In order to stop pointing out others' faults, we have to work on our underlying mental habit of judging others. Even if we don't say anything to or about them, as long as we are mentally tearing someone down, it's likely we'll communicate that through giving someone a condescending look, ignoring her in a social situation, or rolling our eyes when her name is brought up in conversation.
Training Our Mind to Look for the Positive
The opposite of judging and criticizing others is regarding their good qualities and kindness. This is a matter of training our minds to look at what is positive in others rather than what doesn't meet with our approval. Such training makes the difference between our being happy, open, and loving or depressed, disconnected, and bitter.
Let's try to cultivate the habit of noticing what is beautiful, endearing, vulnerable, brave, struggling, hopeful, kind, and inspiring in others. If we pay attention to that, we won't exaggerate their faults. Our joyful attitude and tolerant speech that result from this will enrich those around us and will nourish our contentment, happiness, and love. The quality of our own lives thus depends on whether we find fault with our experience or see what is beautiful in it.
Fault Finding: A Missed Opportunity to Love
When we focus on the faults of others, we are missing the opportunity to love them. To reorient ourselves in a positive direction, we need to nourish ourselves with heart-warming interpretations as opposed to feeding ourselves a mental diet of poisonous thoughts.
When we are habituated with mentally picking out the faults of others, we tend to do this with ourselves as well. This can lead to devaluing ourselves. What a tragedy it is to overlook the preciousness and opportunity of our lives and our Buddha-potential.
Thus, we must lighten up, have compassion for ourselves, and accept ourselves as we are in this moment while we simultaneously try to become better human beings in the future. This doesn't mean we ignore our mistakes but that we are not pejorative about them. We appreciate our own humanness and have confidence in our potential and in the heart-warming qualities we have developed so far.
Seeking Positive Qualities Rather Than Judging
What are these qualities? They are our ability to listen, to smile, to forgive, to help out in small ways. Nowadays, many people have lost sight of what is really valuable on a personal level and instead look to what publicly brings acclaim. We need to come back to appreciating ordinary beauty and stop our infatuation with the high-achieving, the polished, and the famous.
Everyone wants to be loved, to have his or her positive aspects noticed and acknowledged, to be cared for and treated with respect. Everyone dislikes being judged, criticized, and rejected as unworthy. Cultivating the mental habit that sees our own and others' beauty brings happiness to ourselves and others; it enables us to feel affection and to extend love to others. Leaving aside the mental habit that finds faults prevents suffering for ourselves and others. This lies at the heart of spiritual practice, and thus, His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, "My religion is kindness."
We may still see our own and others' imperfections, but our mind is gentler, more accepting, and spacious. People don't care so much if we see their faults when they are confident that we care for them and appreciate what is admirable in them.
Speaking with Understanding and Compassion
The antidote to speaking of the faults of others is speaking with understanding and compassion. For those engaged in spiritual practice and for those who want to live harmoniously with others, this is essential. Pointing out people's good qualities to them and to others makes our own mind joyful; it promotes harmony in the environment, and it gives people useful feedback.
Praising others should be part of our daily life and a component of our Dharma practice. Imagine what our life would be like if we trained our minds to dwell on others' talents and good attributes. We would feel much happier and so would they! We would get along better with others, and our families, work environments, and living situations would be much more harmonious. We plants the seeds from such positive actions on our mind stream, creating the cause for harmonious relationships and success in our spiritual and temporal aims.
An interesting experiment is to try to say something nice to or about someone every day for a month. Try it. It makes us much more aware of what we say and why. It encourages us to change our perspective so that we notice others' good qualities. Doing so also improves our relationships tremendously.
A few years ago, I gave this as a homework assignment at a Dharma class, encouraging people to try to praise even someone they didn't like very much. The next week I asked the students how they did. One man said that the first day he had to make something up in order to speak positively to a fellow colleague. But after that, the man was so much nicer to him that it was easy to see his good qualities and speak about them!
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Snow Lion Publications. ©2004. www.snowlionpub.com.
This article was excerpted with permission from the book:
Taming the Mind
by Thubten Chodron.
Thubten Chodron offers practical techniques to help us gain a more spacious perspective on relationships, freeing ourselves from habitually blaming others for our problems, and learning to be on the spot and take responsibility for our lives. "This book helps to ... find peace and contentment through a practical application of the teachings of the compassionate Buddha. Ven. Thubten Chodron has chosen a wide variety of situations that we encounter in daily life and has explained how to deal with them from a Buddhist viewpoint, in words that are easy to understand." -- His Holiness the Dalai Lama
About the Author
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, an American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun, has studied and practiced Buddhism in India and Nepal since 1975. Ven. Chodron travels worldwide teaching and leading meditation retreats and is known for her clear and practical explanations of the Buddha's teachings. She is the author of Buddhism for Beginners, Working with Anger, and Open Heart, Clear Mind. Visit her website at www.thubtenchodron.org.