Abusive Speech
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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

Abusive Speech

Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section CXIV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Yudhishthira said: How, O Bharata, should a learned man adorned with modesty behave, O chastiser of foes, when assailed with harsh speeches in the midst of assemblies by an ignorant person swelling with conceit?

Bhishma said: Listen, O lord of earth, how the subject has been treated of (in the scriptures), how a person of good soul should endure in this world the abusive speeches of persons of little intelligence. If a person, when abused by another, do not yield to wrath, he is then sure to take away (the merit of) all the good deeds that have been done by the abuser. The endurer, in such a case, communicates the demerit of all his own bad acts to the person who under the influence of wrath indulges in abuse. An intelligent man should disregard an abusive language who resembles, after all, only a Tittibha (a bird, Parra Jacana) uttering dissonant cries. One who yields to hate is said to live in vain. A fool may often be heard to say, ‘Such a respectable man was addressed by me in such words amid such an assembly of men,’ and to even boast of that wicked act. He would add, ‘Abused by me, the man remained silent as if dead with shame.’ Even thus does a shameless man boast of an act about which no one should boast.

Such a man among men should carefully be disregarded. The man of wisdom should endure everything that such a person of little intelligence may say. What can a vulgar fellow do by either his praise or his blame? He is even like a crow that caws uselessly in the woods. If those who accuse others by only their words could establish those accusations by such means, then, perhaps, their words would have been regarded to be of some value. As a fact, however, these words are as effective as those uttered by fools invoking death upon them with whom they quarrel.

[Note: In India, the commonest form of verbal abuse among ignorant men and women is ‘Do thou meet with death,’ or ‘Go thou to Yama’s house.’ (Yama is the god of death). What Bhishma says is that as these words are uttered in vain, even so the verbal accusations of wicked men prove perfectly abortive.]

That man simply proclaims his bastardy who indulges in such conduct with words. Indeed, he is even like a peacock that dances while showing such a part of his body as should be ever concealed from the view. A person of pure conduct should never even speak with that wight of sinful conduct who does not scruple to utter anything or do anything. That man who speaks of one’s merits when one’s eye is upon him and who speaks ill of one when one’s eye in withdrawn from him, is really like a dog. Such a person loses all his regions in heaven and the fruits of any knowledge and virtue that he may have.

[Note: A dog is an unclean animal in Hindu estimation.]

The man who speaks ill of one when one’s eye is not upon him, loses without delay the fruits of all his libations on fire and of the gifts he may make unto even a hundred persons. A man of wisdom, therefore, should unhesitatingly avoid a person of such sinful heart who deserves to be avoided by all honest men, as he would avoid the flesh of the dog. That wicked-souled wretch, who proclaims the faults of a high-souled person, really publishes (by that act) his own evil nature even as a snake displays his hood (when interfered with by others). The man of sense who seeks to counteract such a backbiter ever engaged in an occupation congenial to himself, finds himself in the painful condition of a stupid ass sunk in a heap of ashes. A man who is ever engaged in speaking ill of others should be avoided like a furious wolf, or an infuriated elephant roaring in madness, or a fierce dog.

Fie on that sinful wretch who has betaken himself to the path of the foolish and has fallen away from all wholesome restraints and modesty, who is always engaged in doing what is injurious to others, and who is regardless of his own prosperity. If an honest man wishes to exchange words with such wretches when they seek to humiliate him, he should be counselled in these words: Do not suffer thyself to be afflicted. A wordy encounter between a high and a low person is always disapproved by persons of tranquil intelligence. A slanderous wretch, when engaged, may strike another with his palms, or throw dust or chaff at another, or frighten another by showing or grinding his teeth. All this is well known. That man who endures the reproaches and slanders of wicked-souled wights uttered in assemblies, or who read frequently these instructions, never suffers any pain occasioned by speeches.

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