May 10, 2020

On Praise and Blame

Or Examining the Process of Self-Delusion
John Garrigues
A sense of equilibrium expands spiritual intelligence


Editorial Note:

The article “On Praise and Blame” was
first published in the March 1932 edition
of “Theosophy” magazine, in Los Angeles
(pp. 206-207). It had no indication as to the
name of the author. Original title: “Praise and
Blame”. On the criteria used to identify
articles written by J. G., click to see
 (Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
“He also is my beloved servant (….)
to whom praise and blame are as one.”
Bhagavad-Gita [1]
What are praise and blame but one of the ubiquitous pairs of opposites? They represent the reaction of other personalities to ours and its activities, spontaneous or directed from within.
To desire that our efforts shall receive commendation and that they shall not be adversely criticized is to look for results, which should not concern us when we are trying to live up to the best we know.  He who fears censure may find himself, in time of crisis, a moral coward; he who courts praise may be ready to betray a confidence to justify his course, or vaunt his good deeds better left unsung.
It might be thought that only an extremely self-centered person, so enwrapped in his estimate of himself that he is indifferent to the opinion of any other, could regard praise and blame with entire equanimity. But often the person most satisfied with himself is most susceptible to flattery. Convinced as he is of his own worth, corroborative testimony cannot fail to ring true in his ears. He expands under praise and generously increases the radius of his esteem to take in the flatterer. Even the man of deepest apparent humility often hungers for commendation. Not infrequently, excessive self-abasement is with the unguessed motive of eliciting contradiction, which, however deprecatingly received, is none the less eagerly welcomed.
Praise is a subtle intoxicant, and to hold it in the mind is to invite self-delusion. The wise deplore the competitive system under which we live, with its contests, formal or unproclaimed, featuring our advance from infancy to age. Their objection is not primarily because of the humiliation of those who “also ran”, but because of the inevitable strain upon the victors. It has been well said that for a thousand men who can stand adversity, there is only one who can stand prosperity. All too easily, the head is turned, and the winner accepts the momentary estimate of the fickle crowd as his evaluation of himself. “There never was, there never will be, nor is there now, a man who is always blamed or a man who is always praised.” [2]
It is only a question of time until the plaudits of the crowd die away or change to ridicule or censure, but a man’s self-esteem, once inflated, is not easily punctured. 
It is the lower self the people praise, nine cases out of ten; beauty of face or form or prowess physical; “temperament”, meaning moods uncontrolled, emotions passionate; or sharpened intellect to cope with problems that beset the man of earth. What has the man himself to do with these, except as tools whose usefulness to him is measured by their resignation to his purposes? Until their conquest is complete, praise strengthens their resistance to his will and makes his task more difficult and long.
But what of blame? Only the man of conscious rectitude, who sees himself as but one drop in the vast sea of life, no more important than the least of men, his brothers, can bear it without flinching. The Buddha said: “Is there in this world any man so restrained by humility that he does not mind reproof, as a well-trained horse the whip?” [3]
It is a species of hypocrisy to seek to hide from others the blemishes that still deface the picture of the man we seek to be. Not one of us but will admit, in calmer moments, that he falls sadly short of the perfection that he seeks, but we object  to others noting it. We fain would impress with our good qualities those whom we contact, and deal unobserved, if deal we do at all, with the enemies within our own household.
Wise is the man who sifts impartially the blame he receives for the grain of truth it may contain, and, having found it, sets himself more diligently to mend his ways, dismissing from his thoughts, meanwhile, the censure and all the feeling of resentment. Blame, dwelt on morbidly, may stifle initiative or give rise to a sense of inferiority, the “miserable sinner” complex of Christian theology.
To regard praise and blame alike impersonally does not mean, then, to ignore them. Like every other experience, they offer lessons from which the wise man may profit. From the critical evaluation and dispassionate analysis which both call for, much may be learned of human nature, the critic’s and our own. Praise from an unworthy source may be a danger-signal, which the wise will heed. Conversely, blame may be accorded to nobility of conduct which the deluded or low-minded cannot appreciate at its true value.
One point to note is that, when we think too much of either blame or praise, we are centering our thoughts upon our personality, encouraging the ingrowing tendency it is our task to overcome. He who forgets himself in Their work for Humanity has no time to dwell upon the criticisms, favorable or adverse, of those surrounding him. “As a solid rock is not shaken by the wind, wise people falter not amidst blame and praise.” [4]
[1] See Chapter XII of the “Bhagavad Gita”, William Q. Judge edition, Theosophy Co., pp. 91-92. The full sentence says: “He also is my beloved servant who is equal-minded to friend or foe, the same in honor and dishonor, in cold and heat, in pain and pleasure, and is unsolicitous about the event of things; to whom praise and blame are as one; who is of little speech, content with whatever cometh to pass, who hath no fixed habitation, and whose heart, full of devotion, is firmly fixed.” (CCA)
[2] Chapter XVII of “The Dhammapada”, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 10, by Max Müller and Max Fausböll, 1881. Available online.  In the Theosophy Co. edition of the Dhammapada, see a similar version of the same sentence on p. 54, aphorism 228. (CCA)
[3] “The Dhammapada”, Chapter X, aphorism 143 (Sacred Books of the East). See note [2] above for bibliographical background. (CCA)
[4] “The Dhammapada”, Chapter VI, aphorism 81 (Sacred Books of the East). See note [2] above for bibliographical background. (CCA)
he above text was published as an independent item in the associated websites on 10 May 2020. It is also part of the May 2015 edition of “The Aquarian Theosophist”.