How to Handle Praise and Criticism with Wisdom

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As Buddhists, we should be aware of the potential pitfalls associated with receiving praise or criticism. We must be mindful that suffering will result if we allow accolades or blame to defile and cloud our otherwise peaceful minds.

When the untrained minds receives blame or criticism (whether at home, work or anywhere else), the mind becomes consumed by anger. Some yell or vent, while others bottle up their anger, become resentful and hold grudges. Either way, a foul mood quickly overtakes the mind.

When the same untrained mind receives praise, it is almost instantly cheered up with a feeling of euphoria. They get really happy over it and say that they’re in a great mood. Then they share the news with everyone and boast about their accomplishments. They cling to that pleasure and try to hold on to it for as long as possible.

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On the other hand, the trained mind has a better understanding of how their emotions affect the mind and thus has a different response to praise and criticism. As we discussed in Happiness Isn’t for the Wise, a cornerstone of Buddhism is the Middle Way. When we are praised, we should know it simply praise and not get a high over it.

When something delights you such as receiving praise, hold part of yourself back in reserve, because that delight won’t last. Everything is subject to the universal law impermanence. When you are happy, don’t go completely over to its side, because soon enough you’ll be back on the other side with unhappiness. If you get a promotion at work or become a manager, have enough awareness to do so with humility and ensure that your ego stays in check.

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When the awakened mind receives blame or criticism, it knows it as just blame. We don’t get low, depressed or angry about it, we stay right there. Why? Because we see the danger in all those things, we see their results. We simply learn from the criticism instead of letting our emotions hijack our minds.

As we discussed in Step 3: The True Mind, an untrained person will see having a good mood and good mind as the same thing. Likewise, if we have a bad mood, then the mind goes bad as well and we don’t like it. It is the clinging to these moods that causes suffering. We begin to see the consequences of grabbing and clinging to good and bad moods because we’ve tried it over and over and seen the same result – no real happiness.

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In Buddhism, we hear over and over “Don’t cling to anything.” If we understand the danger of clinging, then how do we teach ourselves and practice non-clinging? The key is to learn how to hold but not to cling because holding is essential to function in this world.  Think about a flashlight. If we pick it up and say to ourselves, “Oh, it’s a flashlight,” then we put it down again.

This is called holding but not clinging. If we didn’t hold on to anything, then we couldn’t function so we must hold things initially. We must know, then let go. Whether it’s a physical object or a mental emotion, we shouldn’t foolishly cling to these things. Instead, we temporarily hold them with wisdom, learn from them and then let them go.

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If we can consistently know our moods and realize that we’re clinging to them (even if we can’t yet let the mood go), then we have achieved at least fifty percent of the path to inner peace. How? Because too accomplish this means that we have awareness – we know what’s going on, it’s just that we haven’t learned to let go.

If you we are at this point in our practice, then we see ourselves clinging to good and bad moods (happiness and unhappiness; praise and criticism). We realize that suffering is the result of our failing to let go. While there still isn’t release from suffering, we know that if we could learn to let go, then peace would follow. With diligence in our practice, including daily meditation, we will eventually learn how to not cling and find lasting inner peace.

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