Praise and Criticism

By Matthieu Ricard on November 19, 2010

Craving praise and fearing criticism, these only trouble our mind needlessly. Such concerns, each in their own way, promote and reinforce our vulnerability to others' opinions and remarks.

We yearn for praise because it flatters our ego, and we dread criticism, which threatens it. However, craving and an inflated sense of self-importance are each a source of torment. When someone offers us praise, we should think that it is not ‟we” as individuals who are being admired but instead the human qualities and the constructive actions that we were able to demonstrate and accomplish. It is not the individual who deserves to be extolled, but rather the virtue that that person expresses.

In the same way, when we are the target of criticism, if it is justified, it should be considered welcome and beneficial, because it allows us to become aware of shortcomings or mistakes that we need to correct or rectify. If the criticism is unfounded, then why worry? Inner peace arises from a serene conscience and not from what this or that person says. It is better to have a mind that is at ease, even though someone has wrongly attributed faults to us, rather than to be showered with praise while we know full well that we have behaved badly.

Praise and criticism are like the wind, echoes, illusions. Their only power to disturb us is that which we grant them. If we do not concern ourselves with polishing up our image, we will not fear its tarnishing. Praise and criticism in no way change who we are: they affect only our ‟image,” which is merely a window to our ego and a mirror for others' opinions.

What does matter first and foremost is to check in each moment the appropriateness of our motivation in order to make it as altruistic as possible, i.e., to be sincerely concerned about the fate of others while at the same time working toward our own development. In order to achieve this, we must cultivate fundamental virtues, namely, altruistic love, compassion, fortitude, inner freedom, and wisdom. If we succeed, then why worry about what others say? Once the ego has been extinguished, those who talk are only gossiping about a dead man.

Such an attitude confers great freedom upon us. As the Dalai Lama often says, ‟Some people consider me a living god. This is absurd. Others see me as a demon, a wolf in a monk's robes.” And then he bursts out laughing.