Vows, commitments and modern life: Precepts of aspiring bodhichitta, being critical of virtue.

Not to criticize those who have entered the Mahayana

Somebody who has entered the Mahayana is somebody who has committed themselves to becoming a Buddha for the sake of all living beings.  They are like a spiritual prince or princess destined to one day take the throne.  Just as we naturally treat with respect all those who we know will go on to become incredibly powerful, even if they are still a child now, how much more should we show respect to those who will go on to become the highest beings of all, fully enlightened Buddhas.  Ultimately, of course, we don’t know who has or who has not entered the Mahayana, so just to be safe we should assume everybody has and treat them all accordingly!

Criticism (of the negative sort) is a form of anger.  Anger is a wish to harm.  Harming an ordinary being is bad, but harming a Bodhisattva is karmically the same as harming all living beings because if you harm somebody who is trying to help everybody it is the same as indirectly harming everybody.  It is said that one moment of anger directed towards a bodhisattva creates the causes for countless lifetimes in the lower realms.

And let’s get real here:  we are criticizing the people in our centers all of the time.  It is rare indeed (indeed unheard of) for there to not be some sort of tension or drama in a Dharma center.  There is a tremendous amount of judgment that takes place (why are they so deluded, why don’t they ever do work for the center, etc., etc., etc.).  If we check, there is usually in a Dharma center a fair amount of talking badly behind other people’s backs.  We know enough to know not to be critical of others to their faces, but then when they are gone we share our real feelings with some people we feel we relate to.  Sometimes we are critical of our teachers and we encourage others to share our negative view.  If we were sick, we would not intentionally go sneeze in somebody’s face, so if we are sick with delusion, why do we run to go infect others with our negative views? 

This does not mean we should never say anything and pretend that everything is fine when it is not.  We should of course go speak with people when we have differences of opinion in a constructive effort to resolve them.  We all know the difference between being critical of somebody and making an honest effort to resolve differences. 

Another common transgression of this vow is when we are critical of those in other traditions, especially those that are critical of us and our tradition.  These are often people who have also entered the Mahayana, and it is just as much a transgression to criticize them as it is to criticize somebody within our own tradition.  It can be very hard to not be critical, especially when they are shunning us or saying we have joined some crazed cult or they speak to us with hurtful or divisive words.  Just because they are acting in deluded ways and not respecting their own vows does not give us license to do the same towards them.  Indeed, if we do so all we do is prove them right.  If we want to prove them wrong, then our actions need to be different.  We respond to criticism with understanding, wisdom and respect. 

The objection may arise, but what about the protests that the NKT has done against the Dalai Lama’s policies.  We shout, “stop lying” and we lay bear all sorts of mistakes he is making.  Isn’t that a violation of this vow?  The short answer it can be if our motivation is delusion.  But if our motivation is the compassionate wish to protect him and his followers from the negative karma of criticizing us, then instead of it being a negative action it becomes a compassionate wrathful action.  This is not easy, I agree, but it is vital we get it right.  If we do not, then we will just be laying the seeds for others to criticize us again in the future.

Not to cause others to regret their virtuous actions

This can sometimes happen when somebody is particularly nice to somebody who is normally not so nice to others.  We think, “why are you being so nice to him when he is such a jerk to everyone else.  You are just encouraging him to treat others badly.” Another common form of this is when somebody is particularly generous to somebody else, especially if the person who does the giving is himself or herself not somebody who has a lot of means.  We think, “you shouldn’t give like that, you can’t afford it.”  While it is true we need to be wise with our giving and know when to practice the giving of keeping, in general we can’t afford to NOT give.  Sometimes we also transgress this when somebody goes out of their way to do a favor for somebody else, especially if their doing of a favor for somebody else somehow created some inconvenience for ourselves.  For example, they went to go pick somebody up and that made you wait for an extra 15 minutes. 

When we make people regret their virtues it harms both them and us.  It harms them because instead of being happy about their virtues they start to think they are a sucker for being nice to others.  When they have regret for their virtues, it destroys the merit they have accumulated and makes it far less likely they will engage in virtue again in the future.  If they don’t engage in virtue, how will they ever be happy?  If we make them regret their virtues, we are condemning them to an unhappy future.  This also harms ourselves.  We all know that when we rejoice in other’s virtue, we accumulate a fraction of the virtue we rejoice in.  Through rejoicing we can accumulate a tremendous amount of virtue just by rejoicing even if we ourselves do almost nothing.  But in exactly the same way, when you judge people as wrong for engaging in certain virtues we destroy our own merit from our own virtues.  If you criticize them, you create the causes for others to criticize you in the future when you engage in virtue, and as a result in the future you will develop regret for your virtues and become discouraged. 

A frequent, but more subtle form of transgression of this vow is to belittle others’ virtues as not being that big of a deal.  Quite often when we hear somebody being praised for something they did, internally we become jealous and start judging the other person for all that they do wrong.  We think, “yeah, what they did was great, but…” and we go on to list their faults.  Even if we just have this discussion in our own head, we still destroy our own merit and create the causes for others to judge us as well.  All of this is extremely short-sighted.


2 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Precepts of aspiring bodhichitta, being critical of virtue.

  1. When it is unpacked like this, it is very easy for me to see just how often I breach this vow. Normally when I read it I am inclined to kind of congratulate myself for not being that susceptible to this behaviour! These posts are uncomfortable for me to face, I have noticed some resistance to opening them and reading them. They represent a major challenge to the deluded pride that lingers in my mind. Thank you for daring to confront these underlying mistakes that we may not even be aware of making.

  2. Some further points:

    Gen Tharchin “Treat everyone as a future savior: a saint, a Jesus, a Ghandi” Dislike delusion only.

    Learning how to be assertive overcomes most of the problems that arise with communicating with others because we take responsibility without saying ‘YOU’ which makes people super defensive and assumes blaming others which is useless. Example: “You are not listening to me”. Instead, being assertive says, “I think what I have to say could be of benefit but I feel unheard, I want a chance to express what is on my mind”

    As Buddhists we are mainly unaware of what we really want and intend. When we have strong virtuous intentions it is easy to commuinicate clearly. If our thoughts, feelings and Lamrim desires are aligned. Being clear only comes from clear and strong intention.

    Be respectful of other traditions, see similarities and celebrate differences, rejoice in virtue.

    Rejoicing is THE most underated of minds, yet it the simplest to generate. It is the destroyer of depression in human beings. Rejocing in others happiness from a human-like hell realm is difficult because one desires that same happiness, yet all rejoicing should be done in light of illusory-like happiness. I failed miserably at a festival once when I was depressed. Everyone was happy, it was hell and illuminated my own suffering. But this practice really is king, it improves love and the realization of emptiness together. Simple.

    We make people regret our ‘Imaginary idea’ of what has happened because of our mistaken awareness, self-grasping. Where was it perceived? Mind. It actually happened ‘in my mind’ which I can easily understand its emptiness. So I can use ‘their’ actions and my actions to quickly evaporate self-grasping. Their actions are not separate from my mind. Why be jealous of my own mind projected as others actions?

    Just as we take delight in every action of virtue, we derive fun from creating the cause itself as an end in itself, we should aspire to share that same view of others when they create a single cause since it gives us immeasurable merit. Spend an hour rejoicing that someone prostrated to Buddha. Beautiful, easy, powerful!

    Rejoicing is what really sets apart the levels of practitioners. When their world is full of joy and finding joy in the actions of others, it really is a Joyful Path.
    All practitioners are within mind. Your tradition is art of your mind. All Sangha are the children of your mind. Knowing this takes a while, but once you get it, it’s impossible to actively sabotage and criticize others, since you know you are criticizing your self

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