“Before you speak let your words pass through three gates.
At the first gate ask yourself: Is it true?
At the second gate ask: Is it necessary?
At the third gate ask: Is it kind?”
After sending this quote in one of my newsletters, the following email ‘conversation’ took place:
Alex: I would like to ask you: are we supposed to speak only of pleasant things then? I am honestly asking this as it is a subject that often appears in my mind…
Carlos: The answer to this question is simple to give, but not so easy to follow…
No, we are not supposed to speak only of pleasant things, but we can learn to speak only when what we have to say comes in a pleasant/kind way. Our problem is that we really believe every thought that appears in our heads; but the reality is that more than 90% of the thoughts that appear in our heads are far from the truth. Think about how many times you, or anybody else, have said: ‘I should not have said/done that’ or ‘why did I do/say that’ or things like this.
Most people do not know that our minds have different modes of operation, and not all these modes are capable of delivering the truth.
Modes of operation is a very large subject in itself, but in a very few words we can say that the mind has three basic modes. In yoga they are called sattva, rajas and tamas. Very briefly, rajas is when the mind is very busy, with thousand things to do, projecting, insatiable, can’t sleep, wired and tired, can’t sit still, worried, preoccupied about the future, seeing only the future; tamas is when the mind is low, tired, with a sense of closeness, of darkness or depression, in denial, blaming, holding onto the past or using it as a reason to justify action or inaction, making excuses for why the person can’t be honest, dithering, can’t wake up or get out of bed in the morning, exhausted, complaining, dull, lazy, depressed, feeling like a victim. Although it is very difficult to recognize, in different ways these two modes are where most of the people spend most of their time. Truth rarely comes from either of these moods. Sattva is when the mind is clear, quiet, aware, peaceful, clear thinking, balanced, honest, loving, secure. One of the aims of (real) Yoga is to encourage a sattvic mind. Truth is most generally expressed through a sattvic mind.
By truth I don’t mean a transcendental truth—although it may very well be—but common-sense-truth: a thought, emotion or action (we human beings can deliver truth by thought, emotion or action) that adapts well to the circumstances, the needs of the moment. For example, if you are going to eat a soup, you will want to use a spoon and not a fork. The spoon is the common-sense-truth that fits into the need of this particular moment. If you want to cut some bread you will use a knife and not a fork. But, if you want to cut some bread and you don’t have a knife then maybe the fork is the correct tool to use. Common-sense-truth is simply to be aware of what the moment requires and to bring the right tool to deal with it.
If a thought, an emotion or an action (human being tools) does not come from truth (does not come from a correct recognition of what the moment needs) then it is better to wait and resist the force to express that thought, emotion or action.
I would say that most of our conflicts with other people—which are a lot of our problems—come because we have used the wrong thought, emotion or action at any given circumstance. If we could be more aware of our environment (and by environment I mean of course the planet in general but also other people and even our own body and mind) and could have more control over our impulses (that incredible force that makes us say or do things that we know we will later regret) then life would be far less problematic from what it is now…
Awareness and control are, once again, two of several things that real Yoga deals with…
Alex: Then, considering these three gates of thought—true/useful/kind—when one sees around all sort of things that one may disagree on, like a stupid piece of art, kitschy stuff or very bad politics, should we actually try to manage these errors somehow, trying to fight them (like talking to people so we can all together see and try to avoid them), which may pass through gate one and two, but maybe not pass by gate three or just let them be as they are, and live our short life in sunshine and delight? 🙂
And so, should society criticism disappear, or does the difference lie in the way that we do criticism, which should be kind, trying to think all the time how it would be if we were in that person’s place, and treat them with gentleness, understanding, without irony nor fury nor negative criticism?
Is gate three the hardest and kindness may be our highest goal after all?
Carlos: Of course you answer your own question. Yes, kindness may be our highest aim. But why is it like this? Because in order to be SINCERELY kind—and not just to act kind, which is not bad but is not what I am talking about—one needs to understand that nobody is doing anything on purpose, nobody is being bad because they choose to be bad. When we see badness, what we are actually seeing is ignorance. ‘Forgive them, because they know not what they do’. To me, what this is saying is that these people can be forgiven only because what they are doing is not their fault, but is the fault of ignorance… they don’t know. What this is saying is that if they knew better, they would not do it, but because they don’t know any better, then they are doing what they do.
But to be able to see ignorance instead of badness is VERY difficult; as you very well say, it is a very high aim, and most people don’t have the time, nor the need, nor the capacity to aim this high. And so unkindness, aggression, violence and so on are the common currency.
When you see ‘stupid piece of art, kitschy stuff, or very bad politics’ do what you feel you have to do in order to change what you feel you have to change. Not everybody has the role to change things, and even less people have the power required to do it. But if you, or anybody else, have both the role and the power to do anything, then of course do it! The world always has the need for such people to bring the change that is required. But so many times people try to change things without the understanding that there are no bad people, that there is only ignorance. As a consequence of that mistake, what they try to change are the people. But if those people cannot see, then you cannot change them; and those people that you try to change, because they cannot see what you see, they will hardly understand your motives. Instead, they will see your actions as aggression or provocation and so they will resist, they will defend themselves, and they will fight back; they will create war. You cannot make a blind person see; at least you cannot make her/him see exactly what you see. But if you understand this, if you are aware of this then, instead of trying to do what cannot be done, you can use your energy and intelligence and power in trying to change what can actually be changed.
And so, before you speak, or do whatever you need to do, let your action pass through three gates…