Ideals and Values/Fault Finding & Complaining
No one likes to be around people who are always complaining, whining and picking faults in others. If we are always close to these negative people, it starts affecting our own mind. We ourselves become prejudiced and pessimistic, instead of being a happy and a person. We ourselves should be open to our criticism so that we can improve ourselves. But if the critic is constantly criticizing us or others, then it is better to avoid his company.
Why do People Indulge in Back-biting and Fault-Finding?
- Because of their Ego, which prevents them from appreciating anyone else other than their own self?
- Due to their Jealousy: A jealous person can never tolerate any praise or success of his adversary and will constantly try to find some flaw in him that diminishes his achievement. For e.g., if his adversary wins a swimming race, he will say, “He won only because he had access to that same pool and belonged to the country that hosted the swimming championship. If our country had hosted it, then he would have had no chance at all, and I would have won the race! In fact, I do not think he swam well at all.”
- Hatred and Prejudice: When we dislike someone or are biased against him, we tend to exaggerate their faults. If they have 2 faults, we see 5. And if they have 5 faults, then we count 10. For example, a white supremacist will never see anything good in a person of color.
- Because they are themselves imperfect or insecure. Or because they are not mature, and cannot appreciate true greatness. A common man will never be able to appreciate or evaluate a flawless diamond. But a trained and a knowledgeable jeweler can look at an uncut diamond and immediately estimate how precious it is. Similarly, a person lacking wisdom or character will judge others by his own ignorant standards, whereas a saint will recognize the spiritual worth of another spiritually realized person when he sees him.
Story: Duryodhana cannot find a single person with good qualities
“Once, the great teacher of the Kaurava prices, Droņāchārya, asked all his students to find a person endowed with all the best qualities and also to find one who would be the worst, devoid of all qualities.
Duryodhana, the evil minded prince, proceeded first to find the one who was the best. But wherever he went, he found some evil in every person. There was no one, not even his parents, were free from defects. But when he thought about himself, he found himself to be the embodiment of all virtues.
So he came to Droņāchārya and announced that he himself was the best in the world. All else had defects, and could not therefore, compare to him.
But Yudhishthira, on the other hand, the virtuous prince, the eldest brother of the Pāṇdavas, came to this conclusion – that he alone was the worst in this world; though in fact, he was one of the best in his times. He found defects only in himself. This was due to his humility and sincerity.
Droņāchārya was pleased with Yudhishthira. In the course of time, Yudhishthira came to be known as the embodiment of virtue. But Duryodhana proved himself to be the embodiment of vice.
The moral of the story is that to the evil-minded, the whole world is filled with evil. Therefore, see what is good, hear what is good, do what is good, and follow the example of Yudhishthira.”
The other reason why Duryodhana could not find a single virtuous person was that he was full of pride and ego. He was worried that calling someone else as a better person will lower his own status or esteem.
Story: A Thief, Drunkard or a Sage?
“Once, a sage was lying by the roadside deeply immersed in Samadhi. A thief while passing by that way, saw him and thought: “This fellow here must be a thief. He must have broken into some houses last night, and is now sleeping through exhaustion. The police will be here soon to catch him. So let me escape in time.” Thus cogitating he ran away. Soon after, a drunkard came there and seeing the sage, said: “Hello! You have fallen into the ditch by drinking too much! I am steadier than yourself and am not going to tumble down.” Last of all there came a sage, and realizing that a great saint was lying in the state of Samadhi, sat down by his side and began to stroke his holy feet gently.
Thus our worldly tendencies prevent us from recognizing true holiness and piety.”
How can we overcome the Habit of Fault-Finding?
- Self-Introspection: Before we start criticizing the other person, we ought to reflect whether our negative opinions are being inspired by our hatred, jealousy, ego, prejudice or insecurity. Very often we will discover that our opinions lack true objectivity and are based on subjective stereotyping of others.
- Improve Yourself: Instead of judging the other person, we ought to look at ourselves in the mirror. We might find that the same faults that we see in others are instead present in us. Or even we do not have that flaw, we still have room to improve. So why not use energy to improve ourselves instead of finding faults in others?
- Look for Positive Qualities in Others: Our focus should not be the flaws of others, but their good qualities and learn from them. Everyone has some good quality or the other. Negative thoughts make our own mind debased, whereas focusing on positives has a beneficial effect on us. Merely focusing on negatives of others is a reflection of our own pettiness and the degraded state of our mind.
“The fly always sits on a festering sore on the body, ignoring the rest of the body that is beautiful.” Sanskrit proverb
“A crow dives to pick a single piece of trash even in a beautiful garden. It does not appreciate the beds of flowers and other plants instead.” Sanskrit proverb
- Several spiritual sages have therefore asked us to behave like the three monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. Mahatma Gandhi used to keep a sculpture of these three monkeys in his room to remind him of this principle. Being indifferent to the flaws of others (except when we want to correct them) is beneficial for our own physical and mental health. This is why the Hindu scriptures say:
Even a person who does not have any auspicious physical marks lives for a hundred years if he has a virtuous conduct, if he is imbued with faith and if he is not in the habit of picking faults in others. Mahābhārata 13.104.13
- Practice the Virtue of ‘Guņagrāhitā’, i.e., focusing on virtues of others and try to incorporate them in one’s own behavior. In fact, a person who wants to improve himself will always learn positive things from even things that are considered lowly, degraded or useless by others. Take what is good, and leave behind what is bad.
- Practice the virtue of Kshānti, or Acceptance: Who is perfect in this world accept Bhagavān? No one! Everyone does have some flaws. So what is the big achievement if we found a flaw in someone else?
- If it is Broke, Fix it, do not Twist it: If we do find faults in others, or an error somewhere, then rather than indulging in teasing, criticism, condemnation etc., we should try to fix it. We should play a positive role and try to find solutions to problem. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in this world.” Those who are always complaining and criticizing themselves risk being sidelined and dumped as useless people by the society. In other words, if we are not a part of the solution, we become the precipitate.
- What is faulty to us could be beneficial to others: One day, some friends wrote a letter to Gandhi which read, “Why do you show respect towards the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas? Rama’s character had many faults. And the book is not even good poetry.”
- Gandhi replied, “I do not claim that the poetry of Ramcharitmanas has no flaws. In fact, one could find faults with any holy book in the world. But the fact is that millions of Hindus find peace and learn good things by reaching and reciting the Ramcharitmanas. It teaches the Bhakti towards Rama and good family values. If this scripture is very dear to these millions, then is it not wrong to nitpick it for flaws and reject it totally?”
Story: Gautama Buddha appreciates the teeth of a Dog’s Carcass
Once, Buddha and his disciples were walking through a forest, when they encountered a decaying carcass of a dog. It looked horrible, and it smelled really bad. Buddha’s disciples gave a look of disgust and closed their noses with their fingers. But the Buddha went closer to the corpse and said, “Look, the dog had beautiful and shining white teeth.” The disciples got the message which was that we should never dwell on the negatives of others. Instead, we should look for good things in others. When we focus on the bad things of others, our own mind becomes evil. And when we look for good things in them, our own mind becomes more wise, and pure.
Story: Mahatma Gandhi responds to an Abusive Letter
Once, a critic of Mahatma Gandhi wrote him a very long letter. Mahatma Gandhi patiently read the letter carefully, going over page after page of abuse. He did not seem to get bothered at all by the nonsense written in that letter. After he completed reading it, he removed the paper clip holding the pages, and placed it inside his small box of stationary items for future use. Then he just crumpled the letter and threw the sheets in a recycle bin because they were of no use to him.
Story: Avadhūta learns good Lessons from Everyone:
The most effective way of overcoming the tendency to find faults in others is that whenever our mind looks at the flaws in someone, we should immediately try to look for good things in that person and learn from them. Everyone has some unique abilities, and we can learn something good from everyone. In this connection, there is a beautiful story of Bhagavān Dattātreya Avadhūta that is recorded in the Shrimad Bhāgavata Purāņa.
One day, Emperor Yadu was passing through a forest when he saw Avadhūta seated with a joyous smile on his face. The Emperor asked Avadhūta, “What is the true source of your happiness?” Why do you look so happy all the time, when everyone in this world has some sorrow. Bhagavān Dattātreya replied, “I am always happy because my Ātman (soul) has taught me a lot of things, and because I have learned wisdom from 24 Gurus.”
The Emperor was surprised, because it would have taken a long time to study under two dozen teachers. So he requested Bhagavān Dattātreya to name his teachers and summarize what he learned from them. But to the greater surprise of the Emperor, Bhagavān Dattātreya did not name any Rishi or scholar as his teacher. Instead, he gave him a list that comprised of the honey bee, the earth, water, wind, sky, moon, sun, pigeons, snake, fish, python and so on. He explained how everything surrounding us gives some profound teaching that we can practice every day in our lives.
For example, people stomp on the earth everyday but she bears their blows patiently and instead gives food grains, flowers and fruit to human beings. Likewise, we should just bear the abuses of others and always respond with kind words and gifts.
The honey bee collects the essence from numerous flowers and then mixes it to make nectar like honey. In the same way, we should learn good things from everyone and use this knowledge from several sources to produce something more valuable.
Numerous rivers fall into the ocean, but the ocean never overflows and stays calm in its interior. In the same way, not matter what difficulties befall us, we should always keep our heart and mind stable.
In this way, Bhagavān Dattātreya explained to him the lessons that he had learned from all of his 24 teachers, and these teachings are compiled in a scripture called the Avadhūta Gita which forms a part of the Bhāgavata Purāņa. Emperor Yadu was very impressed by the central message of the Sage, which was that he who wants to learn and progress in the path of spirituality will always find a way to learn a good message from everything that he encounters. But that person who does not want to succeed will only dwell on the negatives of others.
Notes & References
- Page 168 in Swami Jyotirmayananda (1976)
- Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna Math. Mylapore: Madras; pp. 235-236