22). Anthropos Editorial.