This means we should not point out others faults without a good reason. The criteria for pointing out others faults are (1) that our motivation is pure, and (2) we are sure they will benefit from it. Otherwise we will only make them upset and angry.
This advice is very important. Often we think that others “they need to hear the truth,” and so we feel justified in criticizing others. Of course we should only speak the truth, but the truth alone is not enough. From amongst what is true, we should only say what is beneficial. The so called “truth” itself has no independent value. Besides, what we consider to be truth is in fact our own subjective perspective on things. Ultimately, if we really want to hear the truth, the reality is any fault we see in somebody else is actually a reflection of the faults in our own mind. So the truth we need to hear is we are the ones responsible for all faults we perceive in the world, so it is highly misplaced to blame others for the projections of our own mind.
We think it will help the other person to hear about their faults because then they can change. But if the other person is not genuinely open to discussing their faults and limitations, then our forcing them to do so just invites defensiveness and conflict. They don’t change, instead they start to point out our own faults and defend why their faults are actually not faults at all. Then, of course, they will also blame us for their faults – it is due to our actions that they are acting the way they do. So even if we are “right,” the only result of our “saying something” is they reject what we have to say, defend their faults as virtue and wind up blaming others more forecefully for their problems. How have we helped? In general, if the other person is not open it is far better to not talk about their faults at all. All that will do is make people unhappy and create problems.
This is equally true when talking to people about the faults of others. Most work environments and most circles of friends are plagued by talking badly about other people. Quite often, we feel the only way in which people will accept us into their group is if we show them that we agree with their conclusions about how unreasonable and faulty certain other people are. We may feel like it is OK because we are not talking about the faulty person with the faulty person, so their feelings don’t get hurt. But when we talk about the faults of some people with others all we are doing is engaging in divisive speech. We are also kidding ourselves if we think other people don’t know we are talking bad about them. People are not stupid. They know and it hurts. And if they don’t know, then in many respects it is even worse. How would we feel if we found out everybody who we thought was our friend was in fact secretly talking badly about us behind our backs? How would we feel if we found out that in fact we were just part of a big joke of others who we thought were our friends? As Kadampas, we simply don’t play this game. As a general rule, we should never say anything bad about anybody ever.
This does not mean we never talk about others faults, though. If we could not ever discuss the faults of living beings, there would be no basis for discussing the Dharma at all. What then are the conditions under which we can talk about other’s faults? There are four. First, our motivation is sincerely pure and compassionate. We know the difference between somebody who speaks about the faults of others from the perspective of a compassionate wish to help and when they do so with judgment in their hearts and a wish to criticize others as a means of aggrandizing themselves. It is not enough for ourselves to have a compassionate motivation when speaking, others must realize that this is our motivation. If they do not, then harm will still follow. The second condition is we are certain that the other person is open and receptive to what we have to say. This depends a great deal on whether the other person respects and trusts us. It fundamentally depends on whether or not the person thinks we have some ulterior, selfish motive for saying something. The reality is we are bothered by the fact that those around us are so faulty. We wish it were otherwise. We wish they were all free from delusions and always acted correctly. We do not wish this out of compassion wanting what is best for them, rather we wish this because we are so tired of dealing with all of their problems and serving as the object of their wrath. When we try “help people overcome their faults” motivated by a simply aversion to their deluded behavior then they don’t trust us and don’t take our words as compassionate help. Instead, they are received as a judgment and an attack. We may be using Dharma words and saying Dharma wisdom, but in reality we are using the Dharma as a weapon to attack and judge others. This is a terrible misuse of the Dharma.
The third condition necessary before we can talk about other’s faults is we ourselves don’t possess that fault. It is quite rich to talk about other’s faults when we ourselves possess the same fault. When we do so, others find us to be a hypocrite and feel we are hardly in a position to judge them. So they reject what we have to say. We do not have to be completely free from the fault before we can speak about it in others, but we do have to have the humility to fully and publicly own up to our possessing this fault. One useful method to talk about other’s faults in a skilful way is to talk about our own faults. We practice ‘owning other’s faults as our own,’ and then talk about other’s faults in the context of ourselves. This shows humility and also allows others to hear what they need to hear without them growing defensive. But we need to be sincere about it, because if we are talking about our own faults, but it comes across as insincere and a trick to talk about their faults, then it won’t work.
The fourth condition is when we speak about faults (of ourself or others) we do so clearly distinguishing between the person and the fault. When we speak about somebody’s cancer, we don’t discuss it as a fault of the person, rather we discuss it as a sickness of the body. In the same way, when we speak about somebody’s delusions, we don’t discuss it as a fault of the person, but rather as a sickness of their mind. Grime on a diamond doesn’t defile the diamond itself. Storm clouds in the sky aren’t the sky itself. In the same way delusions cannot defile our mind and are not our mind itself.
The essential point is the only thing we have control over is ourselves, so our focus should be identifying our own faults and getting rid of them. We should also be extremely gracious and open to others offering us constructive suggestions on how we can do better. We need to actively seek others input for how we can do a better job, and really want to encourage others to help us see our faults. In fact, those who criticize us are our best friends, our kind benefactors who help us do better.