That is a great error of the human vital—to want compliments for their own sake and to be depressed by their absence and imagine that it means there is no capacity. In this world one starts with ignorance and imperfection in whatever one does—one has to find out one’s mistakes and to learn, one has to commit errors and find out by correcting them the right way to do things. Nobody in the world has ever escaped from this law. So what one has to expect from others is not compliments all the time, but praise of what is right or well done and criticism of errors and mistakes. The more one can bear criticism and see one’s mistakes, the more likely one is to arrive at the fullness of one’s capacity. Especially when one is very young—before the age of maturity—one cannot easily do perfect work. What is called the juvenile work of poets and painters—work done in their early years is always imperfect, it is a promise and has qualities—but the real perfection and full use of their powers comes afterwards. They themselves know that very well, but they go on writing or painting because they know also that by doing so they will develop their powers.
As for comparison with others, one ought not to do that. Each one has his own lesson to learn, his own work to do and he must concern himself with that, not with the superior or inferior progress of others in comparison with himself. If he is behind today, he can be in full capacity hereafter and it is for that future perfection of his powers that he must labour. You are young and have everything yet to learn—your capacities are yet only in bud, you must wait and work for them to be in full bloom—and you must not mind if it takes months and years even to arrive at something satisfying and perfect. It will come in its proper time, and the work you do now is always a step towards it.
But learn to welcome criticism and the pointing out of imperfections—the more you do so, the more rapidly you will advance.
Criticism and Compliments
Mme. David-Neel who is a militant Buddhist and a great Buddhistic luminary—when she came to India she went to meet some of those great sages or gurus—I shan’t give you the names, but she went to one who looked at her and asked her … for they were speaking of yoga and personal effort and all that… he looked at her and asked her, “Are you indifferent to criticism?” Then she answered him with the classical expression, “Does one care about a dog’s barking?” But she added to me when telling me the story, very wittily: “Fortunately he did not ask me whether I was indifferent to compliments, because that is much more difficult!”
One of the commonest demands of the vital is for praise. It hates to be criticised and treated as if it were of little importance. But it must be always prepared for rebuffs and stand them with absolute calm; nor must it pay attention to compliments, forgetting that each movement of self-satisfaction is an offering at the altar of the lords of falsehood. The beings of the subtle world of the life-force, with which our vital is connected, live and flourish on the worship of their devotees, and that is why they are always inspiring new cults and religions so that their feasts of worship and adulation may never come to an end. So also your own vital being and the vital forces behind it thrive—that is to say, fatten their ignorance—by absorbing the flatteries given by others. But you must remember that the compliments paid by creatures on the same level of ignorance as oneself are really worth nothing, they are just as worthless as the criticisms levelled at one. No matter from what pretentious source they derive, they are futile and empty. Unfortunately, however, the vital craves even for the most rotten food and is so greedy that it will accept praise from even the very embodiments of incompetence.
How can one become indifferent to criticism?
By climbing somewhere up on the ladder—in one’s own consciousness—looking at things a little more vastly, a little more generally. For example, if at a particular moment there is something which holds you, grips you like that, holds you tight, close pressed, and you absolutely want it to happen, and you are fighting against a terrible obstacle, you see, something which is preventing it from happening; if simply just at that moment you begin to feel, to realise the myriads and myriads of years there were before this present moment, and the myriads and myriads of years there will be after this present moment, and what importance this little event has in relation to all that—there is no need to enter a spiritual consciousness or anything else, simply enter into relation with space and time, with all that is before, all that is after and all that is happening at the same time—if one is not an idiot, immediately he tells himself, “Oh, well, I am attaching importance to something which doesn’t have any.” Necessarily so, you see. It loses all its importance, immediately.
If you can visualise, you know, simply the immensity of the creation—I am not now speaking of rising to spiritual heights—simply the immensity of the creation in time and space, and this little event on which you are concentrated with an importance… as though it were something of some importance … immediately it does this (gesture) and it dissolves, if you do it sincerely. If, naturally, there is one part of yourself which tells you, “Ah, but for me it has an importance”, then, there, you have only to leave that part behind and keep your consciousness as it is. But if sincerely you want to see the true value of things, it is very easy.
There are other methods, you know. There is a Chinese sage who advises you to lie down upon events as one floats on one’s back upon the sea, imagining the immensity of the ocean and that you let yourself go floating upon this … upon the waves, you see, like something contemplating the skies and letting itself be carried away. In Chinese they call this Wu Weï. When you can do this all your troubles are gone. I knew an Irishman who used to lie flat on his back and look outside, as much as possible on an evening when stars were in the sky, he looked, contemplated the sky and imagined that he was floating in that immensity of countless luminous points.
And immediately all troubles are calmed.
There are many ways. But sincerely, you have only to … have the sense of relativity between your little person and the importance you give to the things which concern you, and the universal immensity; this is enough. Naturally, there is another way, it is to free oneself from the earth consciousness and rise into a higher consciousness where these terrestrial things take their true place—which is quite small, you see.
But… indeed, once, very long ago, when I was still in Paris and used to see Mme. David-Neel almost every day, she, you see, was full of her own idea and told me, “You should not think of an action, it means attachment for the action; when you want to do something, it means that you are still tied to the things of this world.” Then I told her, “No, there is nothing easier. You have only to imagine everything that has been done before and all that will be done later and all that is happening now, and you will then realise that your action is a breath, like this, one second in eternity, and you can no longer be attached to it.” At that time I didn’t know the text of the Gita. I had not read it completely yet, you see … not this verse which I translate in my own way: “And detached from all fruit of action, act.” It is not like this, but still that’s what it means. This I did not know, but I said exactly what is said in the Gita.
Opinion of the Truth
What, however, is of genuine worth is the opinion of the Truth. When there is somebody who is in contact with the Divine Truth and can express it, then the opinions given out are no mere compliments or criticisms but what the Divine thinks of you, the value it sets on your qualities, its unerring stamp on your efforts. It must be your desire to hold nothing in esteem except the word of the Truth; and in order thus to raise your standard you must keep Agni, the soul’s flame of transformation, burning in you. It is noteworthy how, when Agni flares up, you immediately develop a loathing for the cheap praise which formerly used to gratify you so much, and understand clearly that your love of praise was a low movement of the untransformed nature. Agni makes you see what a vast vista of possible improvement stretches in front of you, by filling you with a keen sense of your present insufficiency. The encomium lavished on you by others so disgusts you that you feel almost bitter towards those whom you would have once considered your friends; whereas all criticism comes as a welcome fuel to your humble aspiration towards the Truth. No longer do you feel depressed or slighted by the hostility of others. For, at least, you are able to ignore it with the greatest ease; at the most, you appreciate it as one more testimony to your present unregenerate state, inciting you to surpass yourself by surrendering to the Divine.