In AN 10.176 idle chatter is defined as

He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, & the Vinaya. He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal.

Bearing this in mind - is right speech purely connected with the Dharma? Should one speak of the Dharma and nothing else? From my own perspective some idle chit chat which has the effect of putting someone at ease in a social situation is a kindness. Similarly chatting to the daughter about nothing in particular is building the bonds of caring and again feels like the right thing to do. However would both those actions be classified as idle chatter and would not be right speech?

On a personal note I probably do talk too much so a bit less idle chatter would do me some good i think.

5 Answers 5


In a short piece called Right Speech by Thanissaro Bhikkhu he defines idle chatter as that "spoken with no purposeful intent at all". and he stresses the important of intention in speaking.

Right speech, explained in negative terms, means avoiding four types of harmful speech: lies (words spoken with the intent of misrepresenting the truth); divisive speech (spoken with the intent of creating rifts between people); harsh speech (spoken with the intent of hurting another person's feelings); and idle chatter (spoken with no purposeful intent at all).

Notice the focus on intent: this is where the practice of right speech intersects with the training of the mind. Before you speak, you focus on why you want to speak. This helps get you in touch with all the machinations taking place in the committee of voices running your mind. If you see any unskillful motives lurking behind the committee's decisions, you veto them. As a result, you become more aware of yourself, more honest with yourself, more firm with yourself. You also save yourself from saying things that you'll later regret. In this way you strengthen qualities of mind that will be helpful in meditation, at the same time avoiding any potentially painful memories that would get in the way of being attentive to the present moment when the time comes to meditate.

So in your examples above, of putting someone at ease socially or bonding with your daughter, you have purposeful intent. With awareness of yourself and your motivations and mindfulness of what you are saying, there are surely many opportunities to engage in casual conversations with family and friends without letting it get out of hand and turn into truly idle and mindless chatter.

In your original quote, the mention of "what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, & the Vinaya" seems like it would be more geared towards monastics, but I lack the knowledge of the background of that sutta and the audience for whom it was intended to say for sure.

In Ajahn Brahm's book The Art of Disappearing: Buddha's Path to Lasting Joy, he makes the statement that we talk to say we are here. It's interesting to pause and think of our intention and if it's really only to create attention and remind people that we exist (verbally or digitally with social media posts) with no other purposeful intent, that's definitely an opportunity to understand ourselves a little bit better.


This book I quote sometimes for guidance on modern-day lay life, The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity, says "avoid senseless talk" (the Pali word for which, whose meaning we should try to understand, is samphappalapa), which it categorizes as follows:

  • Words spoken at the wrong time (e.g. inappropriate to the occasion)
  • Words that contain untruth or exaggeration (instead present true information)
  • Words that bring no benefit (not self-display, long winded, meaningless topics; instead, use profitable words, atthavadi)
  • Words that lead the listener to unwholesome thoughts and conduct (not words that develop greed, instead words which lead to wholesome thoughts, dhammavadi)
  • Words that threaten the listener's self-discipline (words that persuade people to break rules and undisciplined actions, instead of vinayavadi)
  • Words that express trite and shallow ideas (words that lack originality and depth, instead of important views and ideas, ndhanavati vaca)

I hope that still leaves scope for conversation with your daughter. :-)

The above is formatted as a quote but I summarized it heavily: the words in bold are originally subsection titles each with a following paragraph or so; and the words in parentheses are words I extracted from those paragraphs.

  • I've actually just bought The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity because I saw you quote it on another question, Looking forward to reading it. Jun 25, 2015 at 16:31
  • To write this answer I looked up "speech" in its Index. The activity of summarizing it (as above) might help me to understand or memorize it too.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 25, 2015 at 16:46

Here is a quote on "Idle chatter" from the book "The Noble Eightfold Path" by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, p. 48-49.

The highlights are made by me as an answer to your question regarding what idle chatter is and conversation with family.

Abstaining from idle chatter (samphappalapa veramani).

He avoids idle chatter and abstains from it. He speaks at the right time, in accordance with facts, speaks what is useful, speaks of the Dhamma and the discipline; his speech is like a treasure, uttered at the right moment, accompanied by reason, moderate and full of sense.

Idle chatter is pointless talk, speech that lacks purpose or depth. Such speech communicates nothing of value, but only stirs up the defilements in one’s own mind and in others. The Buddha advises that idle talk should be curbed and speech restricted as much as possible to matters of genuine importance. In the case of a monk, the typical subject of the passage just quoted, his words should be selective and concerned primarily with the Dhamma. Lay persons will have more need for affectionate small talk with friends and family, polite conversation with acquaintances, and talk in connection with their line of work. But even then they should be mindful not to let the conversation stray into pastures where the restless mind, always eager for something sweet or spicy to feed on, might find the chance to indulge its defiling propensities.

The traditional exegesis of abstaining from idle chatter refers only to avoiding engagement in such talk oneself. But today it might be of value to give this factor a different slant, made imperative by certain developments peculiar to our own time, unknown in the days of the Buddha and the ancient commen- tators. This is avoiding exposure to the idle chatter constantly bombarding us through the new media of communication cre- ated by modern technology. An incredible array of devices — television, radio, newspapers, pulp journals, the cinema — turns out a continuous stream of needless information and distracting entertainment the net effect of which is to leave the mind pas- sive, vacant, and sterile. All these developments, naively accepted as “progress,” threaten to blunt our aesthetic and spiritual sensi- tivities and deafen us to the higher call of the contemplative life. Serious aspirants on the path to liberation have to be extremely discerning in what they allow themselves to be exposed to. They would greatly serve their aspirations by including these sources of amusement and needless information in the category of idle chatter and making an effort to avoid them.


Right speech is 1. Speech about Dhamma 2. Practical speech about matters of living

Everything else is idle chatter. Examples are speech about wealth, women, men, the lottery, politics, religion, sex, people, sport, what was heard here or there, food, clothing, ships, cars, holidays, music, sights and so on.

Time is so precious. A second gone is gone for eternity. Use your time with your daughter well.

Talk to her about Dhamma, ethics, morality, gaining mastery over her mind, discovering wisdom and so on. There is so much.

And talk to her about practical issues of her life. How to deal with the things that bother her. How to distinguish between a good friend and one that's not good. How she should find direction in life. And so on. There's so much.

Of course, you'd have to read extensively in those subjects beforehand. So can you see how beneficial adhering to right speech can be? And what a waste of time idle chatter is?

If you've not already done so read the Buddha's Suttas on accesstoinsight.org

  • Sadhu, maybe Upasaka @Alan can add a kind of check list, one can ask him/herself before talking out in regard of idle chatter, for pure and low entertainig purpose. Jan 20, 2018 at 11:28

I am a bit disturbed by the suggestion that idle chatter is bad. Sometimes a person starts out with a long-winded story that seems to be going nowhere, but then suddenly, they tell you something really important about themselves and their history. It's good to be patient and just listen for the gold that's hidden in all the apparently pointless talk.

Also, some exaggeration for entertainment's sake is ok. Otherwise there would be no improv. Just making people laugh and entertaining people with "idle chatter" is not just ok; it's good.

Similarly, I think that "gossip" is not always bad. Sometimes women in particular are shamed about it. But one of the reasons that bad men get away with bad behavior repeatedly is that women are trained not to talk about bad men: it's "gossip." Maybe if we told each other which men were dangerous, we would be victimized less frequently. The same guys are getting away with the same bad behavior over and over.

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