If there is some sincere and honest criticism offered we should be grateful and not upset. Dealing with criticism positively is an important life skill to develop. To react negatively to well-intentioned correction is a sign of the false ego. A Vaishnava is as humble as a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree and because he is not expecting any respect for himself, he is not disturbed by criticism. Advanced Vaishnavas will see each and every correction offered as the mercy of the Lord. This is of course easier said than done.
Some time ago I received a rather heavy feedback. This person was very much disappointed with my performance and behaviour. In the eyes of that critic, I, as a leader, fail to give shelter, protection and vision due to my own arrogance. In this person’s view, I am not fit for the role of leadership but only trying to get into the position for the sake of name and fame…!
How did I react? A good chance for practical application of transcendental knowledge I guess. But it was not so easy. At first I got really disturbed, I did not exactly feel equipoised nor grateful. Why grateful? Because it is said that the critic is actually our friend. How is that? The fact is that those who criticise us actually do us a favour. Of course there is a difference between a constructive feedback and a destructive criticism, but in either case we can benefit from it.
We know the story of Bhaktisiddhanta and the critic. There was a person who always criticised Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur in public and his followers and disciples were extremely disturbed by this. One day the person died and the disciples brought the message to their Guru Maharaja expecting that he would feel relieved. However, to their surprise, Bhaktisiddhanta felt very sorry and mentioned how this critic was actually his friend, helping him in his spiritual life! Or as Benjamin Franklin once said: “Our critics are our friends; they show us our faults.” The same idea is expressed in the following song by the saint Charan Das:
„O saintly soul! A critic is our dear friend. Keep the critic close to you always. Never let him go far away. Criticizing us behind our backs, he washes our sins. By hearing such criticism, our mind is cleansed of that fault. Just like a goldsmith purifies gold by putting it in a blazing fire. (..) May my critic be peaceful and happy in this world! May my critic’s body never be afflicted by any diseases. May the person criticizing me cross over the ocean of material existence…“ 1
Critics are our friends. But what if we feel devastated after receiving their feedback? Maybe our critics were insensitive in the way they gave their feedback. That could be a reason. Or maybe I was too sensitive towards the criticism. Sometimes we also have unrealistic expectations of our critics. For instance, we might expect them to support us no matter how wrong we are. Or maybe we realize the truth in their critique but have difficulties accepting it. Maybe it made us become aware of how much work is required to improve ourselves. All this can make it difficult to accept our critics as friends.
A senior devotee, with whom I discussed this feedback with, gave me a good advice: „there is always some truth in criticism, even if at first you might think it is not the case. It’s a good opportunity to learn about how others perceive you. And no matter whether their accusations are true or not, it will be good for you to read this letter from time to time.“
Either I need to look deeper into this in order to improve myself or at least these words of criticism can serve as a warning, that this is not what I want to get into. Therefore the critics are our friends. They give us either correction or warning, both very valuable tools on our journey towards self-realization.
1 — Charan Das was born in 1706 in Derha village in Rajasthan, this song was just recently published in Sri Krishna Kathamrita Bindu Issue 430: https://archive.org/details/bindu430