Updated: May 31
Dear Sensei- I have been heavily criticized by certain people about some actions I have taken. It was not my intention to hurt anyone. What should I do? Thank you, Barbara.
Hi Barbara- What an important question, especially in today’s current cultural milieu. Before we begin, it is important to express the feelings that have arisen from this criticism. Do it privately in your own meditation or with a trusted friend. If we do not acknowledge how we are really feeling then it will be difficult to become clear. By being completely honest with ourselves we can unpack a situation that hooks us by using the Four Questions of Mindfulness (see my books, Free Your Mind and the The Three Principles of Oneness https://www.asksenseitony.com/store).
Let me offer the following points:
1. In our spiritual community, The Dragonfly Sangha, we have Precepts that help guide us in making decisions. The first step is to ask ourselves if our intention is to cause harm to another. If the answer is “yes” then we should stop and seek counsel from persons we respect and believe are wise. In the Four Directions System of Mindfulness, we distinguish between harm and hurt. Harm is always intentional, while hurt is unavoidable. No matter what we do or don’t do, someone may feel hurt. And while we can be compassionate towards this hurt, we are not responsible for it. I cannot control the feelings of another, nor can anyone control mine. If the answer to our question above is “no” then we move to the second question: will this enhance my being? If the answer is “yes”, we ask ourselves the third question: will this enhance the being of another? If we can affirm this one as well, then we can act freely, all the while acknowledging that not everyone will agree with our actions.
2. No one likes to be criticized, so the most basic practice we can undertake is to stop criticizing others. If every time we began to criticize someone we knew that our own imperfections would also be scrutinized, we would hesitate and probably cease, unless we are self righteous, which is usually based upon the most insipid form of self delusion.
3. The Buddha taught that as long as we perceive ourselves as a victim we will never be free. Furthermore, that perception of victimhood will color every experience we have. When someone tries to harm us we have the right to defend ourselves. However, if we do so from the motive of victimization, then we disempower ourselves and will act out of hatred and greed.
So what can you do when someone criticizes you? You can employ your personal freedom and engage in the way of liberation: Stop criticizing others unless you wish to be criticized. Take personal responsibility for your own life and actions and stop blaming others or the world for your problems. Don’t engage those who wish to harm you unless necessary and then do so from a place of mindful equanimity. Protect yourself but also offer compassion. Like a good martial artist, only apply the defense needed. Living this way is not easy at first. We are conditioned to seek revenge in an attempt to assuage our personal pain or make the other feel the pain that we have felt. We have been taught that an “eye for an eye” is just. But the path of Oneness transcends this by admonishing compassion even to those who would seek to harm us. And we cannot do this if we have not taken refuge in our True Self. The admonition of Christ to “love your enemies” is not possible and seems absurd if we are only living out of the contingent and transient way of the Ego Self. The Third Principle of Oneness reveals to us that our true nature is clear, connected and creative and that our love is boundless. I hope this helped. Please contact me for more personal guidance.