Praise and blame are like echoes that don’t ultimately exist, explains Rose Taylor. But we still have to know how to work with it.
If you know that all the many utterances of praise and blame
Are sound-emptiness, unborn,
Like the sounds of guitars, echoes, and thunder in the sky
Then all attachment and aversion to these sounds of praise and blame
Will be completely pacified.
—Unchanging Sky’s Beautiful Melody, Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche
As conveyed in this verse, the Buddhist teachings on genuine reality tell us how praise and blame are merely empty sounds with no true existence. In essence, they are no different. We are able to distinguish the concepts of praise and blame only by contrasting each with its opposite—each depends on its opposite for its own definition. They do not have any independent identity in themselves. These sounds of praise and blame are merely unborn sounds, like echoes reverberating or thunder rumbling in the sky.
The Relationship Between Praise and Blame
Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, teaching in Spain in 1995, spoke of praise and blame this way: “The more people there are who praise you, the more people there will be who criticize you. For example, if you become president a lot of people support you and praise you, but then more and more people also criticize you.”
Working With Praise
While praise and blame are not ultimately true, that does not mean that we should disregard them outright. There are skillful methods for working with the praise and blame we receive.
Working With Blame
When we find ourselves the object of another’s blame or criticism, it is good to try to establish a balance in our reaction between being open to the criticism and learning what we can from it and not being overwhelmed and utterly discouraged.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said that one of the greatest gifts we can receive or offer is genuine feedback. So, when someone criticizes us, it can be very beneficial for us to listen openly to what they are saying. There is a Chinese proverb with a similar meaning, “Words that are good for us to hear, do not sound pleasant.” What is beneficial for us to hear is not necessarily the easiest thing to hear, nor is it always the easiest thing for others to tell us.
The Importance of Adversity
In his commentary on Atisha’s slogan, Be grateful to everyone, Trungpa Rinpoche discusses how important it is to have these moments of adversity in our lives. “If everything was lovey-dovey and jellyfishlike, there would be nothing to work with,” he says in Training the Mind. “Everything would be completely blank. Because of all these textures around us, we are enriched. Therefore, we can sit and practice and meditate.” By having these moments of discord, our mind’s habits are illuminated; we see the ways in which we are attached, what we want, and what we want to avoid. When someone offers a negative view of our actions, it challenges our carefully constructed self-image. We clearly see where we get stuck, what makes us angry, and where our patience, compassion, and skillfulness are limited. In this way, if we bring such moments of difficulty to the path and use them to discover more about ourselves, then they are a great gift.
On the other hand, some of us overly fixate on the blame and criticism we receive from others. We replay it in our minds over and over again, and it keeps us awake at night. If this occurs, our view needs to be broadened. We have become too focused on this one instance, carrying it around with us wherever we go, long after the discussion has finished. Trungpa Rinpoche advises: “Whatever takes place… do not take [it] all that seriously. Whatever comes up… do not regard [it] as the ultimate, final problem, but as a temporary flare-up that comes and goes.” In such moments, it is worth expanding our view, recognizing that we can never please everyone all the time. We are always on this shaky ground in samsara; we can never get things quite right, we can never make everyone happy. What one person appreciates, another dislikes. As Milarepa sang to one of his main female students, Sahle Ö, “Trying to make others happy is endless.”
The Ultimate Witness
Even though you try to engage skillful methods for working with praise and blame, if you find yourself getting confused and losing your sense of what is an accurate interpretation of your actions, then this slogan from Atisha is very useful: Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one. As Trungpa Rinpoche explains, “You should not just go along with other people’s opinion of you. The practice of this slogan is: always be true to yourself.”
While there are some who criticize me,
Why rejoice when others praise me?
While there are some who praise me,
Why be offended when others criticize me?
The True Nature of Praise and Blame
In a song that Milarepa sings to the teacher Shakya Guna, he advises him not to be attached to the fame, comforts, and happiness of this life, and not to fixate on conventional terms. At one point, he sings, “Criticism and praise are echoes, don’t you understand?” In doing so, he is encouraging both Shakya Guna, and us as well, to use wisdom that realizes the true nature of reality to work with such worldly concerns as praise and blame.
Rose Taylor teaches meditation, Buddhist philosophy, yogic exercise, and dance. She co-translated Stars of Wisdom by Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso, and is a contributing author to Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind: Writings on the Connections Between Yoga and Buddhism.