Dealing with Complaints and Criticisms

In the course of working on one of the books I’m writing this year, I’ve been re-reading my notes from various teachings of Buddhist lamas – some my own notes from teachings I attended when I lived in Nepal and India and others from tapes of talks I listened to during that same time.

One of the talks I just read was a commentary on a text called the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation. It contained an instruction, having to do with how we deal with criticism or blame, that seems to me a useful (albeit challenging) one regardless of whether one calls oneself a Christian, a Buddhist or anything else for that matter.

Commenting on a verse that reads, “When, out of envy, others mistreat me with abuse, insults or the like, I shall accept defeat and offer the victory to others” the Lama observed that when we are criticized or unfairly blamed for something, we usually defend ourselves, coming up with lots of explanations of why something isn’t our fault, why we have been mistreated, etc. There is an alternative.

But now you just say, “Excuse me, I’m sorry.” Instead of…fighting, harming others and so on in order to gain the victory, offer it to others, making them happy. Even [if] the whole country, the whole world is complaining about you, instead of reacting and complaining with anger about the others…you should listen to their complaints as much as possible…You usually make yourself miserable by sitting there thinking, “Oh, he’s going to say this or that.” No one is telling you to suffer, you are just causing it yourself. Then when you hear the complaining words, each one is like a heavy rock dropping on your head. So now, instead of letting the situation become the cause of suffering, bring it into the path of enlightenment, [saying] “There is no reason why I should suffer, I’m going to give all these complaints over.

This is not easy advice to follow especially when we are so sure we are right or that we are being treated unfairly. But I think there is much truth to the fact that feeling the need to defend ourselves and make sure everyone knows we are right can cause much suffering to ourselves, let alone suffering to others. How much more peace we would have if could develop the ability to “offer the victory to others.”

Sounds a bit like turning the other cheek, doesn’t it?