Bodhidharma said, “Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the flawless Dharma, not expounding upon error is called the Precept of Not Speaking of Faults of Others (page 65).” This for me is one of the hardest things to overcome. It seems like I have been working on this one forever, but I know it has not actually been forever. In Robert Aitken’s book The Mind of Clover he talks about the difference between fault finding and simply recognizing basic information that is “free of any moral judgment.” He gives an example of the “silent mind” identifying and saying “She has an awful temper.” As if you might be saying, “Her hair is brown.” He goes on to write, “On the other hand, fault-finding, discussing the faults of others—these are acts of rejection. The difference is one of attitude (page 66).”
He also relates it to Dogen Zenji saying “Don’t permit haphazard talk.” I have found recently that I am much better at catching myself as the words come into my mind and then stopping them from coming out the other end. I am embarrassed to say that sometimes I just feel like gossiping and knowingly say them anyway. Thankfully that is becoming rarer each and every day and I am now down to about once every other day actually letting them escape from my lips.
It could be that I have a giant note in all caps taped to my desk lamp that says “DO NOT SPEAK OF THE FAULTS OF OTHERS! It’s like my mother scolding me day in and day out to “be nice.” But it seems to be working so that even when I am not at my desk I can see that sign in my mind’s eye and hear the voice of mother! What a combination—enough to scare anyone into a new habit or way of thinking or behaving.
If we add this to our Buddhist way of living with all things in a compassionate, kind, and loving way we will not be able to speak about the faults of others. If we are working toward self-liberation we will take the time to go within and discover what is holding us back from being that loving compassionate being in this very moment. Is it my fear of rejection, my memories of being raised by a critical parent, or being taught by a critical teacher? Are these memories and habits blocking me from living and expressing myself as a bodhisattva would?
Take a look at your life at home, at work, and at play. Is the environment a pleasant place to be—one that you are excited to go to? Or is it an unpleasant situation that brings criticism, fear, judgments and the like out in you? Do you then end up directing that negativity toward others? Whose responsibility is it anyway to make your life full and rewarding? Whose responsibility is it to make the Sangha, the work place, and the home a compassionate, supportive, safe, and fun place to be?
Aitkin goes on to say, “In fact, realization of Buddha-nature is not possible alone, and not possible unless one is open to nurturing (page 68).” Even Thoreau found his reclusive life at Walden Pond an opportunity to be kind to the animals, the trees, and the far away neighbors or towns people for he enjoyed them as much as they enjoyed him. But for most of us we do not live in the middle of the woods without electricity, flush toilets, cell phones, or the internet! We live in a community filled with people and things. For this community to be a better one—it must begin with me.
Today I will remind myself to not speak of the faults of others. To observe my words as I think them and then ask myself what kind of “attitude” would be indicated if I spoke them. If they were not generated from within as compassionate words focused on the “other” with selflessness—then I need to be silent. I need to let them slip away out into the ethers of nothingness and begin again–this time with kindness, love, and compassion. This allows the person to see something that they may need to address and be willing to fix it. Now they go away feeling good about their relationship with me and thinking about how I shared with them in a loving, caring way. This is the way to live the life of a bodhisattva.
Things to focus on this week:
- Step one: Begin by deciding how you will reign in those gossip filled hurtful thoughts and words.
- Step two: Set your intention to do so before the thoughts even get a change to slip out of your mouth.
- Step three: Remember to be mindful of your thoughts that will help you in identifying the ones that should not be shared and the ones that should.
- Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!