Friday, 8 June 2018

Handling Criticism, and Abuse - Wisdom from Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Formula while facing criticism

Everyone faces criticism. Even the Gods themselves are not spared of criticism. But then, how one faces the criticism determines what one becomes.That’s what the popular story of a donkey that fell in the well tells us. When the donkey fell in the well, it brayed out loud. To ‘bury’ the irritating sound, everyone came and threw mud into the well. The donkey however kept shrugging off the dirt from its body and did not allow itself to get buried under it. Finally, it made use of the mound of mud which had collected in the well to actually get out of the well! Criticism can be used constructively! In fact, ‘constructive criticism’ actually depends on the attitude of the one being criticised and not on the attitude of the one criticising.

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Swami as He is reverentially and endearingly called) says,
“Let us say somebody has criticized you. You get angry/upset. When you get angry/upset, do not react immediately. Think to yourself,
‘Do I have in me the defects that have been pointed out by them? If in case, those defects are there in me, then, is it not my mistake to get angry/upset with them? However, if the blemishes pointed out by them are not present in me, then why should I get angry/upset with them?’
If you thus give an opportunity for such an enquiry and spend time in introspection, your anger will subside.” (From public discourse on 24th May 1992)

Swami, in that same discourse, gives a personal example to make it clear.  
“When people call Me Buttatala Sai Baba (Sai Baba with a basket-like head), it may seem insulting. But, I do have a basket-like head! Therefore, I must accept this is true. But if they call Me Pattatala Sai Baba (Sai Baba with a bald head), then this is not true; so why I should I accept it? Therefore, if blemishes that are not there in me are mentioned right in front of me, even then I will not accept it. That is the right kind of determination. You must have self-confidence.”
Extrapolating the same logic, if the criticism is only partially true, one can accept (and correct if necessary) that part alone, letting go of the rest.

In a public discourse during the annual Summer Course in Indian Culture and Spirituality held at Bangalore in 1990, Swami said,
“Saint Tukaram had good feelings and so, he gave a favourable interpretation to even the rude and negative behaviour of his wife. His senses did not stand in the way of his spiritual progress and equanimity, despite trying circumstances in his family. Likewise, Sant Kabir was always engaged in remembrance of God. So his wife’s behaviour was harmonious and conducive to his spiritual advancement, Einstein, too, had the quality of equanimity in him and was therefore not at all upset by the boisterous behaviour of his wife. From all these instances, it is evident that what you need to do is to harmonise your own thoughts and feelings through proper sadhana (spiritual discipline), rather than blame the environment or other persons for your shortcomings.”
Well, that sums it all up and highlights the truth that whether criticism is constructive or destructive depends on the attitude and sadhana of the one facing criticism.

A special case: Criticism of one’s Guru

For many Sai-devotees (and I presume it is the case for devotees/followers of other Gurus/Masters as well), there is one criticism that is hard to overcome - the criticism of one’s Master/Guru/God/Religion. I remember how my blood has boiled whenever I have read heavily concocted and hastily written articles on my Swami by half-baked journalists whose sole goal seems to be capturing eyeballs at any cost. There are also some people on the internet (I will not name them and pollute my blog or the readers’ minds) who make ad-money and build a reputation for themselves by specifically targeting Swami using hook or crook (mostly crook). They doctor images, quote media out of context and spit venom camouflaging it as scientific journalism. And I get angry and upset. I can possibly learn to stand criticism when it concerns me but when a being that I have personally experienced for two decades to be an epitome of love, sacrifice and selflessness is unfairly criticised, righteous anger wells up within. It is almost like I am unable to bear it if someone unfairly abuses my father or mother! What should I do then?

Prof. Nanjundaiah’s experience with Swami regarding this is very enlightening and liberating.

A drive to remember - a solution from Swami

Prof. Nanjundaiah started his association with Swami in the 1970s as a lecturer of commerce in the Brindavan college and retired as the Controller of Examinations of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. In the year 1974, a few Indian newspapers instigated by some influential personalities, carried vicious articles attacking Baba. Many unfounded and baseless allegations were made during the smear campaign and the devotees were all very pained, Prof Nanjundaiah included. Unable to find any other expression of his hurt and anger, he wrote a letter to Swami. In that letter, he prayed to Swami to ensure by His Divine Will that such people don’t write (or communicate in any other way) such things about Swami ever! During a darshan session at Brindavan, he gave the letter to Swami and Swami accepted it.

A young Nanjundaiah with his Bhagawan
A few days later, as Swami was going into His car, He beckoned to Prof. Nanjundaiah. He told him to sit alongside Him in the car! During the drive, Swami asked,
“What was that letter you wrote to me all about?”
“Swami, I have a prayer. I have read such horrible things against you in the newspapers. It is really painful to read such things. Swami, please see to it that these people do not write such criticisms against you.”
Much to his shock, Prof Nanjundaiah saw that Swami seemed to get upset with his plea! Swami said,
“Ay! You should not pray like that! Just as you have the right to love Me, they have an equal right to criticize Me. I respect their feelings and bless them. Freedom has been given to all and it should be respected. Use or misuse of freedom is a choice that is made and depending on the choices made, there will have consequences. You can make your choice but not limit other’s choices. You should not pray like that!"
Not the one to give up easily, Prof. Nanjundaiah amended his prayer saying,
“In that case Swami, I pray that such words against you should not reach my attention." Immediately Swami seemed to cool down. His ‘anger’ had served the purpose and now He called upon the smile to play its role as His instrument. With a twinkle in His eye He said,
"Ah that you can pray!"

The use of freedom is a choice that can take you closer to God - or away from God!
 Prof Nanjundaiah with Swami.
The ride soon ended but the message remained firmly embedded in Prof. Nanjundaiah’s heart. In fact, that message is relevant to all those who face God-bashing or Guru-bashing. I remember my teenage days, when many of my ‘friends teased’ me about Swami and used foul language on Him to hurt me. I would retaliate by hurling back the same abuses on their parents! That would anger them (that was my idea of revenge) and I would explain to them that the ‘person’ whom they are hurling abuses at is more than a parent, friend and guide put together for me..

“He is my God!”, I would say, “And so please do not hurt me again for you have now experienced the irritation and anger that I have experienced.” Sometimes it would lead to fistfights. I have many scars from such fights and have also left behind scars on those that criticized Swami!

But now, I personally use the prayer that Prof. Nanjundaiah made that day to Swami and I have seen the magic happen. Unless I go searching for it (for academic and other reasons), I never come across any criticism or allegation against my Swami!

How God deals with those that abuse and criticise

When we observe Swami’s life, His response to His critics has always followed His leadership formula of ‘Be-Do-See-Tell’. Like the majestic elephant which cares nought for the tiny ticks that try to suck blood from its body, Swami never bothered replying to unfair criticism born of jealousy and malice. Instead, He continued to ‘be’ what He is and ‘do’ things so that His actions do all the speaking. He would ‘see’ the need to ‘tell’ and speak about this matter on rare occasions alone and that too, for the benefit of the people and devotees around.

One way in which Swami communicates how God (in this case, Lord Krishna) deals with critics is through the narration of an episode from the great history of India, the Mahabharata. The episode of the Chedi king, Shishupala is the most enlightening in understanding the truth that, even the so called ‘critics’ and ‘God-bashers’ are a part of the cosmic plan.

Pic credit: Amar Chitra Katha
It is a very interesting and uplifting story apart from being enlightening. Before that, just one thought. We appreciate pleasure and joy only because of pain and sorrow. Otherwise, there is nothing like a reference point! We appreciate light only because of darkness. Darkness as such does not exist - it is only the absence of light. So too, everything that we consider ‘God’ and ‘anti-God’ are the dualities that exist and give meaning to each other. God cannot be appreciated without the ‘anti-God’. Now, let us proceed to the Shishupala episode.

Words of venom that pain a devotee’s heart - Shichupala’s story

The senior-most among the Pandavas, Yudhishtra, has just completed the Rajasooya yagna ( a sacrificial undertaking where a king conquers all the other kings and unifies the whole world into a single kingdom). At the end of the ceremony, the ruler is to offer worship to all the other kings and sages in the kingdom, an act which symbolises that he is a ruler merely as an instrument. So he seeks everyone’s blessings. The Pandava brothers unanimously decide to offer the first libations to their Lord Krishna.

Even as they do so, the Chedi king, Shishupala (the son of Krishna’s aunt and thus His cousin), rises. He has been jealous of Krishna all the while. And this jealousy is seen as he speaks out in anger,
“Oh Pandavas! This is a wilful affront of the honor of kings. And I cannot be party to this violation of Dharma (righteousness). If you have chosen to revere Krishna first because he is an elder, then why do you ignore Vasudeva, Krishna’s father? If you choose him as a well-wisher, then what about Drupada, your father-in-law? If you consider him as your teacher, then why do you neglect the great Drona who has taught all of you all your skills? If you think of him as a godly man, then how can you insult the great Ved Vyasa (son of Brahma and the composer of the Mahabharata itself)? “

How can the Pandavas tell Shishupala that for them, Krishna is God and hence, beyond all these worldly ties and honors?

And then, Shishupala proceeds to condemn Lord Krishna in the most vile and virulent manner.
“Krishna is a mere thief who stole butter from others’ houses all his childhood. He is the one who robbed the innocent cowherd girls of their saris, outraging their modesty and indulging in fun and frolic with them. It is an insult to this stage and ceremony that such a sly cowherd be the first to receive honours!”

Shishupala was ruthless in his condemnation and criticism of Lord Krishna. Pic credit: Amar Chitra Katha
The reactions of the various personages in the assembly varied.
Yudhisthira, the eldest and humblest among the Pandava brothers, goes to Shishupala and speaks with great respect,
“Lord among men! Do not speak thus in anger. Behold the many kings here who are much older than you. They approve the worship of Krishna. So, it is not right to hurt so many people’s feelings thus with your outburst.”

The grandsire, the great and mighty Bheeshma, rises and thunders,
“I do not see in this assembly any person who is not subdued by the glory of Krishna. Therefore, I shall bow to Krishna alone and none other! Krishna is supreme in might and wisdom and I care nothing about what others feel in this regard.”

The youngest among the Pandavas, Sahadeva has quite another reaction. He shouts,
“I shall trample upon the heads of those that cannot tolerate my worship of Krishna! I shall fight such people unto death if necessary!”

Sahadeva's fury. Pic credit: Amar Chitra Katha

The other reactions all lay somewhere in between these in the spectrum. But none of them convinces Shishupala who refuses to accede. One can take a horse to the water, but it is the horse that must drink. One can offer scientific, emotional and spiritual explanations but the critic must have the willingness to accept! Now, Shishupala speaks in a vein that nobody ever imagines. He presents all the glorious feats of Krishna - feats for which he is worshipped - in a light that only the crooked in the mind can think about. He says,

“People worship you for killing demons. They were nothing but horses, bulls and birds. What is so great in that. The love of the people made a mountain of a molehill. You raised an anthill and people say you lifted the Govardhana mountain! You killed Kamsa, the king of the place where you grew. Is that not disloyalty to the king? Shame on you. You do not have the might to be a man nor the modesty to be a woman. You are a eunuch.”

Hearing this, another reaction arises, this time in Bheema - the second Pandava brother. He rushes forward without speech to tear open Shishupala but he is restrained by many others who feel that the sanctity of the occasion will be destroyed by such an act.

But wait! What is the reaction of Lord Krishna to all this?? Krishna just sits on the throne, smiling. He seems the least perturbed or affected. For Him, it is all part of the Divine play! What was the reason for such a reaction from Lord Krishna? It was because he knew the past - the story of Shishupala’s birth.

The response of the One who knows the past, present and future

Shishupala was born with three eyes, four arms and the wail which sounded like the braying of a donkey. When the parents decided to abandon the child beholding the terrible appearance, an incorporeal voice was heard which said,
“The child will not die. It is meant to be killed only by its destroyer who has already taken birth.”
The terrified mother prayed to know the slayer of her son when the voice again boomed,
“He will be slain by him on whose lap his extra appendages fall off and third eye disappears.”
That happened when Lord Krishna had picked up the child. Fearing for her son, the mother, Krishna’s aunt prayed,
“Krishna! Promise me you will not get angry on Shishupala and forgive him even when he angers you to the level of killing him.”
Krishna promised,
“Even when Shishupala angers me to the point of slaying him, I shall forgive him a hundred times.”

Thus, the Lord only has a smile on his face. Feeling protected by the promise Krishna had given, Shishupala goes on and on, unhindered. The whole court is angry and wants to kill Shishupala but since Krishna does nothing, they do nothing.

Shishupala is also cunning. He stops exactly at a hundred abuses. Krishna smiles and says,
“I have borne all these insults out of concern for my father’s sister. Let us ignore Shishupala and go about the proceedings.”
Bheeshma adds,
“In forgiving the vile-tongued one as Shishupala, Krishna shows his greatness and love. Even Shishupala’s criticism is Krishna’s will. The king of Chedi, Shishupala, has no will of his own.”
Shishupala is unable to bear this anymore. His ego is hurt and his lashing tongue continues. But alas! The hundred insults are up and Lord Krishna instantly picks up the Tamboola plate (a plate on which offerings are made to God/elders) and throws it towards Shishupala. The plate becomes a weapon that slices away his neck! The throat is silenced forever.

The powerful, brave and great king Shishupala meets his death in an instant at the Lord's hands. 
Pic credit: Amar Chitra Katha

What happens next is beautiful. The Lord walks up to the corpse and pay His respects. The soul of Shishupala rises like a ball of light and merges into Krishna! Krishna thus repays the foul words the Shishupala showered on Him with the greatest gift a devotee seeks - merger in Him!

When one believes that everything is God's will, one should not be affected with the existence of critics and criticism.
Pic credit: Amar Chitra Katha

If you need me, you deserve me

When Swami narrates this episode, we get reminded so much of Swami Himself. He showers love on everyone - irrespective of whether they love Him or hate Him. The devotee gets agitated on seeing the Lord criticized but the Lord does not - because He is aware of the past, present and future. Everyone is but a character in the grand drama called life for which He is the director.

The ‘devotee’ and ‘critic’ both have their roles. The final result is same for both - merger in the Lord. If we think about it, often the ‘critic’ thinks about God more intensely and passionately compared to the ‘devotee’!

Swami says, “If you need me, you deserve me.”

Those that fail to recognize God, turn away from Him, act against His words and criticize Him - don’t they need Him the most? So, I resolved, the next time someone condemns and criticizes my God or betrays Him I won’t get angry. I shall sympathise with the ‘critic’/’betrayer’ and pray for him/her. Just as Krishna showered the ultimate love to Shishupala and just as Swami showers His love on all, I too shall try to send my love to the ‘critic’/’betrayer’. And if I cannot do that, the least I can do is just ignore him/her just like everyone in the king’s court that day ignored Shishupala. The Lord will take care!

The same formula will work for those that criticise us as well.

“If the criticism is made in a loud voice, it goes into the thin air. If it is made within one self, it goes to oneself only. Such being the case, why should you be perturbed? Criticism will only help you to progress. So, do not harbour hatred towards those who criticize you. Accept everything good that comes your way. Ignore all that is bad. Pleasure is an interval between two pains. Shadow follows light. One should not be afraid of shadow. There is light even in shadow. Light and shadow cannot exist separately. There is a principle of unity between them. So, do not react to any criticism levelled against Swami or any other elder for that matter. Just brush it aside, saying, you have nothing to do with it. If someone points out mistakes in you, you can certainly rectify them. But if someone levels false charges against you, you don’t need to be worried over it. People may praise or criticize, but none can shake Sai. Sai lives in truth. None has been able to shake truth at any point of time. Lead your lives with such strong conviction. Increase your faith in God day by day. As faith increases, all the wickedness will perish. Do not give up the spiritual practices that you have been doing all along.

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  1. Wonderful and useful 60 i need tbis

  2. Wonderful and useful 60 i need tbis

  3. What an Amazing way Swami has shown us to subdue our Anger when criticized. Jai Saikrishna.

  4. Sairam Aravind thanks a lot for showing all of us SWAMI's way to deal with criticism and anger. Kshama / forgiveness and Prema / Love are the two qualities we should nurture to progress on spiritual path of merging in HIM.

  5. A wonderful lesson..Most of the time i have come across the situations like this. So it is really a great lesson.sairam

  6. Very educating, practical and inspiring message here from Swami and His University student who shared for us. Thanks Bro.Arvind for very good work that you are sharing to us.

  7. Thanks Sir for enlightening on the past and present glory of Sri Krishna and Swami. Lot of points to ponder over and think and act responsibly. Hope we deserve the love and affection of Swami.

    1. If we need HIM, we deserve HIM.

    2. Sai ram brother.
      It was a great pleasure reading this message.Its true that we are surrounded by criticism in every sphere of life,and as humans we react in many inappropriate ways.
      Will try to imbibe swami's teaching.If not completely may be as much as I can.
      Thank you again
      Keep posting such messages ..

  8. Sairam brother what a detailed post. Wonderful.. Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. JAI SAI RAM.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Sairam Brother - Thank you so much for loving us, inspiring us, educating us through Swami's message and Devotee's experience to overcome our shortcomings. Thank you so much Brother for this blessing and gift of Love. Thank you, Deva

  11. Sairam brother, Very enlightening message and which has to be engraved in our mind and to be followed day in and day out. Swami has already given us the slogan for this Love all Serve All ( inspite of criticsms to be read between this slogan). Thank you Sairam

  12. Sairam,
    A wonderful article. Are there any more quotes or advice from our beloved Sai Baba regarding how to deal with being abused/bullied?

  13. Sairam
    Are there podcasts or Audios available for anecdotes or musings other than on RadioSai ?


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