Gayatri, the ego is very sensitive and very fragile, and is very afraid of criticism. The ego depends on others’ opinions. It has no reality of its own. It is not a real entity, it is not substantial – it is just a collection of others’ opinions.

Somebody says, “You are beautiful,” and you collect it. Somebody says, “You are intelligent,” and you collect it. And somebody says, “I have never come across such a unique person,” and you collect it. And then one day a person comes and he says, “You are repulsive!” Now how can you accept criticism? It goes against the image that you have been creating of yourself. You will retaliate, you will fight tooth and nail. But whatsoever you do, the mind has taken the impression of this opinion too. Then somebody says, “You are ugly,” and somebody says, “You are stupid.” And there are millions of people in the world and they all have their own opinions, likes and dislikes.

Hence, your ego becomes a hodge-podge thing, a very contradictory phenomenon. One fragment says, “You are beautiful!” another fragment says, “Nonsense, you are ugly!” One fragment says, “You are intelligent,” another fragment says, “Keep quiet! Shut your big mouth! You are just plain stupid and nothing else!” Hence people live in a confused state. They don’t know who they are, whether they are intelligent or stupid, beautiful or ugly, good or bad, saint or sinner — because one person may call you a saint, another person may call you a sinner. There are different values and different criteria in the world, there are different moralities in the world.

Your neighbour may be a Christian and you may be a Jaina. Now the Christian has no problem with drinking wine; in fact, Christ himself loved to drink wine. But the Jaina cannot conceive, even in his dreams, of Mahavira drinking wine. That’s impossible, the very idea is inconceivable. But to the Christian the greatest miracle that Jesus did was to turn water into wine. If Mahavira had been around, he would have done just the opposite miracle immediately! He would have turned the wine again into water.

Now, if you drink wine once in a while, are you a saint or a sinner? Different people will say different things. In Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram tea was prohibited; what to say about wine! Tea, poor tea, innocent tea was prohibited! And all the Buddhist monks down the ages have been drinking tea. In fact they think that it helps meditation, and there may be a grain of truth in it, because it keeps you awake. And the Buddhist meditation is such that you tend to doze off: sitting for hours in a single posture…Just try it. After ten minutes you will start dreaming. After one hour it is impossible to keep awake.

Tea may have helped. In fact, tea was discovered by Buddhists. One of the greatest Buddhist masters, Bodhidharma, discovered tea. The name comes from a monastery, Ta, in which Bodhidharma used to live in China. That monastery was on top of the hill, Ta. In China ‘ta’ can be pronounced in two ways: either it can be pronounced as ‘ta’ or as ‘cha’ — hence the Hindi CHAI, the Marathi CHA, and the English ‘tea’. Bodhidharma, the great founder of Zen, discovered it.

And wine has been made in Catholic monasteries down the ages. You will be surprised to know that the best wine has been made by Catholic monks and nuns. The oldest wine is available only in the cellars of ancient monasteries in Europe, the oldest and the best. Wine, made in monasteries? What kind of monasteries are these? Who is going to decide?

In fact, again there is a grain of truth in it. Buddhist meditation means watchfulness, and tea has some chemicals in it which help watchfulness — it has a stimulant. Now some day it is possible that another Bodhidharma will come and say, “Smoking is good,” because tobacco also has a stimulant — nicotine. Smoking can also help meditation if tea can help it. Smoking is still waiting for its Bodhidharma to appear. Then you will be more able to smoke and feel very virtuous: the more you smoke, the more saintly you will be!

It is not accidental that wine became part of the monastery’s creativity. Jesus says: To be drowned in God is prayer. Jesus’ path is that of love, Buddha’s path is that of meditation; hence, Buddha will never agree to wine, but to tea he may agree. Jesus agrees to wine because wine gives you a taste of being utterly lost, of being drowned, of getting out of the ego, of forgetting the ego and all its worries. It gives you a taste, a glimpse of the unknown.

But who is going to decide about who is right and who is wrong? All these things are there in the atmosphere, and you catch them. Out of these things you make some kind of image; it is bound to remain hodge-podge, it can’t be clear-cut. Hence you are very much afraid of somebody criticizing you because he brings your hodge-podgeness to the surface. It is not his criticism that you are against; you are against the fact that he brings problems to the surface which you are somehow repressing within yourself. He makes you aware of the problems, and nobody wants to be aware of the problems, because problems then want to be solved, and it is a complex and arduous affair. It needs guts to solve problems. You may not like to solve problems in fact, because you may have some investment in your problems — you MUST have, because you have lived with them for so long that you must have invested in them. You may not like to change your life-style. If you are miserable you may like to remain miserable — whatsoever you say on the surface, that’s another matter. Notwithstanding what you say, deep down you may still like to remain miserable.

For example, a wife knows that the husband is loving towards her only when she is ill. Whenever she is healthy he simply forgets all about her, he never takes any care when she is healthy. When she is ill, out of sheer duty, responsibility, he comes, sits by her side, puts his hand on her head; otherwise he does not give her even a look. Ask husbands, “How long has it been since you have seen your wife’s face, face-to-face?” You may be able to recognize your dog if it is lost, but if your wife is lost you will have to ask the neighbours because they will recognize her better — just as you will recognize the neighbour’s wife better. Who looks at his own wife?

Mulla Nasruddin had gone to see a play. A man was in such great love in the play, he was acting so romantically that Nasruddin said to his wife, “This man is a great actor.”

The wife said, “And do you know? — the woman he’s acting with is really his wife in actual life.”

Nasruddin said, “Then he is the greatest actor in the world!”

To show so much romance to one’s own wife…it is next to impossible.

I was travelling for twenty years in this country. I was staying in thousands of homes, and I saw it continuously: when the husband is not in the house, the wife seems to be very cheerful, very happy. The moment the husband enters the house she has a headache, and she lies down on the bed. And I was watching, because I was just staying in the house. Just a moment before, everything was okay — as if the husband has not entered but a headache has entered.

Slowly slowly, I understood the logic. There is a great investment in it. And remember, I am not saying that she is simply pretending. If you pretend too long it can become a reality, it can become an autohypnosis. I’m not saying that she is NOT suffering from a headache, remember. She may be suffering: just the face of the husband is enough to trigger the process! It has happened so many times that now it has become an automatic process. So I am not saying that she is deceiving the husband; she is deceived by her own investments.

You have a certain image and you don’t want it to be changed, and criticism means again a disturbance.

You surely know the story of Little Red Riding Hood:

This little girl had gone to see her grandmother who lived in the woods. The bad wolf, who wanted to eat her up, took the grandma’s place in the bed after having devoured her in one gulp. So he was under the blankets with grandma’s nightie and nightcap on.

When Little Red Riding Hood arrived, she noticed something different, and looking the grandmother in the eye, she asked:

“But, granny, what big eyes you have!”

“It is to see you better, my dear.”

“But granny, what a big nose you have!”

“It is to smell you better, my dear.”

“But granny, what big arms you have!”

“It is to hug you better, my dear.”

“But granny, what hairy hands you have!”

“Hey! Have you come around just to criticize?”

There is a limit. Beyond that nobody likes to be criticized. But the other side of the story is that everybody likes to criticize others; that gives you a good feeling. If others are bad, vicariously it helps you to feel good. If everybody is a cheat, a hypocrite, dishonest, cunning, it gives you a good feeling: you are not THAT bad, you are not THAT dishonest. The comparison relaxes you. It helps you to remain dishonest, because people are more dishonest than you are. In this dishonest world how can you survive? You have to play the game.

Every morning, early in the morning when you read the newspapers, it always gives you a good feeling — so much happening all over the world, so many ugly things, so much violence, murder, suicide, rape, robbery, that compared to all this you are a saint. Hence people don’t like to read the Bible in the morning, or the Gita, but the newspaper! Reading the Gita you feel like a sinner, reading the Bible you start feeling a trembling, that hell is bound to happen to you, that you are on the way. And the scriptures depict hell so vividly, with such color that it can make anybody afraid. And one thing seems to be certain: that you cannot reach heaven. It seems to be impossible, it demands impossibilities.

Nobody likes to read the scriptures, nobody likes to listen to the scriptures. That’s why if you go to the temple you will find almost everybody fast asleep. There are physicians I know who send people to religious discourses if they suffer from insomnia. If no tranquilizer works, don’t be worried: go to a religious discourse. It is the ultimate in tranquilizers — up to now nothing has been able to defeat it. Listening to religious scriptures one starts falling asleep. It is a protection, it is to avoid; otherwise, it becomes absolutely certain that heaven is not for you, you are meant for hell. And it stirs your heart, raises great fear, and there seems to be no way to escape from it.

Hence, everybody likes to criticize, and not only to criticize — everybody likes to magnify others’ faults. You try to make others’ faults as big as possible because then, in comparison, your faults are negligible. And God is compassionate: RAHIM, REHMAN! God is compassion! You have only small faults, and looking at the world where so many sinners exist….

When the Day of Judgment comes you can be perfectly certain that your number is not going to be called, you will not be called. The queue will be too long, and it has to be decided within twenty-four hours. One Day of Judgment, and millions and millions of people — Tamerlane and Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great and Adolf Hitler and Mussolini and Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong…these will be the people standing in front. You will be the last in the queue. Your number is not going to come. You can be certain of it if you look at people with a magnifying glass.

After running into a wild crowd at a basketball game one evening, the referee picked up his wife and told her it might be better if she stayed away from the remaining games to which he was assigned. “After all,” he said, “it must have been pretty embarrassing to you when everyone stood up and booed me.”

“It was not so bad,” she replied. “I stood up and booed too.”

Ego does not want to be criticized AND wants to criticize everybody. Become aware of the strategy of the ego, how it nourishes itself, how it protects itself. Unless you become absolutely aware of all the cunning devices of the ego, you will never be able to get rid of it. And to get rid of it is the beginning of a religious life, is the beginning of sannyas. Then you are no longer worried what others say about you.

Just look at me…The whole world goes on saying things about me. I don’t even read them. Every day Laxmi brings hundreds of reports appearing in different languages from different countries. Who cares? If they are enjoying rumours, let them enjoy; they don’t have anything else to enjoy in their lives. Let them have a little fun. Nothing is wrong in it, they cannot harm me. They can destroy my body, but they cannot harm ME. And I have no image of my own; they cannot destroy that either. And I don’t react, I act. My action springs out of myself, it is not to be manipulated by others. I am a free man, freedom. I act of my own accord.

Learn the art of acting of your own accord. Don’t be worried about criticisms and don’t be interested in praise. If you are interested in being praised by others, then you cannot be unconcerned about criticism. Remain aloof. Praise or criticism, it is all alike. Success or failure, it is all alike. AES DHAMMO SANANTANO.


The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, Vol. 2, Chapter 10: The Law – Ancient and Inexhaustible