The Karma of Gossip
The Karma of Gossip
Gossip is related to Right Speech in that it is a form of speech that can cause great harm to others. In the Dhammapada it says: Where disorder develops, words are the first steps. If the prince is not discreet, he loses his servant. If the servant is not discreet, he loses his life. If germinating things are not handled with discretion, the perfecting of them is impeded. In other words, gossip can hurt others both directly and indirectly, directly by spreading untruths about a person that damage his reputation or his credibility, indirectly by helping to create an atmosphere which tolerates and even promotes such negativity.
Everyone thinks a little gossip between friends is not a bad thing and actually quite fun. However, ask yourself if you would like someone else to be saying such things about you behind your back. Would it hurt you to know if someone were doing so? Of course it would. And gossip can affect more than just one person. In World War II there was a saying, Loose Lips Sink Ships. By engaging in gossip and idle chatter about others, in other words, the wrong people may hear and lives could be ruined or lost as a result. We must always be mindful of our speech.
Why do people engage in gossip? Usually it is a way to feel superior to other people when one is not feeling so good about oneself. By knocking down others, the theory is that one can boost one’s own self-image. The reality proves otherwise.
Practicing right speech and not engaging in gossip of any kind is particularly important for practitioners who have vowed to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The Venerable Gyaltrul Rinpoche once said that no one ever got enlightened by pointing fingers at others. It is not the business of a practitioner to worry about others’ faults, only one’s own. Gossip spreads dissension in the sangha, resulting in people falling away from the path or schism in the sangha, which the Buddha called a heinous sin. It is one sin that can actually harm the Dharma by destroying the path. It is right up there with murdering one’s mother or father or shedding the blood of a Buddha with a mind filled with hate.
The schism caused by the Dorje Shugden controversy in the Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism is a good example. It does not matter which side is “right”; what matters is the grievous harm it has done to the Buddhadharma and in particular to the guru devotion of those involved in the controversy. Schism can result in the loss of confidence in our teachers and our sangha. Hence it is a deadly poison to our path.
One can get some sense of the destructive consequences of gossip by observing the hateful gossip spread on the internet and on Twitter about Buddhist teachers and their sanghas. Such gossip may cause confusion and doubt to arise in those who have no personal knowledge of these teachers, thereby robbing them of the opportunity to judge these teachers for themselves. This could potentially prevent them from attaining enlightenment in this life because they were not able to connect with their teacher.
Bhikshuni Thubten Chödron spells out the karmic consequences of engaging in gossip in the Summer 2006 edition of Tricycle magazine. In short, these are an unfortunate rebirth, suffering from a similar experience happening to us, the habitual tendency to engage in similar behavior over and over again, and residing in an unpleasant place. Even more, engaging in such negative behavior obscures one’s mind, making liberation even more difficult.
As the Buddha said in the Anguttara Nikaya Sutta: If speech has five marks, O monastics, it is well spoken, not badly spoken, blameless, and above reproach by the wise. What are these five marks? It is speech that is timely, true, gentle, purposeful, and spoken with a mind of loving kindness.
This is the method for attaining happiness and liberation.