Sunday, June 16, 2013

Valid Criticism or Being Judgemental?

Source: AOL 2003 by Kathy Aitken

Q. Valid criticism or being judgemental -What is the difference?

A. When we encounter the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, one of the first things we learn is the importance of not committing slander. However, many of us are confused as to what this means, possibly due to the imprint left on us by our previous exposure to non-Buddhist doctrines. Does it mean we should never say anything ‘negative’ about anybody or anything? Should we simply keep our mouths shut, even in the face of injustice?

Even a cursory read of Nichiren Daishonin’s writings will show that this was not his approach. On the contrary, he was an outspoken critic of those priests whom he considered embraced inferior teachings, as well as the government of his day. He was not averse to heated debate and remonstrated with the Kamakura shogunate on three occasions. Furthermore, his letters to his disciples, whilst offering hope and encouragement, also contain warnings and admonishments. What can we learn from this?

We need to understand that the Daishonin was motivated solely by his boundless compassion for humanity. As the first person to express in words the fundamental Law governing the universe – Nam-myoho-renge-kyo – his foremost concern was to save the entire world from the injurious effects of teachings that do no embody this truth. There are exists in Nichiren Daishonin’s example, therefore, a very clear precedent for us, his present day followers. Bearing in mind the Buddha’s admonition not to slander – we are warned in one of the Daishonin’s letters ‘The Fourteen Slanders’ against despising, hating, envying and bearing grudges – we would do well to learn how to criticise to good effect. This is not necessarily easy:

For example, we may notice that we are critical of ourselves and others and immediately begin to think of this as bad. However, we are discerning human beings and we all possess a critical faculty. If you are a ‘critical person’ chances are you are also the type of person who reads a newspaper and reads between the lines, or spots the hidden agenda behind political manoeuvring. Kosen-rufu needs people of such discernment – therefor rather than trying to rid ourselves of this tendency per se, Buddhist practice allows us to channel this energy so that it reveals its positive aspects.

Whenever our tendency to be judgemental tries to get the better of us, we might do well to consider whether what we are concerned about really warrants comment or we are simple being pedantic. For instance, we may always chant a certain amount each day – it is our choice – but others may not and that is theirs. All Nichiren Daishonin taught was to continue chanting throughout our lives. We do not have to pick others up on matters to do with Buddhism unless what they are saying or doing represents a serious contradiction to the Daishonin’s teachings. Further whenever we feel tempted to nit-pick about something a fellow member may or may not be doing, perhaps we would do best instead to turn our attention on ourselves and our own practice. More often than not, an imagined fault in someone else is a reflection of something amiss in ourselves.

It is an indictment of our times that being judgemental enjoys such enormous popularity. Frequently though, criticism is made without offering anything positive in return: a case of knocking something down, almost for the sake of it. This is no more than giving vent to personal prejudices, as opposed to valid criticism, which requires thought and effort and aims at being creative rather than destructive. In our relationships with others it is imperative that we draw on our Buddha qualities- particularly in instances of despair and difficulty – and not take the easy way out by responding glibly with comments such as ‘Its’ your karma’ or ‘You’re not practising correctly,’

Such response is tantamount to unhelpful judgement and does nothing to alleviate suffering. If anything, it serves only to make it worse.

Speech being one of the three fundamental ways in which we make causes, it makes sense that we learn to use the faculty wisely and with respect. As SGI President Ikeda says:

‘We are all Buddhas. Therefore, to criticise another is to do the same to a Buddha. Because we are all Buddhas, we should respect each other. The Soka Gakkai should abound with the spirit described in the passage, ‘You should rise and greet him from afar, showing him the same respect you would a Buddha.’

Our aim in practising Buddhism is not only the personal attainment of Buddhahood, but also the creation of a peaceful world based on the Mystic Law. This being an unenlightened age, it will take on accumulation of many actions founded on courage, compassion and wisdom to turn the negative tide of the times in the opposite direction. Whenever we exercise our critical faculties positively, based on chanting to the Gohonzon, we accelerate that process, bringing the time of kosen-rufu that much closer.

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