Responding to Criticism

Everyone in the world is a target of criticism. Sometimes it is justified, sometimes it isn’t. Even great saints and sages can be the target of the world’s bitter criticism.

Even those who lead a pure life of prayer and devoted service often face the world’s great indifference and at times criticism. As Sri Aurobindo says in Savitri:

“The day-bringer
Must walk
In darkest night.”

– Sri Aurobindo

Many are the examples of saints and Avatars who came across both resistance and criticism. The great hero of the Ramayana Sri Ramachandra returned from conquering the demon Ravana only to suffer the heedless gossip surrounding his wife Sita. Sri Krishna was forced to fight his own relatives. The Buddha survived several assassination attempts by one of his own monks Devadatta. And the Christ was betrayed by his close disciple, Judas.

It is said to hear criticism of your master and to do nothing is one of the greatest sins. Sri Ramakrishna remonstrated with one his disciples for enduring the false criticism of a man who spoke ill of his Master. Sri Ramakrishna’s philosophy was twofold. If the critics were too powerful, then he advised his disciples to see the critics as being insignificant as ants. However, if the critic was weak and feeble-minded then definitely you should say something.

Different Masters emphasise alternative strategies but whatever their approach on the outer plane. On the inner plane the instinctive

Abraham Lincoln said something most significant. “We destroy our enemies by making friends with them” A true spiritual Masters nature is to identify with suffering humanity. One who has realised the highest realisation sees on an inner plane sees no separation. His nature is to inwardly offer love and forgiveness no matter what he may be forced to do on the outer planes.

However no matter how much love, compassion and forgiveness a spiritual master offers. The ego of humanity can stubbornly resist and remain in ardent criticism if not hatred of the Teacher. In this case, a spiritual Master uses his wisdom. To reply to the critics of the world is a bit like, as Swami Vivekananda noted, trying to straighten the tail of the dog. As soon as you succeed the tail raises again. Therefore we should not engage with negative, destructive criticism. A master knows that aspiring seekers make no progress by dealing with negativity. If it means false criticism goes unanswered the realisation of the Master will be unaffected. For a real Guru, the opinion of the world does not matter. There is a story of a Zen monk that is well known. “Is That So

A master knows that false criticism is like poison to the seeker. Even if the seeker knows it to be completely false, it can still act like a slow lingering doubt, affecting the mind, sowing doubts that have no need to be there. In this case, a real master will attempt to shield his devotees.

But at the same time, the Master knows that by allowing falsehood and unfair criticism to remain the light of the Supreme is blocked. His mission is delayed. If practical steps can be taken to diminish the flow of falsehood then it should be taken. Not only that but those who get caught up in an endless spiral of hate and negativity may not realise how self-destructive their own behaviour is. If action can be taken to bring this to an end. It is definitely a good idea. But a Master is acting always with the welfare of the world in mind and not his own ego.

A spiritual Master knows that the best way to deal with negativity and forces of hostile intent is to focus only on the good and on the light that they can offer. Progress is not made by focusing on the darkness, we make progress by growing into the light.

A spiritual Master may offer his wisdom and light through writings, poetry, and music. Some master may not engage in any manifestation, but his realisation will show even in his face. Sincere seekers of the truth will see and feel something in the Master’s writings, poetry, art and meditation. A spiritual Master will take the attitude “if I can inspire one seeker, if I can be of service to just a few sincere seekers then I will be happy. If others throw criticise me, it is not my responsibility.

For ordinary seekers, we feel the pressing issue of time, but a spiritual master deals with eternal time. He knows that his mission is like sowing seeds, even if his mission doesn’t meet with instant success and acceptance, he is not concerned. There is a saying in the Upanishads.

Satyam eva jayate

“truth alone triumphs”

The Christ had so many bitter enemies, people of power who were jealous or felt threatened. But who remembers their message? 2,000 years later it is the Christ consciousness that is loved and appreciated by aspiring seekers around the world.

When Vivekananda rose to prominence with his lofty message of religious harmony at the World Parliament of Religions he was appreciated and adored by seekers and well-wishers. They were deeply impressed with his radiant personality and genuine spirituality. Yet his success and acclaim brought criticism and slander from both within American and from his native India. But it never detracted from his mission, as Vivekananda explains with this revealing story.

“When elephants go to the market to get bananas, the dogs start to bark widely. The elephants get their bananas and return home. The dogs are still barking but they get nothing…”

Vivekananda had tasted the bliss of nirvana. He knew the criticism of the world could never take this away. 100 years later the immortal message and spirit of Vivekananda is appreciated with the greatest reverence. His critics have long been forgotten.

For a spiritual Master, the most painful criticism is from his own disciples, who for various reasons no longer have faith in their own Guru. Not only can disciples leave but those who had great devotion can occasionally swing to the other extreme, beginning to blame the master for everything. To these former disciples on an outer level, a spiritual master may be obliged to be very strict to preserve harmony within the spiritual community. On an inner level, a spiritual master retains compassion and forgiveness, but this is easily misunderstood, or easily is-underestimated. Jesus knew in advance of his betrayal he knew also he would be denied by his most devoted disciples but in the action of Judas, he still saw the will of God. Never did he protest his displeasure. It is difficult to fathom the divine forgiveness of a spiritual Master but it surely remains the highest mark of a genuine Master.

So many saints suffered in the beginning often by the established religion. St John of the Cross was imprisoned before escaping, St Teresa of Avila suffered much from the persecution of the church. In the nineteenth century, the 14-year-old Bernadette of Lourdes was initially heavily criticised by both the church and those in positions of power. Now all are viewed as saints.