(5.76) I should discreetly describe others’ good qualities
And pass on any I hear about,
But, should my own good qualities be mentioned,|
I should simply acknowledge any I might have, without pride.
One of the most effective ways of developing good relationships with others, and to help others develop good relationships with each other, is to make a habit of praising everyone’s good qualities. People then think good about one another and allow them into their lives. Admiring faith opens the door and allows people in.
Usually when we see somebody engage in some virtuous action or somebody is praised for some great deed, externally we may say, “yeah, that person is great.” But internally, we say, “but…” and we quickly catalog all of their faults. We find it really hard to just genuinely rejoice in others virtue. Spontaneously, our jealousy offers some counterpoint of how the person is faulty. Shantideva says instead we should praise the other person and develop genuine joy. When I see some good quality in my colleagues, I try make a point of telling them how much I appreciate their example. When it is not awkward to do so, I try sing my colleague’s praises with others whenever I can. If it is said sincerely, without expecting anything in return nor any ulterior motive, it is almost always well received and then the person identifies with being somebody with that good quality. Ripening others is not hard: see others’ qualities and genuinely praise them for it. People are starved for love. Give it to them.
I have a nephew who has made a few mistakes in his life and as a result has been shunned from the high-achieving end of my family. But he has this young daughter who he loves with all of his heart, and he really is a good father with her. Nobody sees it, though, they just see his failings. Standing in judgment over him doesn’t make him do any better, it just makes him feel rejected and causes him to reject the otherwise good advice of those who are judging him. But a few simple words of praise, showing him that you see the good in him, helps him identify with his goodness within. Seeing the good in people helps them identify with it, and this, more than anything else, ripens them. Venerable Tharchin says when a new person walks in the center door, he views them as “the future holder of the lineage.” Scary thought that the future of the lineage will one day rest on our shoulders, but because he sees that in us – he genuinely sees it – we naturally start identify with that and start living up to that. I would almost go so far as to say all we need do to ripen all living beings is see and relate to the good in others. Just keep doing this until they are all Buddhas. Ignore the rest, don’t engage with the rest. If you resist the rest, they grab on tighter to it. If you ignore it, it withers on the vine.
As a Sangha, it is particular important that we do this. We should never talk badly about the other people in the Sangha, even if they talk badly to us about others we don’t agree. When we hear people talking badly, it can sometimes be awkward. Sometimes all we can do is say nothing. If we agree with them, we feed their inappropriate attention. If we disagree with them, they might become further entrenched in their wrong view and seek to defend it. Sometimes we can say something like, “sorry you see it that way.” This doesn’t agree, doesn’t disagree and shows that it depends upon the person’s point of view. Depending on the relationship we have with the other person, we might even be able to say, “hey, you shouldn’t talk like that. Focus on the good.”
When we are praised, we shouldn’t don an armor of false humility saying, “no, no, I am but a fool” when in reality we think we are wonderful. Externally, we should just say, “thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot.” Internally, we offer everything to the Spiritual Guide at our heart. If we ourselves are praised we can avoid pride arising simply by recognizing that any qualities we may have are simply the qualities of our Spiritual Guide. In reality, our contaminated samsaric aggregates have no good qualities of their own. Anything good we have about ourselves comes from the blessings we have received from the holy beings or the good examples we have seen in others.
It is also one of the most skillful ways of improving our own virtues. By rejoicing we create the cause to acquire whatever skills we are rejoicing in. If we genuinely appreciate the good qualities we see in others, we will naturally start to emulate them ourselves. The way we become better is primarily through emulation. Our normal reaction is to be jealous of the good and to judge the bad. Instead we need to emulate the good and learn from the bad. If we do this, the rest will take care of itself in time.