It was about nine o’clock in the night. A few of us sat together, we were all kindred souls. We spoke to each other gently, softly, even as the moon-beams speak to lilies in a lake. And then something happened.
Over a slight matter there was a difference of opinion. It led to a hot discussion between me and one whom I hold in high esteem. The pitch of our voices kept on rising. I felt, I was right; he felt, he was right. Out of a conflict of right with right cometh tragedy. And after some minutes of wordy exchange, as we took leave of each other, my friend felt miserable and I felt unhappy.
Just then someone spoke to me with the simple frankness of a happy child. And though she spoke out of the tenderness of her heart, every word she uttered was a whip. “You write such beautiful things” she said to me, “and in your conversation with friends and others you give expression to such wondrous things of the Spirit. How often have you not urged that compassion is the secret of true life? And yet, as you spoke now to a brother, you became loveless! The tone of your voice was as the hissing of a snake and your words burnt as live coal!”
“How true.” I said to myself. And in sheer shame, I hung low my head.
In silence I asked myself, “Why did I use harsh words? Why?” And the answer came, “Because my life is not yet rooted in love. The roots of my life are elsewhere. Let me take care of my roots. Life is the root, words are as flowers and action is the fruit. If we are not rooted in love, our words go wild and our work more often than not becomes a curse.”
That night I kept awake. I sat in my quiet room, shedding unbidden tears of repentance. And then, methinks, I heard a voice say:
“My child, weep not, nor be disheartened. But pray for light and for strength to walk whither the light may lead!” And I said, “You know the burden that sits heavy on my heart. Tell me what I may do?”
And the Voice said, “My child, Let silence be the law of your life; for silence hurts no one. And when you feel like breaking your silence, ask yourself if what you have to say is something better than silence. If so, say it, else remain silent.”
I felt like asking a question. But before I opened my lips, I said to myself, “Surely, my question is not better than silence, so let me be silent!”
The Voice continued, “If only we could collect the words each one of us speaks, what a huge mountain they would make! Himalayas of words have passed through these tiny lips. And all these words, as it seems to me, come under five categories.
The five categories of words
1. Words inspired by love of God
These are the words we utter in adoration of the Eternal – the cry of the soul to the Over soul, the songs sung in praise of the Most High, prayer, kirtan and jap of the Sacred Name.
2. Words inspired by love of fellow-men
These are the words of comfort and consolation we pass on to those who suffer and struggle and are in sorrow-words which cheer them on life’s lonesome way.
3. Words which wound and hurt and kill
These are the words inspired by jealousy, envy, anger, malice or hatred. How often do we not speak ill of others, little knowing what havoc we cause! An archer shoots to kill. More dangerous is the man with a forked tongue. Every time he opens his lips, he sends forth shafts which strike and sting.
4. Words inspired by selfishness
These are the words prompted by egoism, by greed and sensuality. How often do we not ‘brag’ about our so called ‘achievements’ or speak in self-righteous pride! And see, how happy men feel when they indulge in obscene and sensual talk. And when it comes to making a little material gain, humans have no hesitation in speaking a lie. They gain a little and lose their all.
5. Idle words
These are the words men utter without a reason, merely to while away their time. The conversations of men are filled with silly questions and imbecile answers, which make our homes centers of idle gossip and our clubs and meeting-places so many towers of Babel. Against this type of talk did Jesus warn, when he said, “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof, on the day of judgement.”
I listened in rapt attention. And the Voice continued: “When you purchase an earthen-vessel, you strike it and from the sound make out if it is cracked or not. So, too, is the integrity of man proved by his speech. If the words a man utters belong to the first two classes, verily, is he blessed among mortals. Such a person spreads sunshine wherever he goes!”
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