What is "frivolous talk"?

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    • #15722

      I’ve web-searched variations of this question many a time, read many a site/post, and while I “book-know”* (more-or-less) I still quite haven’t grasped the “street-smarts / experiential insight”* of idle chatter and meaningless speech.

      For example, if I’m at work and coworkers ask me about how much weight I lost and I answer truthfully and reply how I did so at their prompting, is this frivolous talk of the egoic kind? If I “make conversation” with a customer about sports and the weather, is this frivolous talk? Where does one draw the line for “useless” and “social bonding purposes”? How does one know they’re being affectionate and helpful rather than nattering about nothing? Practice? And how does one avoid frivolous talk without being rude, curt, keeps-to-oneself, creepy loner, and so on around others? Self-reflection?

      Or am I overthinking this (like I tend to do about everything) when (like somebody scared to step on a spider when one has the habit of spitting insults at everyone else on the freeway) there are much worse habits that I should be sorting out first?

    • #15726


      Your questions are more important than it seems at first sight because ,i.e., they imply an whole “moment-to-moment-science & art of demeanour”, unluckily once more i’m lacking time to go for it in detail, so…Are you acquainted with the suttas on lay people ? You’ll find there nice inspiration related to your questions.

    • #15727

      First of all, welcome to the forum, Eric!

      Frivolous talk is speech that does not contribute any value, either in the mundane sense or in the lokottara sense (helpful towards Nibbana).

      The example you gave about weight loss is not frivolous talk; that information could be beneficial to someone who is trying to lose weight. So, that is beneficial in the mundane sense. When we meet a friend after some time, we ask about one’s health and one’s family and that is not frivolous talk.

      You asked: “ If I “make conversation” with a customer about sports and the weather, is this frivolous talk?”
      No. That is part of your responsibility (and courtesy) as a salesman in order to win the customer’s confidence and sell merchandise. Of course, you would not want it to be dragged into a lengthy conversation about weather or sports; that would be frivolous. So, you need to make a judgement about that.

      Frivolous talk is when people get together and talk gossip or crack jokes about others for hours. In general, talking at length about things that are not conducive to the benefit of anyone is frivolous talk.

      In general, the following can be used as a guide:
      – If you know something that is not helpful and is untrue, then do not say it
      – If you know something that might be helpful, but is untrue, do not say it
      – If you know something that is not helpful and is true, do not speak about it
      – If you know something that is helpful and is true, then find the right time to say it

      Of course, discussing Dhamma is the best type of talk, since that will help everyone immensely not only to elevate “the quality of life” in this life, but also to work towards getting rid of samsaric suffering and attaining permanent happiness (Nibbana).

    • #15728
      y not

      Lal is saying:

      “…discussing Dhamma is the best type of talk, since that will help everyone immensely not only to elevate “the quality of life” in this life, but also to work towards getting rid of samsaric suffering and attaining permanent happiness (Nibbana).”

      All very well. The trouble with that is: who to? ( I apply all that preceded the quoted para most of the time). One must judge by feel who it is that is ready to even just listen to Dhamma. Most people are established in their belief systems and lead as moral a life as they are able to, so I feel I should not ‘shake their confidence’ in whatever they believe in, if only that they may live serenely and die serenely when the time comes.

      Therefore I feel that Dhamma is beyond the reach of most, and I am not talking about the deeper aspects of It or Abhidhamma. It could be I am wrong in taking this approach. Only with self-declared atheists do I feel confident enough to drop a hint or two, then I wait for a sign whether I should keep on or not. So most of the time I am just silent when in company.

      I will appreciate any comments …
      objections, even, to my attitude

      y not

    • #15731

      I am making a theme on thinking and i came upon AN5.73.

      The main message of this sutta (please check) seems to be that it is oke to study, to learn, to talk about dhamma, to think about Dhamma BUT one must not neglect seclusion and one must not forget to devote oneself to internal serenity of mind.

      The sutta seems to say, we must not make it a daytimes work, Always busy with dhamma stuff. The sutta makes clear that this is NOT the way to dwell in the Dhamma. We must not make dhamma our new addiction.


    • #15735

      Thank you all for the helpful replies. =)

      “one must not neglect seclusion and one must not forget to devote oneself to internal serenity of mind”

      I’ve definitely got the seclusion thing down, probably way too much to the point of social dysfunction which is the main reason I’ve always been fretting so hard about how to ‘talk right’. But the latter I definitely need to work on, thank you for reminding me about less thinking & planning, more doing & calming down. But again I digress, sorry, navel-gazing & ‘OMG plz lookit mememe plzplzpkz’ is one of my ahem LEAST bad habits. =)

      “The trouble with that is: who to?” Whomever you can, whenever you can. BUT– don’t frame it with Dhamma as that’ll probably make peoples’ eyes glaze over from the get-go. So, as I did with my sister over the phone earlier, start talking about morality, specifically “ways to be a ‘good person'”. Only you need to know you’re talking about Dhamma (I HOPE this doesn’t count as a lie of omission) but you can just drop in the likes of (surely all y’all with higher ‘levels of skill in Speechcraft’ can phrase these better =)” :

      “I agree it’s fine to avoid needlessly killing bugs and cruelty to animals, just don’t neglect to abstain from cruelty to people: insults and hateful thoughts and whatnot”

      “Lately I’ve been making a list of my bad habits focusing on of being less greedy, hateful/angry, and egoic/selfish, the least bad habits up top and working on improving them. Hey! Wanna join me in this project?”

    • #15738

      @y not: You don’t necessarily need to talk to discuss Dhamma.

      Don’t we discuss Dhamma here?

    • #15740
      y not


      “…Don’t we discuss Dhamma here?”

      Yes, Lal, so it is. However, those who have not heard about Dhamma at all are not excluded (the way you put it in the quote) and those are by far the majority. Here we ‘preach to the converted’, as it were..well, to put it better, to those on the way to ‘conversion’, in most cases.

      Leaving PURE Dhamma aside, just the mention of other humanities on other planets, for instance (something I held as inevitable before I came across Puredhamma, as with other major Dhamma notions) and you get a straight bullet: there is no proof of that! The discovery of exoplanets in the last decade or so will in time pave the way for people to accept that..but in time, with scientific proof. People will not go into things through reason and insight…they need the assurance of ‘authority’, in this case, scientific proof.

      I always say those who cannot reason for themselves must believe..most often, that which is believed by those around them. It is useless to try to dislodge them from this conditioning – and the danger is that trying to do so may prove to be worse than useless; it may be harmful, because confusion in their minds will be the result. I used to be accused of this even back in my teens when I put forward some point that goes against accepted beliefs and dogmas. After all your attempts to convey your idea,HAVING MADE IT CLEAR THAT YOUR INTENTION IS NOT TO CONVINCE ANYONE AT ALL, still, all your efforts are refuted by a straight: ‘so we have been taught.’ Even ‘Shh, do not confuse us’. Silence.

      So I have learnt to keep silence. I am not sure whether I am guilty of some wrong through omission, even if to the slightest degree. But expereience has brought me to the point where I feel I should just keep silent.

      y not

    • #15832

      Two short chats yesterday :

      First, I passed a neighbor with his dog. I pet the dog, asked what breed, something something he mentions an accident on the road, I say I hope everyone is okay – – was this frivolous talk?

      Second, cashier, she asks how I’m doing, part of 4th I’m trying to be honest instead of robotically “fine” or “okay” and say I’m tired, she mentions she’s used to getting up in the morning, I mention she’s fortunate and it’s healthy to be up early – – was this frivolous talk?

    • #15833

      Reason I ask is, I’ve spent years trying to improve my social skills, one method being forcing myself to be friendly and small talk as social glue/lubricant and making people happy. I’ve trained myself to behave as if “pointless” small talk had thoss points; in my mind it is full of purpose, not frivolous at all. Was I wrong all along? Should I go back to my old ways, back to never talking to anyone, being insular and anti-social? Or is there a middle way that let’s me avoid idle chatter without coming across as a standoffish, quiet jerk?

    • #15844

      @Eirc: I have already explained this in detail under another question of yours. I am pasting it below. Please feel free to ask questions if anything is not clear.

      The two examples you give above do not belong to the “frivolous talk” category. To live in the society, we need to made “small talk”. Frivolous talk is when people get together and gossip for hours on end. The simplest way is not to consider these things as “absolute rules”. Some people avoid taking even a sip of alcohol for the fear of breaking a precept. That is being foolish. We need to understand that drinking is bad only because when done on a regular basis (and at extreme levels) it can be bad for your health and even more, it can lead to “bad decision making”; one’s mind can lose “mindfulness”.

      What we need to understand is the priority of things to do, which tasks to focus on. Worries about spending time on watching TV, internet, movies, frivolous talk, etc will go away when one understands what the priorities should be.

      I have explained this in various posts, and mentioned in this in response to a previous question of yours. But since this is an important issue, let me put this from a different point-of-view.

      A key concept that has been hidden is “gati” (or “gathi”). Based on our actions, speech, and thoughts (which are kaya, vaci, and mano sankhara), we accumulate various gati, which can be loosely translated as habits/character, but more like moral character.

      Let us take person X. If X is capable of doing actions suitable for an animal, he has “animal gati”. These could lie in a broad range, for example, vicious animals kill, so if X can kill (especially a human), then he has gati suitable for an animal. On the other hand, if X has cultivated rupavacara jhana, and enjoys getting into rupavacara jhana, then he has cultivated gati suitable for a rupavacara brahma.

      X may have many different gati, but one of the strong ones will determine the bhava that is grasped. So, if X has strong vicious gati suitable for an animal, X is likely to grasp a bhava in the animal realm. On the other hand, if X has dominant gati of a rupavacara brahma, he would grasp that bhava and will be born a brahma to enjoy jhanic pleasures (which are of course temporary).

      I really recommend everyone to watch the movie “Earthlings”,at the following site: “Nationearth.com
      (Warning: There are many scenes that are highly disturbing to the mind).

      So, animals in general undergo much harsh suffering than humans. So, such suffering is possible for X, if X has some kind of “animal gati”. If X is a serial killer, he has gati suitable for much harsher realms in the niraya. If X has “excessively greedy gati” (and thus can commit immoral things to get them), X could grasp a “preta bhava” and be born a preta. It must be noted that just engaging in normal sense pleasures do not belong to this category (so watching TV or going to movies is not a problem here; they are not “apayagami actions”).

      So, if one is habitually doing strong dasa akusala, one has ‘apayagami gati”. Here apaya includes the lowest four realms of niraya, preta, asura, and animal. By following the Eightfold Path, X can get rid of such “apayagami gati”. Then one becomes Sotapanna. However, one needs to remove the 10 types of micca ditthi and also comprehend Tilakkhana. That comes AFTER making sure one abstains from those “apayagami actions”.

      The next higher 7 realms are the higher realms of the kama loka: human realm and the 6 deva realms. One gets a human or deva bhava by cultivating “human gati” or “deva gati”. But there is still suffering in these realms, even though less than in the apayas. As long as X is attached to sense pleasures, X will have those gati. When one comprehends the long-term dangers of sense pleasures, one would get rid of such gati, and attain the Anagami stage (via Sakadagami stage; I am making this brief).

      Once one becomes an Anagami, birth is still possible in the 16 rupavacara brahma realms and the 4 arupavacara brahma realms. Even though suffering in those realms are much less, there is still suffering there. When one realizes that eventually, one loses “upadana” for such bhava also, and one attains the Arahant stage. That is Nibbana. However, one should not even think about the Sakadagami stage until one is a Sotapanna/Sotapanna Anugami.

      That is a basic outline. Of course, there are so many details. Those gati and bhava are fueled by Paticca Samuppada cycles that run each time X commits an akusala kamma (which cultivate apayagami gati) or punna kamma (which cultivate gati suitable for human and higher realms).

      These set of gati are also called “asava”. When all gati are removed, one becomes an Arahant. Then one will not grasp any bhava. This is why Nibbana is also called “asvakkhaya” or getting rid of asava. Again, DO NOT even contemplate about anything higher than the Sotapanna stage. People get scared about “getting extinct”. One must take one step at a time. One can always stop at the Sotapanna stage! But it is good to get that overall world view of the Buddha.

      Now, it is good idea to expand on the above outline by finding and reading posts on gati (gathi), bhava, jati, etc., the key words that you need to get a good idea about.

      Once that is done, and the above world view becomes clear, one can make an “action plan” and decide what tasks to be undertaken first.

      It is obvious that the first priority would be to avoid births in the apayas. So, one needs to make sure that one abstains from actions, speech, and thoughts that could lead to four types of “apaya bhava”, so to speak. These are the strongest versions of dasa akusala.

      I discussed another related aspect in the post: “Basic Mindfulness for Niramisa Sukha“. Note that I have revised the titles of some discussions to make the subject matter clear.

      Please feel free to ask questions. I can direct to appropriate posts to learn any concepts that are not clear. I think this is a good undertaking for anyone who is interested in making an action plan to follow the Path systematically.

    • #15846

      Thank you very much again for your clarification and patience! Certainly has taken a lot off my mind; I hope others learn from our exchanges, especially all my repeatedly falling flat on my face trying to bolt out the door. =)

      Speaking of, I had a small chat with a coworker near the end of our shift and I think I did better (posting for pointers and for those with similar “frivolous talk” concerns; maybe we can pool our experiences and learn from each other?):

      We hadn’t exchanged many words most the day because we were both tired and busy. I brought that up, she laughed and we exchanged some words, I mentioned I was tired because I unwisely tried to quit caffeine cold-turkey (gee, wonder why I’ve been so bugged out the past few days) and I caught myself thinking “wait, this is getting egocentric…” so in the hopes of added a self-effacing joke about learning from my mistakes which brought out a belly-laugh. Hooray, I spread a little joy! Later on, after she mentioned she always has sugar or something with coffee that she needs good coffee, so I recommended beans from a local shop (and recommended flavors) so hopefully she gets to know the joy of “real” coffee while a local shop gets a little more business.

      Lately it seems like I’m on the lookout to say helpful and kind things. Glad to hear that’s not so frivolous!

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