Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Praise And Blame

In my experience, most western-born monks talking to western-born audiences go right for the tough stuff; non-self, theories of perception, impermanence, or the nature of consciousness, and so on. In contrast, an Asian-born monk talking to an Asian audience is more likely to deal with more everyday practical concerns. The emphasis is more likely to be on precepts and finding peace rather than on the higher reaches of philosophy and the detailed route to Enlightenment.

Last night's talk was wonderful example of that. A popular and respected teacher here in Bangkok, Sayadaw U Jotika, originaly from Burma, spoke about 'Praise and Blame' and based his talk on the reference to the eight vicissitudes of life in the Mangala Sutta. He recited the Pali, explained each phrase, and then focused on one small section, explaining why praise and blame are vicissitudes, and giving practical ideas for dealing with them.

Everyone, he pointed out, has been praised, and everyone has suffered criticism at times, even the Buddha. Then Sayadaw went on to talk about his experiences growing up, reading about religion, and struggling to find his own understanding of life, which brought criticism from his family, friends, and society. Ask too many questions, he recounted, and people will soon see you as a nuisance, and even dangerous.

After every few minutes U Jotika, speaking in English, would pause while his talk was translated into Thai, giving the evening a gentle, rolling, rhythm, and in a hall packed with hundreds of people, with the crowd spilling even into the corridors outside, there was a wonderful attentive silence throughout. "But" he said, "the Buddha said not to believe", and it was that which, and U Jotika pointed out the humour in this, brought him to trust and love the Buddha.

"Then it becomes my religion, very personal, and not the same as anyone else's" he said. "Not in a possessive way, but in such a way as it's fully yours and infuses your whole life." And he gave examples of how he himself learnt to deal with blame, based on seeing for himself how his responses worked. At first, when criticised, he'd argue back, later he'd just try to explain, later still he realised that he didn't need to do anything.

In the long run it becomes obvious who is right or wrong. There's no need to say anything. Stop, he said, let go, and move on. This gives you more freedom. If you respond to every criticism, he said, you are a puppet, in the control of others. It's the same if you seek praise. The solution is mindfulness. Pay attention to your mind and the qualities of your mind, pay attention to how you feel when praised or blamed, and you will overcome.

Listen to your own wisdom. And do listen to the advice of people you know to be wise. And when giving criticism to others, as from a parent to a child for example, be calm, he said, make sure the time is right, and don't do it publicly to bring shame on anyone. Educate, don't punish. And don't forget that the biggest critic is yourself, so correct yourself and regain your self-respect.

These lessons from the Mangala Sutra, he repeatedly pointed out, are to be lived and not just recited. Don't be manipulated by praise or blame, and don't use praise and blame to manipulate others. Live out your own life, he said, and don't allow the world to be your master. The less you are effected by the opinions of others, the more you can rely upon mindfulness and your own wisdom, the more freedom and dignity you have.

The evening finished with some chanting, including some of those hymn-like chants that I really love listening to, and many people stayed to make merit and buy copies of U Jotika's books in Thai and English. I bought his most popular book, Snow in Summer, which has sold over a million copies, and hope to read it some time soon. If the book contains the same wisdom and inspiration as I saw in the talk last night, I'm in for a real treat.

(This post was reproduced from Marcus' Journal and photos were taken from Little Bang.)

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