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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
59 spring 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly dreams and reflections, merely the coming together of momentary causes and conditions, constantly changing. While acknowledging the details of this criticism, we should not lose sight of the big picture. Just as with praise, we have a light touch; we listen to the criticism, we learn what we can, then we let go. The Ultimate Witness Even though you try to engage skillful meth- ods for working with praise and blame, if you find yourself getting confused and losing your sense of what is an accurate interpreta- tion of your actions, then this slogan from Atisha is very useful: Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one. As Trungpa Rinpoche explains, “You should not just go along with other people’s opinion of you. The practice of this slogan is: always be true to yourself.” It is good to try to hear what others are saying to us, but really listening to ourselves is most important. This does not mean that we should just go along with our superficial men- tal chatter, our wishful thinking, or our neu- rotic self-doubt. Rather let us deeply listen to and tap into our own self-knowledge, rooted in our meditation practice. We all have this self-knowledge—in the Buddhist teachings it is called self-awareness. We know our own experience and no one else can know it or tell us what we are experiencing. As Trungpa Rinpoche says, “You have never been away from yourself for even a minute. You know yourself so well. Therefore, you are the best judge of yourself.” Because we know our- selves better than anyone else, taking the time and space to hear our own careful and well-considered praise and criticism is highly beneficial. That is what will be most accurate. In Entering the Bodhisattvas’ Way of Life, Shantideva provides a simple verse on main- taining some sense of equanimity and not being too heavy-handed in our approach to praise and blame: While there are some who criticize me, Why rejoice when others praise me? While there are some who praise me, Why be offended when others criticize me? The True Nature of Praise and Blame In a song that Milarepa sings to the teacher Shakya Guna, he advises him not to be attached to the fame, comforts, and happiness of this life, and not to fixate on conventional terms. At one point, he sings, “Criticism and praise are echoes, don’t you understand?” In doing so, he is encouraging both Shakya Guna, and us as well, to use wisdom that real- izes the true nature of reality to work with such worldly concerns as praise and blame. In addition to the skillful methods described above, we should also recall the ultimate reality of praise and blame—they are merely sound-emptiness, like echoes. We do not ignore them, because they do appear. But neither do we fixate on them because they are not truly existent, they are emptiness. And we know that they are empty, not truly existent, because we cannot have the concept of praise without its opposite, blame, and yet we cannot know blame without knowing what praise is. Praise and blame are only dependently existent; they have no inde- pendent nature of their own. When we are praised or blamed, then, we should consider these circumstances to be just like a person being praised or blamed in a dream. We ourselves are not truly exis- tent, solid entities, nor are any of the phe- nomena we interact with. In this way, we know the equality of praise and blame; their essential nature is exactly the same, appearance-emptiness. Holding a sense of this equality in our experience is what allows us to maintain some stability and sanity in the face of seem- ingly extremely divergent appearances. While we do not deny the relative differences in our experiences, most of us have wandered too far from the essential nature of our experi- ences. This is like being seated on the end of a seesaw; it causes us to be thrown up and down by events. If we can move to the center of the seesaw, to the heart of our experience, we become more balanced and stable. This is the way we experience one-taste, equality.