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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
57 spring 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly hold onto the moment. If we develop such arrogance based on someone’s appreciation, we should examine whether we can truly claim authorship of this act. We do this by examining all the various causes and condi- tions needed for this action to have occurred. When we do so, we cannot maintain our arro- gance because we know how many things far beyond ourselves also played their part. For instance, when students in my Tibetan class praised my teaching, I would recall all the elements that came together to make such an event successful. I thought of the kind- ness and generosity of my own teachers who shared their knowledge with me that I could now impart to others. Also, I thought of how the students’ intelligence, enthusiasm, and harmonious conduct helped create an envi- ronment conducive to learning for everyone. When we consider things in this kind of light, we do not get carried away by the praise we receive. This is important not just in terms of reducing our propensity for negative men- tal states but also for our own development. If we get too attached to praise, we run the risk of simply trying to recreate whatever previ- ously earned us praise. This can be deadly to our path. We become afraid to explore other ways of doing things and get stuck in imi- tating ourselves. In dharma, we are encour- aged to live in the present moment, in each fresh instance, rather than freeze our experi- ence and no longer relate directly to what is appearing to us. This problematic tendency for self-imita- tion has been noted in the art world. Some artists, writers, and poets who were highly praised and successful in their own lifetimes got stuck for decades in repeating the style that first garnered them critical acclaim. Some of those who were not recognized until after their death were freer with their style and continued developing and evolving. So, what- ever positive feedback we receive, we need to maintain a fresh approach in each moment, just as we do in meditation, by not trying to recreate or hold onto an experience. Every moment requires us to live fully and freshly present. Working With Blame When we find ourselves the object of anoth- er’s blame or criticism, it is good to try to establish a balance in our reaction between being open to the criticism and learning what we can from it and not being overwhelmed and utterly discouraged. First, we create some space around our immediate, instinctive response. Ordinarily we may argue back and delve into a heated debate over the merits of the accusation. Or we may shut the conversation down and refuse to hear what we are being told. Or perhaps we launch a counterattack. Whatever our own individual pattern of reaction, it is good to take a moment to hold ourselves back from knee-jerk reactivity. Open Listening Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said that one of the greatest gifts we can receive or offer is genuine feedback. So, when someone criti- cizes us, it can be very beneficial for us to listen openly to what they are saying. There is a Chinese proverb with a similar meaning, “Words that are good for us to hear, do not sound pleasant.” What is beneficial for us to hear is not necessarily the easiest thing to hear, nor is it always the easiest thing for oth- ers to tell us. Many of us avoid confrontation and giv- ing genuine feedback, preferring the path of least resistance, letting things slide rather than creating a tense situation. The one person I really engage critically is my husband, and I am grateful that he does the same with me. Our strong love for and commitment to each other provide a supportive ground for when we need to have what would otherwise be difficult conversations. So, if someone has the courage to step forward and offer a critique directly to us, the least we can do is hear them out. When we listen openly, without holding onto our own agenda, we are more likely to hear what is being said. Then we can evaluate the information with clarity. If there is merit