Monday Morning Greetings 2022 #6 – On Criticism

February 7th, 2022

We just finished our first B.I.G. retreat (Bhakti Immersion Govardhan). It was one of our best. The facilities here are very good, and the prasadam and kirtans were especially wonderful. Between preparing and giving classes, long kirtans, and absorbing parikramas, there literally was not a moment free for anything else, especially writing. I will therefore share with you a previous post. First, here are some short videos of our kirtans: Bhakti Immersion Govardhan Kirtans Part 1 and Part 2.



On Criticism
October 10, 2016


“The poison of that which you criticize comes to you.”


“Criticism is worse that throwing a spear in someone’s body, because the spear can only pierce the body but criticism can pierce the heart.”


“Criticism is worse than envy. Envy is when it is in the heart. Criticism is when it comes out.”


I have repeated these statements often. I am sure I read them someplace, though I can’t find their reference. I have no difficulty, however, embracing their conclusion. And here is one strong, clearly referenced statement about the necessity to avoid criticism:


“Of the nine processes of devotional service, the most important is to always chant the holy name of the Lord. If one does so, avoiding the ten kinds of offenses, one very easily obtains the most valuable love of Godhead.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta Antya 4.71)


It’s a good reference, for the most serious of the ten offenses against the holy name is criticism. Of course, the word for criticism used here, nindā, is qualified by the word sadhu, and there is also allowance for constructive criticism. We will get to that, but we need to realize that the stakes for an offender are high: you won’t get love of Godhead. And for the devotee, that is everything. Best to err on the side of caution.


I struggle with that. So many people, devotees who are dedicated and senior, sometimes do things that disturb me. How can one not criticize? Be careful! If one’s criticism is not born of compassion but harbors even a trace of ill will, that hate will certainly cover the soul, for the soul is simply consciousness meant for love and devotion.


And if I think about it honestly, I too must do things that serve as fuel for other people’s lower nature. We all struggle with our own impurities and conditioning, and it’s bound to be just the thing that annoys someone else, especially someone with a different nature. That is simply the way of the world. But I don’t want to be a self-righteous hypocrite who is always clamoring for justice for others and mercy for himself.


But what about all the injustice? By all means, speak up and speak up strongly, but first make sure there is no hate in your own heart; otherwise your kirtan of others’ faults, which merely embodies the impurities of your own heart, will spread only hate of others, not love of God. We have seen too often that the modern champions of controversy create threads that attract mostly the bitter.


I remember reading in a history of the Gauḍīyā Math of a younger devotee who had a very critical intelligence. He would often see things that were wrong. But when he sought the counsel of a senior and elevated Vaishnava, he was given a piece of simple advice—“Observe and don’t talk”—and he followed that instruction for the rest of his life and attained spiritual heights. Yes, it may be one’s service to point out mistakes. I just don’t envy that person, and I pray they are pure. Otherwise:


“We all become well-disguised mirror image of anything that we fight too long or too directly… Most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot.”— Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.


My prayer is to be a Vaishnava. In so many places in shastra that is defined as one who is free from the propensity to criticize others. Who else can a Vaishnava be other than one who has no hate in his or her heart? I hanker for such saṅga. And by Srila Prabhupada’s grace, there are many such souls. I just have to be the bee that seeks the honey and not the fly that looks for the sores.


I conclude with another statement that I often repeat without a reference but which I embrace whole-heartedly:


Bhakti is simple. Even a child can do it. What is difficult is avoiding offense.”



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