Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
Rasing Our Spiritual Standards
Chapter 5
The Priceless Value of Criticism
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Part 2

Hearing Criticism, Just Hearing it Out, Does Not Mean That it is True

Hearing criticism, just hearing it out, does not mean that it is true. I learned that no one can say something good or bad about me and affect me without my consent. What I have to do is hear it all, and keep a cool head—or wait until my head cools—and then sift through the points, and see if they are applicable, true, or false, useful, or useless, and then do the needful.

For those in a position of leadership, this practice of giving aural receptivity to criticism is indispensable. In “To Lead Is to Serve”, Shar McBee writes,

“One way to judge our effectiveness as a leader is the amount of honest feedback that we get.”

To get that honest feedback we have to create an atmosphere of openness; otherwise, people will tell us what they know we want to hear and not what we need to hear. We do not just wait for honest feedback; we seek it out. Lord Rama went out in disguise when he wanted honest feedback from His citizens.

From a Krishna conscious point of view, a devotee is not only supposed to be humble, and therefore receptive to having some flaws pointed out, either in his understanding or performance, but he is supposed to be self-examining. Since that is the most difficult task, anyone who can help us on this path is actually serving our super objective—that person is helping us to progress towards prema. This is the wisdom behind the statement, “You do not grow from praise.” It is the same wisdom behind Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s saying,

“Who praises me is my enemy; who chastises me is my friend.”

Not because of the chastisement or criticism per se, but because the person is really trying to bring out the best in me. Emerson put it like this:

“Our chief want in life is someone who will make us do what we can.”

And Prabhupada, when asked what is the meaning of guru-krpa, said,

“When I push you.”

He accompanied his statement with a prodding motion of his forefinger. That krpa is not the exclusive domain of the guru—anyone who pushes us to do better is giving us mercy, even a nondevotee. Or it may still be taken as guru-krpa because one may think,

“My guru is pushing me through this person.”

Unfortunately, the all too human tendency gets the better of us and we resent criticism out of hand. As someone said,

“Men rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

Quotes Applicable to Chapter 5:

Equanimity is sometimes a symptom of indifference and not of mastered emotions. (Or it may be a symptom of ignorance or impoverished ethics). —Anon

Men in authority will always think criticism of their policies dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive. —Henry Steele Commager

Wisdom: possession of experience and knowledge together with the power of applying it critically or practically. —Concise Oxford Dictionary

There is no greater lie than a truth misunderstood. —William James

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