What do you think? Did Buddha ever speak harshly to anyone?
One of our precepts concerning speech advise us to practice gentle speech. Therefore, shouldn’t the all perfect Buddha be speaking gently at all times while he was alive?
To answer this question, here’s a story from Abhaya Rajakumara Sutta.
Before the appearance of Shakyamuni Buddha, there were other religious teachers in ancient India who claimed to be Buddha. They formed their own sects, had many disciples and enjoyed the worship of devotees.
When Shakyamuni Buddha started teaching, many of them lost their followers to Shakyamuni Buddha. Naturally, they bore a grudge against Shakyamuni Buddha.
Amongst them was a teacher named Nigantha Nataputta who devised a plan to shame Buddha. He pondered hard for four months before devising the following scheme.
Nigantha instructed his personal disciple, Prince Abhaya, to question the Buddha as follows: “Venerable Sir, would you say something that is unacceptable or unwelcome to anyone?”
His motive was as follows.
If Buddha said “yes”, then Prince Abhaya was to counter by saying : “In that case, you are no better than ordinary man”
If Buddha said “No”, then Prince Abhaya was to counter by saying : “Venerable sir, in that case, why did you said to Devadatta that Devadatta is heading to hell, that Devadatta will suffer in hell for an aeon, that Devadatta is irredeemable?”
Note: Devadatta was the cousin of Buddha who became jealous of Buddha. He created a schism in the monastic order and tried to assassinate the Buddha, plus other evil deeds.
When Prince Abhaya had the opportunity, he asked the questions as instructed by his teacher.
Here’s how Buddha replied: ” The speech as described by you may or may not be spoken by the Tathagata. If by saying it, it is beneficial to the listener, the Tathagata will say it. If by saying it, it is not beneficial to the listener, the Tathagata will not say it.”
Note: the Buddha don’t use “I” or “me” to refer to himself. He used the word Tathagata instead. In direct translation, it means “Thus gone one” or Thus arisen one”
In this simple answer, the Buddha prevented the success of a scheme that took 4 months to devise.
From this story, we should understand that our motive plays an important role in our action. Therefore, a Buddhist parent or teacher may reprimand their children or students out of kindness.
However, it doesn’t mean we can start saying abusive word or curse at others. For most of our daily speech we should be observing the precepts of gentle speech. When we decide to say something harsh to benefit the listener, we have to be mindful that it is not driven by anger or malice.
May all be well and happy.