See the equality of praise and blame,
approval and disapproval, good
and bad reputation,
For they are just like illusions or
dreams and have no true existence.
This verse refers to the Eight Worldly Concerns: wanting to be praised and not wanting to be criticized, wanting happiness and not wanting suffering, wanting gain and not wanting loss, and wanting fame and approval and not wanting rejection and disgrace. We all experience these, don’t we? Even animals probably have them in some slight measure.
I think all of us are concerned in particular about maintaining a good reputation. For example, when I am up here on this throne teaching, from time to time, somewhere in the back of my mind, there appears the thought: How am I doing? How are people going to react to this? Are they going to praise me? Maybe not . . . Oh! That did not go well. Will people criticize me? Whenever this happens I need to catch myself and say, Look, now that I am here on this throne transmitting the dharma teachings, I should not allow myself to be affected like this by the eight worldly concerns.
However, we will find that hopes, fears, and discursive thoughts of every description will come into our minds. Even very pure monks might sometimes harbor a concern in the back of their mind about whether or not people give them a few words of praise. Even worse, they might start trying to impress others in order to receive offerings or be invited to perform rituals. Thoughts like these are really dreadful. The Eight Worldly Concerns can creep up on us, quite stealthily and sneakily, and even when we do something virtuous, they will try to find a way to slip in.
As it says in The Way of the Bodhisattva, praise and a good reputation do nothing to increase our longevity or good health. Maybe if lots of people praised us we might get a bit richer! But apart from that, praise does not make us live longer or in better health or help us in any other way. If people criticize us, it does not make us sick or unhealthy and nor does it shorten our lives. It does not affect us in any substantial way at all.
If we really stop to think about praise and criticism, we will see they do not have the least importance. Whether we receive praise or criticism is of no account. The only important thing is that we have a pure motivation, and let the law of cause and effect be our witness. If we are really honest, we can see that it makes no difference whether we receive praise and acclaim. The whole world might sing our praises, but if we have done something wrong, then we will still have to suffer the consequences for ourselves, and we cannot escape them. If we act only out of a pure motivation, all the beings of the three realms can criticize and rebuke us, but none of them will be able to cause us to suffer. According to the law of karma, each and every one of us must answer individually for our actions.
This is how we can put a stop to these kinds of thoughts altogether, by seeing how they are completely insubstantial, like dreams or magical illusions. When people praise us and we glow with delight, it is because we think that being praised is beneficial. But that is like thinking that there is some substance to a rainbow or a dream. However much benefit appears to accrue from praise and acclaim, actually there’s none at all. However convincing it seems, it is as unreal as a magician’s illusion. And so Longchen advises:
Learn to bear them patiently, as if
they were mere echoes.
In exactly the same way, when somebody says something unpleasant or hurtful to us, we need to learn to be patient and forbearing and remind ourselves that their words are just like the sounds of an echo, equally insubstantial and unreal.
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