the Ven. Ya-un: Cautions about criticizing others

I’ve learned the hard way just how corrosive criticizing and complaining about others can be. I’m sure there are things that are more damaging to us spiritually, but criticizing and analyzing other’s faults has to be near the top of the list.

No matter whether you hear good things or bad things, do not let yourself be affected by them. Being praised when you lack virtue is truly shameful, while having your faults shown to you is a wonderful thing. If you are happy to see your faults, then you will surely correct them, while if you are ashamed of your lack of virtue, then this will spur you on to practice more diligently.

Don’t speak of other people’s faults, because eventually it will return and harm you. If you hear harsh speech or rumors directed towards someone else, look upon that as if someone was slandering your parents. Your criticism of someone else today will become criticism of you tomorrow. All things are impermanent, so whether you are criticized or praised, there is nothing to be happy or upset about.

                           Talking about the things that others have done,
                         “This was right,” 
                         “That was wrong,”
                          from morning until night.
                         At last spending the entire night
                         deep in the haze of slumber.
                         If a monk lives like this,
                         how will he repay
                         all of the donations he has received?
                         Escaping from the three worlds will be
                         truly difficult.

5 thoughts on “the Ven. Ya-un: Cautions about criticizing others”

  1. Hi,

    nice post! But don’t you think it’s sometimes necessary to speak up if you see clear abuse or violence? Criticism doesn’t mean that the motives for criticism are bad or unskillful. If we we don’t speak when it’s time to speak, Buddhism will turn into some fantasy-nambybamby-happy-happy-joy-joy-illusion that will harm everyone: “oh, I’m a Buddhist, I can’t say anything even he/she is harming and no one is doing anything. I’m a Buddhist so I must run away.”. I don’t believe Buddhism is to hide from the reality. I wrote about this in my post:

    All the best to you and thank you for your practice!


  2. I have violated the “precept” of speaking about others so many times and usually have come to regret my speech.

    Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say that the mouth is “the number one problem gate” and all available evidence supports this, at least in my case.

    At the same time, there are times when we must speak out about the behaviors of others. I think about Eido Shimano in this context and the decades of silence that enabled the ongoing abuse of his students.

    What if Aitken Roshi had spoken out in the late 1960s rather than in the last year of his life? How might that speech, had it occurred four decades ago, have helped?

    In recent years, when confronted with some troubling behavior or speech, I’ve tried to examine my own troubling behaviors and words. If I can see how such actions arise within myself, then I can also see clearly how they arise in others. Then I might speak out. (But it’s hit and miss!)

    1. Hi Barry!

      I’m definitely in agreement here.

      I can see enough of my own faults to realize that, (in general) I definitely have no business going on about others’ behavior. That said, there are still times when it’s necessary to have the “hard conversation” with someone, when I have discuss something really unpleasent or uncomfortable.

      I’ve heard of companies that have a “no gossip” policy, where they actually will fire someone who keeps it up. There, they define “gossip” as complaints/criticisms “given” to someone who has no power to do anything about them. I think there is something to this that helps separate the “bitch session” from the “hard conversation”. In the second it actually is my job to do something about it.

      I can kind of imagine some of what’s involved with situations like the one with Shimano. I’d guess that a lot of practitioners (in other places) who only heard glimses of the problem didn’t say anything because they felt that the people best able to actually solve this problem were the ones at that temple. I think this may have played a big role in the silence; plus, as outsiders they may have also felt uncertain about what exactly was going on.

      On the one hand, it seems like that situation is continuing because the people in the middle of it choose to let it continue. So what’s my responsibilty? As near as I can tell, it is to people new to Buddhism who might actually believe those kinds of behavior are “enlightened” or some kind of “non-dual wisdom” or even crap like “Asian culture.”

      I kind of feel for Aitken Roshi, I’ll bet he really regreted not having had the guy deported back in 1964. Aitken Roshi seems to have been an honest and sincere person who was thrown for a loop when confronted for the first time with Shimano’s behavior. At the time, it didn’t fit the traditional “call the police” model for despicable behavior. And he’d probably never encountered anyone like that before. I’m pretty sure that Aitken unconsiously tried to deal with Shimano in the way Aitken normally treated people, as if they were basically honest and sincere. But this model doesn’t work with a compulsive behavior. I don’t think honest people react well, or decisively, to these situations until they’ve been burned once or twice. Until then, it’s something they never really imagined or had a need to think through.

  3. A great post – and you have hit on something that is truly difficult for me – especially in an online context. Sometimes it feels so hard to stay calm and walk away!! I also am very good at self criticism… now thats a tough one.

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