Gita Daily Readings

15th November
Chapter XVII: 15
Speech which causes no excitement, truthful, pleasant and beneficial, the practice of the study of the vedas are called the austerity of speech.

Commentary

Have you seen the mild and watery cucumber igniting, by its root, the grass hidden in rags? I have! There sits the cucumber, smooth tongued, smooth skinned, hand-picking his extra polite words to fulfill a double purpose: on the one hand to gain admiration for his “saintliness” from the easily beguiled, on the other to inflame the heart of the person who sees through him. The picture he thus achieves is of a saintly man confronted by a vicious creature. But the Lord, seated in the hearts of both, knows that if the “saint's” provocation is subtle, it is infallibly powerful and hence he shares the guilt with the roused. It is not that the other man is free from guilt! Fewer of such hypocrites would much enhance the peace of the world. If your speech is provocative, you share the guilt of the provoked.

The ideal of truth has been debated ad infinitum. It has been pointed out that tradition (sometimes backed by scriptural (?) authority) condones untruth in certain special circumstances. It has also been argued that if we soften truth to make it pleasant, we shall ruin discipline and promote villainy. No one expects us to be metamorphosed into saints overnight! Hence, here and there in “scriptures,” especially the legends, we find examples of half-truths. Life is not composed of ideals any more than a house is made of only the roof; but it is highly important to recognizes what is not right, even if we yield to it, rather than elevate it to absolute rightness, because of the circumstances.

Only he who has even tried to practice the austerity of speech can realize the burning, purifying and illuminating power it has. When the lips close upon an unpleasant truth or a pleasant untruth, the switch is on and the fire of speech austerity consumes baser instincts; it can even be physically felt in the forehead!

Web Editor's Notes