The Bodhisattva vows include extensive advice on how we should conduct our daily lives by transforming all our actions into the Bodhisattva’s way of life. By putting them into practice we shall gradually complete the Bodhisattva’s training and eventually attain the supreme bliss of Buddhahood.
Just as the refuge vows primarily function to maintain the uninterrupted continuum of our Buddhist practice between now and when we attain enlightenment, and the pratimoksha vows primarily function to maintain the uninterrupted continuum of our path to liberation, so too our practice of the Bodhisattva vows creates the karma to enable us to maintain an uninterrupted continuum of our Mahayana path to enlightenment. In other words, we create the causes to again and again refind a pure Mahayana path without interruption until we attain the final goal. If we have wisdom, we realize the biggest thing we should fear it not non-virtue and delusion (though those are terribly scary), but our biggest fear should be the fear of losing the path. If we keep refinding the path in life after life, we can gradually purify all of our negativities. But if we don’t refind the path, we will be lost for what could be incalculably long periods of time where our suffering will know no bounds. If we genuinely fear this we will realize just how precious our vows are, and how precious our Bodhisattva vows are in particular.
If we incur a root downfall we actually break our Bodhisattva vows. To incur a root downfall (except for the 9th and 18th) four binding factors must be present:
- Not regarding the action as wrong
- Not wishing to abstain from the action in the future
- Rejoicing in the action
- Having no sense of shame or consideration for others.
Praising ourself and scorning others.
This downfall is complete only if someone hears and understands our words. We incur this if we praise ourself with the motivation of deceiving others so that we might receive gifts or to enhance our reputation. It also is incurred if we criticize others with the wish to hurt them.
This is something many of us do all of the time. In modern times, it is actually quite rare for us to physically harm others – there are too many social conventions against such behavior. I do wonder, though, whether we have compensated for this with an increase in the amount of hurtful speech we engage in. If our minds are just as critical and angry as they have always been (and a case can be made why in degenerate times it is actually worse), and we can conventionally no longer express this mind physically, it only stands to reason that there has been a corresponding increase in the amount of our hurtful speech.
And we see this everywhere we go. A large number of the shows on TV these days are “reality TV shows.” What makes for good reality TV is outrageously hurtful speech among the contestants. Virtually all of the news programming we see on TV or hear on the radio these days is one constant stream of critical and scornful speech. In political discourse now, there is almost no discussion of the merits of the different policy options, everything is about personal attacks on the other person. In many of our social circumstances, the price of entry into a given social group is agreeing with the dominant negative view of that group towards others. We say hurtful things to show these people we are with them, and when we do, they then accept us into their group. We so want to belong to other groups, that we are ready to commit all sorts of hurtful things just to feel like we belong. This is very foolish. It is better to be a group of one but think and say nothing bad about anybody than to belong to a group where what binds them is their mutual hatred or cynicism of another.
Why is all of this negativity so popular? Because it reflects how our mind naturally works. Psychologists have estimated that a negative opinion of someone or something will spread 10 times faster than a positive opinion. In our own speech, we are constantly putting other people down in one way or another, at work, at home and in our social life. When others around us say critical things of others and we agree, or even just nod our head, we are contributing to this storm of negativity. When we laugh at jokes made at other people’s expense or agree with the rhetorical broadsides lodged against those around us, karmically it is the same as us using such hurtful speech ourselves. Venerable Tharchin explains that just as rejoicing creates the causes to acquire the good qualities we rejoice in, so too being critical, scornful or judgmental of others creates the causes to acquire the bad qualities we criticize! Seen in this way, our negative attitude is sowing the seeds for us to, quite frankly, be a horrible person. We see a world filled with horrible people now, if we don’t change our ways, in the future we will be the sum of all horrible-ness we see.
We likewise are constantly praising ourselves. If we check, we will see that virtually every time we put somebody else down or judge somebody else even in the slightest way, we are at the same time affirming that we are not like what we are criticizing. We are implying by our speech that we are somehow better than the person we are criticizing. So even if we are not directly making boastful statements about ourselves, every time we put others down we are indirectly doing so. At work or at home, we quite often try to take credit for our good deeds, and even sometimes the good deeds of others. When recounting what we do, we quite often exaggerate how hard everything was to create the impression that we have done such amazing work. We easily feel put aside when others don’t appreciate the value of our contributions. On Facebook, we check and see how many ‘likes’ our comments get and we compare it to others. Even when we put ourselves down, we often exaggerate what we say in a sub-conscious effort to get the other person to say, “no, no, you are not that bad.” If I am honest, almost everything I say is directly or indirectly saying how or why I am so much better than everyone else. And we all do this. How can I say this? Because we all suffer from a terrible sense of our own self-importance. If this is what we think, then our speech is going to reflect this one way or the other.
Praising ourself doesn’t in any way increase our good qualities. Most other people are not stupid and they are not fooled by our boasts, in fact they often think how pompous we are. When we see people who think too highly of themselves and of their accomplishments, we may be polite to their face, but inside we are being quite critical and generating the wish to knock the other person down a peg or two. A very common thing in Dharma circles is for somebody to mention somebody else in a positive light, and we will say, “yeah, that person is great,” but inside we are thinking “yeah, but…” and then our mind immediately races to something negative about the other person. We almost never have a genuine good thought about another person. I would say that karmically speaking praising ourself actually depletes our merit and good qualities.
So what should we do? In my own speech, I try live by three rules: First, never say anything bad about anyone ever. I don’t always succeed at this, but I do try. My Grandmother, who in 2014 turns 103 years old, basically never says anything bad about anybody. The closest I have heard her say anything bad about anybody was during the first Iraq war, and she said, “Saddam Hussein, ehhhh, …” And then she cut herself off. Second, I try to never make any comparisons – ever. When I make any comparisons between people, invariably I am putting somebody down. When I make comparisons between myself and others, I invariably develop pride, competitiveness or jealousy. But if I never compare, then these minds don’t have as much occasion to arise. Third, I try to never miss a chance to praise somebody for some quality I see in them. Of course we have to be skillful with this. Your compliments should be genuine and well grounded. If somebody doesn’t actually have a good quality and you praise it, they usually know you are not being sincere and it just makes things worse. Likewise, you can’t do this too much where it becomes obnoxious or uncomfortable for the other person. But even though you might not be able to say all the compliments you would like to, mentally you can still think them.
The bottom line is simple: if criticizing others creates the causes for us to acquire the faults we criticize and praising others creates the causes for us to acquire the qualities we praise, it is pretty clear what we need to do.