The Vedic Perspective on Criticism

According to Vedic rishis, anyone dedicated to criticizing others without the willingness to accept criticism is a Murkha or a fool. But this doesn’t mean that we must not criticize or that criticism by itself is bad. Just that before we criticize others we need to be willing to accept criticism with the same fairness we expect from the person we are planning to criticize.

Exclusive to Vedic Management Centre by U. Mahesh Prabhu

Let me start with a tale from my book – RISHI TALES 1:

The old king, on his deathbed, told his son, “My boy, be good and do good, and never disregard our minister’s comments or suggestions.”

After the death of the king, this prince ascended the throne.

The young king was never happy with the old minister for he always found some fault with the king’s ways.

The young king bore the minister’s criticism patiently for five years but one day, he could hold back no longer and burst out, in open court “Old man, don’t you ever find any virtue in me?” In fact, the king had decided to dismiss the minister that day.

All the courtiers looked at both the king and the minister with anxiety. “My lord,” said the minister gravely, “I will reveal today what your great virtue is, now that I am going to retire. Your greatest virtue is you have silently borne all my criticism. None but a king of great nobility could have done that, I salute you, my young master, as I leave!”

Tears welled up in the king’s eyes. He descended from his throne and embracing the old minister beseeched to him to stay on. “No, my master,” said the minister, adding “one should not continue in the same work forever. One must know when to retire.” Saying thus, the minister retired – for good.

This is just one of many tales from ancient Vedic India which speaks subtly, yet impactfully, the virtue of handing as well as handling criticism. In this story, originally written by an unknown rishi in Vedic Sanskrit, neither the king nor the minister is shown in poor light. The minister’s approach to criticism was with humility and objectivism. All Vedic texts from Vedas, Upanishads, Aranyakas until Arthashastra unanimously accept that “Knowledge as that which instills humility” or “विद्या ददाति विनयम्.”

When an individual bears criticism, better known in Vedic Sanskrit as वितन्डम् (Vitandam) or निन्दनम् (Nindanam), with the equanimity of mind (s)he was regarded as पंडितम् (Panditam) or a wise person. Giving, accepting as well as understanding criticism was considered as the hallmark of learning, civility, nobility as well as wisdom in Vedic India.

For example, read the following Shloka from Neeti Shastra:

 

धृति: क्षमा दम: अस्तेयं शौचमिन्द्रियनिग्रह: ।
धी: विद्या सत्यमक्रोधो दशकम् धर्म लक्षणम् ।।

 

Meaning “Contentment, forgiveness, self-control, abstention from the unrighteous appropriation of anything, purity, control of senses, knowledge, truthfulness, abstention from anger and peace of mind are ten quality of an individual established in Dharma.”

It’s important to note that Criticism is never identified as a hindrance to Dharma in any of the Vedic texts.

Of course, it is very difficult to imbibe these virtues. It takes a lot of perseverance and commitment. The following shloka says:

 

काग चेष्ठा, बको ध्यानम श्वान निद्रा तथैव च ।
स्वल्पाहारी, गृहत्यागी विद्यार्थिन: पंच लक्ष्ण: ।।

 

Meaning “Perseverance of a crow, concentration of a crane, sleeping like a dog, eating frugally, and being ready to even sacrifice one’s own abode for knowledge – these are the five virtues a person desiring wisdom must possess.”

 

Rishis have always emphasized the crucial difference between, Knowing, Understanding & Realizing. You may know about something but may not necessarily understand it. Even if you understand something you may not realize it. For example, everyone knows about the importance of money, but not many understand how to earn it enough, increase or sustain it. Most of them who do as a result of the lack of realization does not reap happiness from it.

 

Learning does not happen in a set period or location. Vedic Rishis have always emphasized the crucial difference between, Knowing, Understanding & Realizing. You may know about something but may not necessarily understand it. Even if you understand something you may not realize it. For example, everyone knows about the importance of money, but not many understand how to earn it enough, increase or sustain it. Most of them who do as a result of the lack of realization does not reap happiness from it.

Humility and forgiveness, which enables us to hand or handle criticism effectively, are no more a heralded as virtues in the world we live in today. Humility is often seen as a weakness. It is regarded as an escape from one’s ability to confront a formidable adversary or to face tough circumstances. Such a perspective is not new. People with limited knowledge and bloated ego often had such silly views across all times.  As Vidura in Mahabharata says:

 

एक: क्षमावतं दोषो द्धितीयो नोपलभ्यते |
यदेन क्षमया युक्तमशक्तं मन्यते जन: ||
सोऽस्य दोषो न मन्तव्य: क्षमा हि परमं बलम् |
क्षमा गुणो ह्यशक्तानां शक्तानां भूषणं तथा ||

 

Meaning: “There’s only one defect with people of humility; people consider them to be weak. Such perception of people, however, must seldom be taken into consideration, for humility is a virtue of the weak, and an ornament of the strong.”

 

According to the modern English dictionary: Criticism is the expression of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistake. Unjust criticism is a criticism that is not just or lacking in justice or fairness. It is something that is unfaithful and dishonest. Positive Criticism is a criticism that is well meant or well mentioned in a positive way. And yet the very word Criticism today is often used loosely, and often confused, with abuse. As a result, most people, in the civilized as well as the uncivilized world, abhor criticism and reserve it exclusively for their adversaries and their enemies.

 

According to the modern English dictionary: Criticism is the expression of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistake. Unjust criticism is a criticism that is not just or lacking in justice or fairness. It is something that is unfaithful and dishonest. Positive Criticism is a criticism that is well meant or well mentioned in a positive way. And yet the very word Criticism today is often used loosely, and often confused, with abuse. As a result, most people, in the civilized as well as the uncivilized world, abhor criticism and reserve it exclusively for their adversaries and their enemies.

Unfortunately, even the modern-day psychologists have a negative view of Criticism in all its forms. Most even confuse observation and suggestions as criticism. For them “criticism is a detrimental character of a sad mind.” According to most psychologists, “criticism is an absolute failure at getting a positive behavior change.” Most researchers in psychology have declared that “…short-term gain from a criticism builds certain resentment down the line.” Also, “Criticism fails because it embodies two of the things that the human beings hate the most: It calls for submission, and we hate to submit and It devalues, and we hate to feel devalued”

 

Vedic Sanskrit word for criticism was निन्दा (Ninda.) The criticizer is निन्दक (Nindaka.) Whereas विनिन्दा (Vininda) & विनिन्दक (Vinindaka) stand for Unjust Criticism & Unjust Criticizer. Interestingly, in the languages that followed Vedic Sanskrit, the very word Ninda is synonym with Vininda. In most Indic languages Ninda is unjust, unwise and is often, incorrectly, defined as अधार्मिक: (Adharmic) or against Dharma.

 

Vedic Sanskrit word for criticism was निन्दा (Ninda.) The criticizer is निन्दक (Nindaka.) Whereas विनिन्दा (Vininda) & विनिन्दक (Vinindaka) stand for Unjust Criticism & Unjust Criticizer. Interestingly, in the languages that followed Vedic Sanskrit, the very word Ninda is synonym with Vininda. In most Indic languages Ninda is unjust, unwise and is often, incorrectly, defined as अधार्मिक: (Adharmic) or against Dharma.

According to the Vedic Rishis, the problem is not with criticism but with our अहंकारं or ego. What if our adversary is to criticize us with abuse but also say a few facts along? Why not only retain the facts and ignore their abuse?

It’s incorrect to assume that someone says something, and we felt bad. We feel bad because of our attachment to our sense of ego, which in turn led us to ignore the truth in their words by holding onto their abuses with undeserving emotions.

 

परवाच्येषु निपुणः सर्वो भवति सर्वदा ।
आत्मवाच्यं न जानाति जानन्नपि विमुह्यति ॥

 

According to Vedic rishis, anyone dedicated to criticizing others without the willingness to accept criticism is a Murkha or a fool. But this doesn’t mean that we must not criticize or that criticism by itself is bad. Just that before we criticize others we need to be willing to accept criticism with the same fairness we expect from the person we are planning to criticize.

Rishis also say in Neeti Shastras:

 

उपदेशो हि मूर्खानां प्रकोपाय न शान्तये।
पय: पानं भुजंगानाम् केवलम् विषवर्धनम्।।

 

Meaning “Even a piece of good advice given to fools will only provoke them and incite their anger, offering milk to a serpent will seldom neutralize their venom.” So, it’s important that we do not criticize the fools, for they’ll never be able to get it even if you use the nicest words.

 

Before we give criticism, we must be sure that we present it in a way that’s free of abuses and with truth and facts to the best of our knowledge. And should our assumed truth or facts be proved wrong we must with humility accept and thank the person without a shred of ego.

 

Before we give criticism, we must be sure that we present it in a way that’s free of abuses and with truth and facts to the best of our knowledge. And should our assumed truth or facts be proved wrong we must with humility accept and thank the person without a shred of ego.

Here’s another important Shloka from Neeti Shastra in this regard:

 

सत्यं ब्रूयात् प्रियं ब्रूयात् न ब्रूयात् सत्यम् अप्रियम् ।
प्रियं च नानृतम् ब्रूयात्, एष धर्मः सनातन: ॥

 

Meaning: “Speak the truth in such a way that it should be fair. Never speak that assumed truth, unfairly. Never speak untruth, even though it might be pleasant. This is the path of perennial Dharma.”

Most people often find faults with people they hate, meet, work and, even, love. There’s no way for a person to be perfect. To expect perfection in the mundane world is silly.  In the following shloka, the rishis say

 

कस्य दोषः कुले नास्ति व्याधिना को न पीडितः ।
व्यसनं केन न प्राप्तं कस्य सौख्यं निरन्तरम् ॥

 

Meaning “Which family is without a fault, who has not suffered an ailment, who’s bereft of vice and whose happiness is everlasting.”

 

So, if you are finding fault with someone else’ family, don’t be angry if someone finds the same fault in your family. If you are trying to criticize someone for an ailment resulting from carelessness, make sure you are not doing the same, unconsciously. Before you criticize others about their vices, make sure you’ve none. Before you start criticizing others for going through a painful period – bear in mind that pain and pleasure are always transient in everyone’s life.

 

So, if you are finding fault with someone else’ family, don’t be angry if someone finds the same fault in your family. If you are trying to criticize someone for an ailment resulting from carelessness, make sure you are not doing the same, unconsciously. Before you criticize others about their vice, make sure you’ve none. Before you start criticizing others for going through a painful period – bear in mind that pain and pleasure are always transient in everyone’s life.

June 28, 2019

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