Our Best Guide
In the course of daily life, we either hand out criticism or receive it from the many people we relate to. And more often than not, we encounter delicate situations where anger and hurt feelings usually predominate.
In most cases, the person at the receiving end of the criticism is vulnerable to hurt because most likely, he takes it personally. The person giving the critique also is vulnerable to anger, as criticism is usually provoked when a mistake is made or when there is failure in meeting expectations.
So what is the correct attitude for a spiritual practitioner toward giving and receiving criticism? Maharaj Charan Singh advises:
Brother, we should not mind anybody’s criticism at all. I can tell you, critics are the best guide in life. We should always keep our ears and eyes open to our critics. We must weigh their criticism without any ill will towards them. If it has any weight, we should try to learn from that criticism and try to improve ourselves. If it is just for the sake of criticizing, you can just ignore it. But our critics are the best guides in our lives, for our improvement. Without our critics, we would never be conscious of our shortcomings, our weaknesses. They are very essential for us to improve ourselves.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
Viewing our critics as our best guides in life or as benchmarks for self-improvement is indeed a positive attitude to adopt. It gives us a more objective point of view, allowing us to see ourselves in a different light. A detached perspective allows us to evaluate ourselves and find ways to improve and grow in view of our shortcomings and weaknesses, without getting hurt and taking things personally.
On the other hand, if we are the one who is criticizing another, we should do so politely, with the intention to help and not condemn. Likewise, we should not be demeaning or act superior to avoid the possibility that the person being criticized might feel inferior. The Buddha had a rule worth remembering: “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”
Maharaj Charan Singh affirms this when he replies to someone who asks for advice on how to address the truth when criticizing someone.
I don’t say that we should compromise with the truth, but there is a way of putting a truth to another person. Our approach should be one of love, of helpfulness. But if we think we are superior, then we are only using the truth to humiliate the other person. The approach is not right. At times, silence is golden. Most of our problems in this creation come from our tongue. If we can control it, I think we have solved 80 percent or 90 percent of our problems – if we know how to control our tongue, how to use it. The truth shouldn’t be used as an excuse to humiliate another person. It depends upon the approach, how to reach out to a person and what your motives are.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
Clearly, we must put in every effort to ensure that our good intention is expressed gently and appropriately. Only in such a manner will our suggestions come across as constructive criticism and not as character assassination. A lot of nuances in the delivery of a critique come into play – our choice of words, the tone of our voice, our approach, our posturing and even our attitude – all reflect the sincerity of our intention. The spirit of love and helpfulness must prevail over a feeling of superiority.
The Masters guide us and describe for us the ideal way to act and behave. In fact, they are the example that we all aspire to emulate.
Yet in reality, we rarely achieve this ideal when receiving or giving criticism in situations where tensions run high is extremely rare. More often than not, egos dominate and hurt and anger prevail.
How then can we control ourselves so that we behave closer to the ideal that the Master prescribes?
The fact that we are here is a clear indication that we are victims of the disease of ego, and that the disease of ego will go from us only when we are attached to the Word, to Shabd or Nam. That drives ego from us and creates humility within us.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II
Meditation – the practice of stilling the mind in order to catch the Shabd – is the single most important cure for the disease of ego. Sitting in silence regularly for two and a half hours every day tames and focuses the mind. Its tendency to flow outward and downward is reversed inward, enabling it to catch the inner light and sound – the ringing radiance that purifies the mind. When this happens, the I-ness or the self-centeredness that defines the ego is replaced by a higher consciousness and love for the Lord. As the ego slowly dissolves, refined qualities such as humility, simplicity, honesty and calmness are developed. These virtues then help us deal with criticism in a manner closer to what the Masters prescribe.
Thereafter, we learn the value of listening more and speaking less. The spirit of love that diligent and constant meditation engenders opens the mind and invokes a kind of humility. This then allows us to take every criticism as an opportunity to improve and become better human beings.