Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 363:
yo mukhasaññato bhikkhu mantabhāṇī anuddhato |
atthaṃ dhammaṃ ca dīpeti madhuraṃ tassa bhāsitaṃ || 363 ||
363. Whatever bhikkhu tongue-controlled speaks wisely and who is not proud, who theory and practice can expound, sweet as honey is his speech.
The Story of Monk Kokālika
This verse was spoken by the Buddha while he was in residence at Jetavana Monastery, with reference to Kokālika.
Now after Kokālika had been reborn in the lotus hell, the monks in the hall of truth began a discussion of the occurrence, saying, “Alas, the monk Kokālika went to perdition because he failed to hold his tongue! For even as he reviled the two chief disciples, the earth opened and swallowed him up.” At that moment the Buddha approached and asked. “Monks, what subject are you discussing now as you sit here all gathered together?” When they told him, he said, “Monks, this is not the first time Kokālika has gone to perdition because of failure to hold his tongue; the same thing happened to him in a former state of existence also.” The monks immediately desired to hear all about the matter. In compliance with their requests, to make the matter clear, the Buddha related the following.
Once upon a time a tortoise dwelt in a certain lake in the Himālaya country. One day two young geese, wandering about in search of food, struck up an acquaintance with him, and in a short time all became firm friends. One day the geese said to the tortoise, “Friend tortoise, we live in the Himālaya country on Mount Cittakūṭa in a golden cave, and it is a most delightful place to live in. Wouldn’t you like to go there with us?” “Masters,” replied the tortoise, “how am I to get there?” Said the geese, “If you can keep your mouth shut, we will carry you.” The tortoise replied, “I will keep my mouth shut, friends. Take me with you, and let’s be off.” “Very well,” said the geese. So the geese made the tortoise grip with his teeth the middle of a stick, and then, taking the two ends of the stick in their bills, flew up into the air.
Some village boys, seeing a tortoise carried along in this fashion by geese, immediately cried out, “See those two geese carrying a tortoise on a stick!” Thought the tortoise, “You vagabonds, what business is it of yours if my friends are carrying me with them?” And he opened his mouth, intending to say what was in his mind. Now the geese were flying very swiftly, and by this time they had reached a point directly over the royal palace in Vārāṇasi city. So when the tortoise let go of the stick, he fell to the ground right in the middle of the palace court, and the moment he struck the ground, split into two pieces.
Having related this Bahubhāṇi Jātaka, found in the second book, the Buddha said, “Monks, a monk should control his tongue, should live tranquilly, should not allow himself to become puffed up, and should free his heart from the evil passions.”
Explanatory Translation (Verse 363)
mukhasaññato mantabhānī anuddhato yo bhikkhu
atthaṃ dhammañca dīpeti tassa bhāsitaṃ madhuraṃ
mukhasaññato [mukhasaññata]: disciplined in mouth; mantabhānī: speaking in moderation; anuddhato [anuddhata]: not proud; yo bhikkhu: a monk; atthaṃ [attha]: the significance; dhamma: the teaching; dīpeti: it demonstrates; tassa: his; bhāsitaṃ [bhāsita]: utterance; madhuraṃ [madhura]: sweet
The monk who controls his mouth (speech) who speaks wisely with his mind composed, who explains the meaning of the text of the Dhamma–sweet are the words of that monk.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 363)
In this verse, the virtues of right speech (which is one segment of the noble eight-fold path) are upheld. The Buddha pointed out five disadvantages and dangers in unguarded, undisciplined speech. One who is not disciplined in speech is (i) given to lying; (ii) tending to slander, (iii) tending to be harsh and idle in speech; and (iv) born in evil states after death.
There are four virtues of right speech. They are:
(1) one abstains from lying. Such a person is sincere, upright and dependable;
(2) the person who practises right speech does not slander or bear tales. The person who avoids these forms of evil speech contributes towards social harmony;
(3) those who practise right speech refrain from using harsh words. This way, they give happiness to people and avoid the possibility of creating mental pain which is likely if harsh words are used and
(4) it enables the practitioner to avoid frivolous unprofitable words. The Buddha admonished that it was nobler to be silent than indulging in frivolous talk and gossip.