Hate speech and ‘flower speech’


The phenomenon of ‘hate speech’ has become synonymous with movements within the Burmese Buddhist Sangha in recent years. Embedded in the rhetoric of the 969 movement and its leader U Wirathu, negative speeches and propaganda aimed at minority groups have tainted the international image if Buddhism in Burma.

Of course, the notion of the purity of speech (vāc) within Indian religious history is very prominent. From the utterance of the sacred scriptures (the Vedas) in the form of mantras, and the precision of Sanskrit grammar to preserve the correct performance of the ritual, to the notion of ‘right-speech’ as part of the Noble Eightfold Path speech is both ontological and ethical. As four of the ‘ten unwholesome courses of action’ (dasa akusala-kammapathā) described as impure and to lead to an unhappy destination, they entail false speech, malicious speech, harsh speech, and gossip. Their opposites, the ‘ten wholesome courses of action (dasa kusala-kammapathā) entails the abandoning of false speech, malicious speech, harsh speech and gossip:

A new movement is growing in Burma called ‘The Flower Speech campaign’ (Panzagar) founded by Nay Phone Latt. The movement embodies many of the elements of the notion of the centrality of speech in Indians religions, and the prominent place that harmonious actions of speech are given on the Buddhist path. This centrality is often overlooked but it is worth considering the attention played to acts of body, speech and mind in Buddhism. Violent acts of the body and a depraved mental attitude are more easily understood, but acts of hatred in the form of speech, preaching, propaganda and education are also powerful tools in the destruction of society and the dismantling of Buddhist culture.

The slogan of the campaign, as described by Nay Phone Latt is ‘Let’s moderate our speech to prevent hatred between human beings’.

As he explains:

‘When we advocate for free speech, reducing hate speech is included. … Speech calling for hitting or killing someone is hate speech, and can spread hate among people and is a risk for society… It is the wrong use of freedom of speech. I am worried about that because it is not only spreading on social media but also by some writers and [Buddhist] monks who are spreading hate speech publicly.’

In the Pali Canon, purity of speech is described in the following terms:

Fourfold cleansing by speech (catubbidhaṃ vācāya soceyyaṃ)

Here someone, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech; when summoned to a court, or to a meeting, or to his relatives’ presence, or to his guild, or to the royal family’s presence, and questioned as a witness thus: ‘So, good man, tell what you know,’ not knowing he says, ‘I do not know,’ or knowing he says, ‘I know’; not seeing, he says, ‘I do not see,’ or seeing, he says, ‘I see’; he does not in full awareness speak falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for the sake of some trifling gain.[1]

Abandoning malicious speech, he abstains from malicious speech; he does not repeat elsewhere what he has heard here in order to divide [those people] from these, nor does he repeat to these people what he has heard elsewhere in order to divide [these people] from those; thus he is one who reunites those who are divided, a promoter of friendships, who enjoys concord, rejoices in concord, delights in concord, a speaker of words that promote concord.[2]

Abandoning harsh speech, he abstains from harsh speech; he speaks such words as are gentle, pleasing to the ear, and loveable, as go to the heart, are courteous, desired by many, and agreeable to many.[3]

Abandoning gossip, he abstains from gossip; he speaks at the right time, speaks what is fact, speaks what is beneficial, speaks on the dhamma and the discipline; at the right time he speaks such words as are worth recording, reasonable, moderate and advantageous.[4]



[1] idha gahapatayo ekacco musāvādaṃ pahāya musāvādā paṭivirato hoti: sabhāggato vā parisaggato vā ñātimajjhagato vā pūgamajjhagato vā rājakulamajjhagato vā abhinīto sakkhipuṭṭho:eh ambho purisa yaṃ jānāsi taṃ vadehī ti. so ajānaṃ vā āha na jānāmī ti, jānaṃ vā āha jānāmī ti, apassaṃ vā āha na passāmī ti, passaṃ vā āha passāmī ti. iti attahetu vā parahetu vā āmisakiñcikkhahetu vā na sampajānamusā bhāsitā hoti, A V 67.

[2] pisuṇaṃ vācaṃ pahāya pisuṇāya vācāya paṭivirato hoti: ito sutvā na amutra akkhātā imesaṃ bhedāya, amutra vā sutvā na imesaṃ akkhātā amūsaṃ bhedāya iti bhinnānaṃ vā sandhātā sahitānaṃ vā anuppadātā, samaggārāmo samaggarato samaggakaraṇiṃ vācaṃ bhāsitā hoti, A V 67.

[3] pharusaṃ vācaṃ pahāya pharusāya vācāya paṭivirato hoti: yā sā vācā nelā kaṇṇasukhā pemanīyā hadayaṅgamā porī bahujanakantā bahujanamanāpā tathārūpiṃ vācaṃ bhāsitā hoti, A V 67.

[4] samphappalāpaṃ pahāya samphappalāpā paṭivirato hoti: kālavādī bhūtavādī atthavādī dhammavādī vinayavādī, nidhānavatiṃ vācaṃ bhāsitā kālena sāpadesaṃ pariyantavatiṃ atthasaṃhitaṃ, A V 267.


One thought on “Hate speech and ‘flower speech’

  1. Pingback: Hate speech and ‘flower speech’ | Eslkevin's Blog

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