After Bankei had passed away, a blind man who lived near the master's temple told his friend: 'Since I'm blind I can’t watch a person's face, so I must judge his character by the sound of his voice. Ordinarily when I hear someone congratulate another upon his happiness or success, I also hear a secret tone of envy. When condolence is expressed for the misfortune of another, I hear pleasure and satisfaction, as if the one condoling was really glad there was something left to gain in his own world.
In all my experience, however, Bankei's voice was always sincere. Whenever he expressed happiness, I heard nothing but happiness, and whenever he expressed sorrow, sorrow was all I heard'.
On an average, it is said that a person speaks nearly 7000 words per day. I have begun to question the intent and the sincerity of every word spoken. Do we actually have to speak so much, so often and so trivially?
In our books, our history and in our society, we value persons of few words. Think of saints and philosophers. We believe that their brevity comes from deep contemplation and a place of truth. Silence gives power to the words.
So, I began enquiring a little more deeply into my intent whenever I spoke. Was it because I had something to convey or was it because I had to convey something? Both are vastly different. Often, we are unable to resist the silence and we feel compelled to speak something, even if we are out of depth in the topic.
Worse still are all those moments where we casually drop an insult or offer false hope, greetings or compliments without giving it much thought. It slowly develops into a habit and we become people-pleasers or seek a compulsive need to be the centre of attention. We learn to mask our expressions and make it match the pretence of our words. It is cloying to observe such behaviour in offices, groups of friends and at family gatherings.
I started noticing how often people compliment each other, and how much of it is genuine. I started observing the choice of words deployed by my spiritual teachers. How universal and appealing they are! I listened carefully to which ‘jokes’ work and which are truly banal and offensive. One doesn't have to wait to see the reaction on the listener's face. The tone is enough to convey the intent of the speaker. I was surprised by the melody in certain people's words and the clamour in some other's. How much our speech and voice convey, truly!
Why is there a discord between what we think, what we speak and how we speak? In the seventeenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, there's a clear definition of the 'austerity of speech':
Words that do not cause distress are truthful, inoffensive, and beneficial, as well as the regular recitation of the Vedic scriptures—these are declared as austerity of speech.
Even if daily recitation of Vedic scriptures seems a far shot for us these days, the first four parameters are definitely achievable. All that begins with the simple act of thinking before speaking. And it can be strengthened with the act of listening more than speaking.
Perhaps then, like Master Bankei, our voice will only express what's in our heart. Eventually, it may resonate only with happiness.