If you are despised by others and are about to drop into hell because of evil karma from your previous life, then because you are despised by others, the evil karma of your previous life will be extinguished.
Enemies and friends start to change places. And then there is Mark Twain: “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” Whenever what is pompous and expected is exploded we have already entered the joy of the Buddha. The sixth precept is intended to prevent spiritual correctness. Let’s observe it
Judgmental criticism is one thing; judicious criticism is actually a gift. That’s why the Buddha never formulated a precept against talking about other people’s faults or errors, because there are times when you have to speak up against harmful behavior. Otherwise it goes uncorrected, people take it as a model, and the civilization slips one notch further away. When asked if he would say anything displeasing, the Buddha responded with the analogy of a child who has put a sharp object in its mouth. You have to get the object out, even if it means drawing blood, for you don’t want the child to swallow the object and come to even greater harm.
So how do you know if your criticism is going to be judicious? Ask yourself four questions before you say it: Is it true? Is it beneficial? Is this the right time and place to say it? Am I the right person to say this? If you can honestly answer Yes to all four questions, go ahead with your comments. Even then, though, you have to look at their results. If you see that they weren’t actually beneficial or timely, learn from your mistake. That’s how your discernment grows.
What a relief not to speak about others’ errors and faults! The essence of the sixth precept is about intimacy and encourages us not to distance ourselves through judging and gossiping. It is not encouraging nondiscernment and stupidity. But it suggests that one of the heaviest karmas is to divide or demoralize the sangha, and gossiping, third-party communication certainly does this. I n a time when gossip makes headlines and speech is used to divide, not unite, we must be especially vigilant. So retrieve all your projections—“You spot it, you got it”—and enjoy the healing force of right speech.
Whenever we find fault with others, whether through anger, contemptuous certainty, self-righteousness, or gossip, it is often based in fear. We may not be aware of our fears, but when we look deeply, we may discover the fear of rejection, loss of control, of unworthiness, or the fear of disconnection. But refraining alone is not enough—by itself it is just behavior modification—and it is neither healing nor transformative. Only through uncovering and consciously entering into the deep hole inside, welcoming the fear with curiosity and compassion, can we ultimately reconnect with the basic wholeness of our true nature.
Start your day with a fresh perspective
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.