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Emotions : Handling Criticism

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at various locations (Last Updated Apr 1, 2014)

Criticism of Mother
Rinpoche sent the following letter to a student who had written saying that her mother was criticized a lot, and what could she do to help her.

My very dear Catherine,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. I am sorry for the delay in replying.

Yes, you are right, it is your mother’s karma that people criticize her. Maybe in the past she criticized others, maybe also she told lies to others.

In regards to how you can help, one thought that came to me is this: when people criticize your mother, actually this is an incredible practice for you. Of course, the people who criticize her are a most precious opportunity for your mother, in her life, like a wish-granting jewel, if she can use it. Your wish is that people only praise your mother and not criticize, but here I will explain why this is actually so important and how you can use it.

First, you take all this criticism on yourself, what people are saying about your mother, and give it to your ego, the self-cherishing thought, and totally eliminate it, like a bomb. Remember that the self-cherishing thought is the enemy, that it is the self-cherishing thought that did not allow you to achieve enlightenment in the past, from beginningless rebirths, did not allow you to even achieve liberation from samsara, and did not allow you to achieve any realizations of the lam-rim.

The self-cherishing thought has only cheated and deceived you, caused all problems, obstacles, and sufferings. Think: as long as this self-cherishing thought abides in my heart, it will cause me harm in the future. As long as this self-cherishing thought abides in my heart there is no end to suffering, no enlightenment, no liberation, no attainments, constant suffering in samsara, and constant experience of obstacles. Every time there is criticism, do this meditation, then the self-cherishing thought is destroyed.

The object that the self-cherishing thought cherishes—the object “I,” the “real I” that is cherished by the self-cherishing thought, real in the sense of existing from its own side, not merely labeled by the mind, the “I” that exists—is what is merely labeled by the mind. This is the false “I,” which appears to be not merely labeled by the mind. That is destroyed; you see it is completely, totally empty. Try to see that, stay in that state, and feel that whenever you can.

Then you give your happiness, all the merits of the three times, past, present, and future, all the resulting happiness, including enlightenment, to these people. They receive everything: the whole path to enlightenment, and they get enlightened and become the deity.

Your mother can do the same thing; this is a very good practice. You are using the other people’s criticism as a path to achieve enlightenment. This means you are using the other people’s criticism also as a path to achieve liberation, freedom forever from the ocean of samsaric suffering and its causes—karma and delusions. That means using the criticism becomes a method for liberating sentient beings from the oceans of sufferings in each realm, all the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, and asuras, and bringing them to full enlightenment.

The benefits are unbelievable, there are limitless skies of benefits and advantages that you achieve and that your mother achieves. It also purifies past negative karma; even if you did not think this, this is what happens.

This practice is the best psychology, the most useful psychology. It is the most important teaching, the teaching of bodhicitta. This is the best, most important practice. You are using the other people’s criticism, making the best use of it, and making it most beneficial for yourself.

Western psychology mainly tries to make a person feel comfortable now. The aim is to bring comfort to the person now, whether the explanation is right or wrong. That is the main goal, that they hope will happen. Here, what I am saying, means that day to day, moment by moment, you have peace in your heart. Your mind is so unbelievably happy, and you realize that that person (who is criticizing) is the most precious, most kind person for you. He or she is the most precious and kind because you achieve liberation and enlightenment from that person, because you are able to complete the paramita of patience and generate compassion and bodhicitta. He or she who criticizes you or is angry with you is the only one who causes you to achieve the whole Mahayana path, the five paths, ten bhumis, and higher goals, even the lower path has unbelievable qualities. The eighth and ninth bhumis have qualities we cannot comprehend, it is beyond our concept. It is like buddhahood for us; those bodhisattvas are like Buddha to our limited mind.

Buddha’s holy body, holy speech, and holy mind have limitless skies of qualities, so he or she who criticizes is the one who causes you to achieve all these paths and bhumis, all these incredible qualities, and all Buddha’s qualities within you. You see how they are most precious, most kind to you. They liberate you and make you collect unbelievable merit, so that helps you also to realize emptiness and be free from samsara, by ceasing the causes: karma and delusion, and the root—ignorance.

Doing these practices protects you from getting angry, so this protects you from creating negative karma, from harming others, and then causing others to get angry at you so that they create negative karma with their body, speech, and mind towards you.

It does all this; it is unbelievable. It stops you from going to the lower realms and bringing others to the lower realms—this is unbelievable. To understand this you need to think about the most unimaginable sufferings of the hell realm, hungry ghost realm, and animal realm. It is most unbearable, especially the hell realm. Thought transformation, especially bodhicitta, protects not only you, but also so many sentient beings, even in this life. You protect so many sentient beings from being reborn in the lower realms and experiencing oceans of unbelievable, heavy sufferings.

It says in the teachings: how hot is one tiny spark of fire in the hell realms? If you put all the fire in the human realm together, that is like a snowflake falling or cool air compared to one tiny spark of fire in the hell realms. It is unbearable. That is just one spark, so the rest of the hot hell is inconceivably hot, such as the burning ground and the burning iron house. Imagine an extremely large container with liquid iron and being cooked inside. Now you can imagine.

By practicing thought transformation, especially bodhicitta, you protect yourself and so many sentient beings from this most unbearable suffering in the lower realms, especially in the hells. This is extremely important to think about. If you can, read the lam-rim teachings on the sufferings of the lower realms, or other teachings in other texts. When you read them, try to remember them, to have some idea, so that you know, when you practice Dharma, especially thought transformation and bodhicitta, how it protects you every day, you and so many sentient beings, family members, and other people. You protect so many sentient beings in this life from being reborn in the lower realms and experiencing all those unbearable sufferings.

The other way to think is that when you see people in this life who get angry or criticize you or your mother, think that they are most precious, like wish-fulfilling jewels. In fact, they are more precious than that. In reality, a wish-fulfilling jewel is nothing, it is just something you can find and see how precious it is. But this situation, when you use thought transformation practice, brings you to enlightenment and enables you to liberate numberless sentient beings from the oceans of suffering and bring them to enlightenment. Even wish-fulfilling jewels cannot do that. You cannot generate compassion towards a wish-fulfilling jewel; a wish-fulfilling jewel does not have a suffering mind and does not have anger.

Please try to practice like this. Please also find attached the practices that you should focus on in this life. It is very important, every day, to meditate on the lam-rim, also, to recite one lam-rim prayer every day, reading it slowly, going over the meaning (such as the Foundation of all Good Qualities, the Three Principles of the Path, etc). You need to actualize the lam-rim, no matter how long it takes. Please put your effort into this.

Please practice as much as you can— life is not long, the nature of this life is impermanent, and death can happen at any time. This is the foundation of Buddha’s teachings, and this was the last advice Buddha gave before showing the aspect of passing away.

What makes your life most meaningful is meditation on the lam-rim, then to live your life with a bodhicitta motivation. This is the best.

With much love and prayers...

Criticism
Rinpoche made the following comments on how to deal with criticism.

Bad reputation is very powerful to use for your practice, and it should be used that way. As a Kadampa geshe once said, "If someone criticizes you, this destroys your mistakes; it blows away immediately one’s own mistakes. If you are praised, it causes pride/the ego to inflate and causes great pride."

These are some quotations for transforming bad conditions into happiness by looking at them as positive, favorable conditions:

"If one has wealth, there is suffering in collecting and protecting it. If one is poor, this is the objectivity of Dharma."

"Suffering is the broom clearing away negative karmas."

"Suffering is the manifestation of emptiness (this means to look at the nature of suffering as empty, by meditating on its emptiness). Then, the suffering doesn't bother you. Seeing it as inherently existing, real suffering disturbs the mind, the mind becomes easily overwhelmed by a problem, whereas the other way – seeing its emptiness – the mind is able to overwhelm the problem like a flood."

"Suffering is the blessing or kindness of the guru." Here, the blessing is the purification of negative karma, suffering being the result of negative karma (which is now ending).

Geshe Kharag Gomchung said, "Bad or adverse conditions are the virtuous friend, these obstacles are the inspiration persuading you to practice virtue."

"Suffering is the result of my negative karma, therefore don't dislike it or look at it as an obstacle."

Transforming bad conditions into happiness by looking at them as positive, favorable conditions is the way to make problems, bad conditions, beneficial, by using them as the path to enlightenment. How? Meditating on loving kindness and bodhicitta destroys the ego. We use them as a weapon to destroy the self-cherishing thought, which brings all obstacles. So, meditate on bodhicitta and wisdom.

In your case, use all the criticism and bad reputation, whether it is a result of your mistake or not, to destroy your ego and self-cherishing thought, which blocks one from achieving enlightenment. As long as self-cherishing abides in one’s heart, it stops one achieving enlightenment and benefiting all sentient beings. You can think of the kindness of the other person that helps you to destroy your ego. Usually, you are always supporting your ego, even developing it. Now, this person (the enemy) is helping to destroy your self-cherishing thought, so what is regarded as your enemy is really your most kind friend!

What we do is use undesirable situations, loss, etc., as experiences to be of most benefit to all sentient beings. This is not just making one’s own life emotionally happy, for some temporary peace.

There are other thought transformation teachings – so many ways you can make your life experience most beneficial for yourself and others. The essence is – if you are happy, make it beneficial for sentient beings; if you are suffering, use it as the cause to bring happiness to others. This way, whatever kind of life experience you have, use it on the path. There is no interruption to Dharma practice, and one’s life is most beneficial.

Go Tsampa said, "Others’ mistakes are one’s own mistakes. Clarify the appearance of the mistake into the deity." This means, however one is treated is the result of one’s own negative karma. Even if others create a bad reputation for you, and there is no apparent cause from your side to experience the result, still, you have to have created the cause. You can see what this yogi is saying. The second part of this technique is looking at that person as the guru, even visualizing that person in the form of a deity. This stops anger and negative emotional thoughts arising and the suffering results of those.

Geshe Kharag Gomchung said, "Experiencing this small suffering now finishes past negative karma, and there will be happiness in future lives. Because it finishes past negative karma, be happy for the suffering."

Advice When Criticized
Rinpoche made the following comments on what to do when you are criticized.

One of our resident teachers did fundraising for his students in a monastery in south India, to build a house for them. However, the other monks in the monastery complained to our resident geshe, saying that he raised funds but the monastery didn’t get them. So there were a lot of complaints about that interpretation of that belief. So I advised him, this is the time to use the eight verses of thought transformation. A monk at one monastery criticized a geshe, so the geshe went to the monastery and made a tea offering. While they were having the tea he stood up during the puja and thanked all the monks for criticizing him.

Before he went, I mentioned to the geshe the fifth stanza: When somebody, out of jealousy, with bad thoughts to harm you, criticizes or blames you, for something you didn’t do, offer the victory to others and take the loss on yourself. I said that this is what the Kadampa geshes used to practice, and if possible you should do this. If you cannot do it this way, you should practice patience toward the monk who complained, who blamed you, and who wrote letters. You should explain to the monastery’s community of monks and clarify what happened, and what you didn’t do.

Public Criticism
Rinpoche gave the following advice to a benefactor who was receiving a lot of criticism publicly, to the point where he was contemplating suing for libel.

My very dear Tom,
On a personal level, you can use the criticism for your practice. As for the outer level, that depends on what is most beneficial for others. If it is beneficial for others, then you can sue.

It is very powerful to use your reaction to the criticism in your practice. As a Kadampa Geshe once said, "If someone criticizes you, it destroys your mistakes, it blows away mistakes immediately. If one is praised, it inflates pride and ego." In the same text it also says, "If one has wealth, there is suffering – to collect and protect it." And, "Suffering is the broom clearing away negative karmas…. Suffering is the manifestation of emptiness [this means to look at the nature of suffering as empty]. By meditating on its emptiness, then the suffering doesn't bother you. Seeing it as inherently existing, real suffering disturbs the mind. The mind becomes easily overwhelmed by the problem, whereas the other way – seeing its emptiness, the mind is able to overwhelm the problem like a flood." With awareness of emptiness, there is no strong belief in inherently existing suffering.

Also, it is mentioned "that suffering is the blessing or kindness of the guru". Here, the blessing is the purifying of negative karma, suffering being the result of negative karma (which is now finishing).

It also mentions that "Spirit possessions are an action of the Victorious One". This means that an attack or harm by spirits, which causes problems or sickness, is an act of the Buddha to benefit oneself, to purify one’s negative karma.

Geshe Kharag Gomchung said, "Bad or adverse conditions are the virtuous friend. These obstacles are the inspiration persuading you to practice virtue…. Suffering is the result of negative karma, therefore don't dislike it or look at it as an obstacle."

These are some quotations for transforming bad conditions into happiness by looking at them as positive, as a favorable condition. This is the way to make problems and bad conditions beneficial, by using them as the path to enlightenment. How? By meditating on loving kindness and bodhicitta. These destroy the ego. We use them as a weapon to destroy the self-cherishing thought, which brings all obstacles. So, please meditate on bodhicitta and wisdom.

If you look at His Holiness the Dalai Lama's situation, his way of achieving freedom is through non-violent, peaceful means, but, at the same time, he will always clarify what is true and what is false, for example, with the mainland communist Chinese. This is what you need to do when you are a leader. But in one’s own individual case, you offer the victory to others and take the loss on yourself. In His Holiness the Dalai Lama's case, he represents 6,000,000 Tibetans, so final decisions are based on whatever is most beneficial for most sentient beings.

In your case, use all the criticism and bad reputation, whether it is due to your own mistake or not, to destroy your ego and self-cherishing thought, which blocks one achieving enlightenment. As long as self-cherishing abides in one’s heart, it stops one achieving enlightenment and benefiting all sentient beings. You can think of the kindness of the other person, that he is helping you to destroy your ego. Usually, we are always supporting our ego, even developing it. Now, this person is helping to destroy the self-cherishing thought, so what we regard as an enemy is really our most kind friend.

So, use undesirable situations, losses, etc. as experiences to be of most benefit to all sentient beings. This is not just to make one’s own life happy, for some temporary peace.

There are so many ways you can make your life experience most beneficial for yourself and others. The essence is that if you are happy, make your happiness beneficial for sentient beings, and if you are suffering, use it as the cause to bring happiness to others. This way, whatever kind of life experience you have, you use it on the path. There is no interruption to your Dharma practice and one’s life is most beneficial.

Go Tsampa said, "Others’ mistakes are one’s own mistakes, clarify the appearance of the mistake into the deity." This is saying that however one is treated is the result of one’s own negative karma. Even if others create a bad reputation for you, even if there is no apparent cause from your side to experience this result, still you have created the cause. So, you can see what this he is saying. The second part of this technique is looking at that person who criticizes you as a guru, even visualizing that person in the form of a deity. This stops anger, negative emotional thoughts, and suffering results arising.

Geshe Kharag Gomchung said, "Experiencing this small suffering now finishes past negative karma and leads to happiness in future lives. As it is eliminating past negative karma, be happy for the suffering."

With much love and prayer...

Dealing with Criticism
Rinpoche gave the following advice to an airline stewardess who was receiving a lot of criticism and harm.

My very dear Caroline,

These are the things you have to practice: Mantra Promised by Tara, Guru Rinpoche’s prayer dispelling obstacles, and the mantra below for dispelling harm and criticism:

OM GHASA OM SHA KUN HRI TSID DHA KHA LA MA BA* TSIGHA SU SKA SU BAB SWAHA

(* The Ba is pronounced lightly.)

With much love and prayers...

Bruised Ego 
Rinpoche gave the following advice for situations where one’s ego gets bruised.

When one’s ego is harmed, one should rejoice. How great it is! How wonderful it is! In the same way as ordinary people react when their enemy is harmed or when some trouble happens to them, one should rejoice and feel so happy when one’s ego is hurt. Exactly like that, one should think: How fantastic it is for this ego to be harmed!

If a person is practising lam-rim, thought transformation, and bodhicitta, then when something hurts their ego, they should think, “How fortunate! This is exactly what I need. Let the ego have this, and even greater harm!”

The stronger the harm to the ego, the more quickly one destroys the ego. Without ego, there is bodhicitta, and when there is bodhicitta, one creates so much merit and that leads one to generate wisdom quickly. Then one can accumulate the two causes, and achieve enlightenment. That is the purpose of being alive. It is what makes life meaningful.

Without bodhicitta, it is not possible to get enlightened. The highest level you can reach is that of arhat. The reason why the arhat cannot achieve enlightenment is lack of bodhicitta. So think, “How wonderful it is that my ego is being harmed.”

Treat the ego the way many Americans treat Osama bin Laden: How pleased they are when his cause is harmed. Think, my ego is trillions of times more harmful than bin Laden.

Handling Criticism
A woman in Delhi, whose name was often in the press, had received criticism that she felt was unfair. She was extremely upset about this adverse press coverage, and came to ask for advice.

When something like this happens, think in this way: “I am not going to be here in this world forever, in Delhi with these society people.” This is also useful when experiencing very hurtful relationship problems, if the situation is really heavy and you feel you can’t bear it.

Think like this: “Actually, death can happen any time. Even today, at any moment, death can happen to me. So what is the point in being worried about bad reputation and all those words? There is no point at all.

“Even if I am criticized by every human being in this world, even by animals, insects, hell beings, hungry ghosts, devas, and asuras, it is nothing. It is not the first time I have experienced being criticized. Numberless times in the past I have experienced this. Not only have I been criticized, I have also had good reputations numberless times in the past, not only in this life, in past lives. Numberless times, I have had a great reputation. I have been the most famous person in the world.”

So, good and bad reputations are nothing new in samsara, and life is so short. It is like a dream, a one-time dream. It happens, and then it is gone. Like the duration of lightning, there’s a vivid appearance and the next minute, it’s gone. Thinking about impermanence and death is extremely important.

Regarding good reputation, it is said in the teachings by Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi who became enlightened in one brief lifetime, that even though the sound of a thundering dragon is loud, it is empty sound. Even though the rainbow has such beautiful colors, it still disappears. The thundering sound refers to good and bad reputation, and the rainbow’s beautiful colors refer to a beautiful body.

The conclusion to what Milarepa is saying is not to cling. Of course, it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t have a good reputation. One can have a good reputation with a good heart. If having a good reputation is useful and it benefits others, then it is good, only in order to benefit and cause happiness to other living beings.

I often say in my lectures, having power and influence brings great danger for oneself and the world if one does not have a good heart in life. Therefore, these things, power and influence, are meaningless. But when one has a good heart and a mind to benefit others, having influence and power can be used to cause happiness for others. In these ways, these things become very meaningful.

In just this way, His Holiness the Dalai Lama or Shakyamuni Buddha have the best reputation, because there is no delusion, no defilements. The mind is completely pure and the actions are completely pure and performed only for others, not only with compassion and perfect power but with all wisdom and all the skills, so there is nothing to blame or to complain about. There is no cause for a bad reputation.

I did an observation and it came out that it is very good for you to talk to the press. It indicated this would be very beneficial for the problem.

According to Western terminology, here is the best psychology. Or, in Buddhism, according to meditation, this is how one can transform problems into happiness: by enjoying the problems.

Not only can one enjoy having a good reputation, one can enjoy having a bad reputation. How? The secret key is to think of the benefits of having a bad reputation and to think of the advantage you gain from it. The most important benefit, the most extensive, precious, and greatest advantage, and the basic technique to gain it, is to use the problem. Use the reputation to destroy your ego, which is your biggest main enemy. The ego makes you encounter all the problems and causes others to abuse you, criticize you, and give you your bad reputation. If you destroy the ego, there is only ultimate good heart—in Sanskrit, bodhicitta: the thought of benefiting others, cherishing others; that very pure holy mind.

Having that makes you holy, called a bodhisattva, and ultimately makes you become a buddha. How? By making your mind cease all mistakes, defilements, and complete all the good qualities of the realizations. The advantage for you in becoming a perfect buddha is that the purpose of your life is not only to achieve happiness for yourself, but to cause happiness for all living beings, and free them from all the sufferings. By greatly benefiting others and bringing them to full enlightenment, peerless happiness, you also become a buddha and you have omniscience, perfect, complete, peerless power to cause all happiness for every living being, including enlightenment.

Experiencing problems for other living beings means developing compassion and loving kindness. By experiencing problems for others this way, you collect merit, good karma as vast as the sky, and the cause of happiness, and you purify inconceivable negative defilements. Whenever you encounter problems, you experience them for numberless others who are experiencing similar problems now and in the future.

This is how one can enjoy problems, gaining benefits as great as the sky. Each time you experience problems for others, you come closer to enlightenment, peerless happiness. With a good heart, when you are working for others, you are purifying so much of your own negative karma. It definitely gets purified, especially when you bear hardships working for others.

It is also mentioned in the teachings by the Kadampa Geshes, the great saints, that it is good that one gets criticized. Why? Because it is said by them that if one is praised by others, it develops pride. It lifts up the mind and makes one stuck up. But if one is criticized, it destroys one’s mistakes immediately. These mistaken actions bring problems now and in the future for oneself and for others. But if one is criticized, one comes to realize the mistakes that one was not aware of and this inspires one to change one’s attitude and life.

If one has comfort and happiness from having a good reputation or other things called good (one has to adapt this to one’s own circumstances), it sets ablaze the five poisonous delusions. If one is unhappy and suffering, that is, if one has problems, it finishes the negative karmas collected in the past. This is due to the guru’s kindness. Not everyone believes in the term ‘God’ so one can change the term from ‘God’ into ‘guru’. When the term guru doesn’t fit, then one can use the term God.

Problems are manifestations of emptiness, the ultimate nature. When one encounters unfortunate and undesirable situations, the teachings show how to look at them as positive.

It is also useful to think about His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whose qualities are beyond our conception, and who benefits numberless living beings in the world, and yet even many Tibetan people criticize His Holiness, although they themselves are Buddhists.

When Shakyamuni Buddha was in India, there were often sentient beings who criticized the Buddha, even though the Buddha has no delusions, no self-cherishing, no ignorance, no attachment, and no defilements. And, of course ,we are ordinary beings filled with delusions and continually making mistakes, so therefore it is natural that we get a bad reputation and criticism from others.

By thinking this way, relax and be happy when problems come. Just enjoy them, by using the problems for meditation. Think of the benefit, the unbelievable opportunity to quickly develop the mind on the path.

This way of thinking is not only for now. It can be used in all of your daily life. It is the best meditation.

More talks by Lama Zopa on this topic:
The Faults of Criticizing and Blaming Others
(a letter from Lama Zopa Rinpoche)