Discourse Scholarship

MN 139, Part 3: Safety of the Other

MN 139, on avoiding conflict, could be divided into three themes: cultivating oneself, communicating with others, and seeking out good influences in one’s life.

I didn’t catch this at first, but now I see in this second theme, Communicating With Others, Gotama encouraging us to speak in such a way that we allow our interlocutors to feel safe. He doesn’t say it like this, but this safety is a condition supporting not-conflict. (And this not-conflict, presumably, is a condition supporting not-dukkha.)

He’s offering practical tips. What I first read were mechanics; he enjoins us not to speak hurriedly and to use language readily understood by our interlocutor.

But when I role-play this, what I feel is not tip or technique. What I feel is the emotion of being respected. Not being bowled-over by someone’s run-away papañca. The emotion, the gratitude, of being understood, of a person using language to cross a barrier with me.

With gossip and speaking harshly it’s fairly clear. These saṅkhāras lead those around us, perhaps not even consciously, to being a bit on their guard. They cannot be safe around me if I have a habit of speaking behind people’s backs or of speaking harshly.

When I speak about behavior or proclivity rather than an individual, I’m speaking about conditions, about saṅkhāras. I’m not attacking a person. We are on the same team; we share this human condition together.

This idea of avoiding conflict by cultivating conditions of safety for the other matches right up with the precepts, brahmavihārās, dependent origination. When we work to create conditions that allow others to be safe, we are working towards our own peace.

Your thoughts most warmly welcomed.

With friendliness!


PS: More on MN 139 here and here.

One reply on “MN 139, Part 3: Safety of the Other”

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