The very purpose of spirituality is self-discipline. Rather than criticizing others, we should evaluate and criticize ourselves. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
Recently, I was riding in a car when the driver criticized the driver we were following for their driving style. To me, that was exactly what this quote was about.
They were criticising others for something they didn’t even know they did, and did so in their absence. Without them being present, there would be no way of them understanding what had happened, or altering their behavior.
Instead, the quote urges us to evaluate what we could do to better adapt to the situation, and criticize ourselves and our behaviors. It is implied, at least in my mind, that after we criticize ourselves, we then do something about it, and act to remedy our deficiencies.
Why is fixing ourselves first important?
To me, this quote is mostly about developing the self-discipline necessary to be able to improve ourselves. Lacking that level of self-discipline, we cannot push ourselves to do the work necessary to get better at much of anything. And that’s not much of a life, is it?
It is easy enough to criticize others, for some reason, that just comes natural to most of us. However it is usually much more difficult to even notice a defect, much less criticize it, when we are dealing with ourselves. Again, that just doesn’t seem to be the way it works.
However, with some effort, we can turn the focus to ourselves as the first place to examine when something isn’t quite right. As we are the only person whom we can actually make change. If we can remember that fact, we can more easily make the change.
Where can I apply this in my life?
What are some of the things which others do which annoy you to the point of criticizing others? That might be a clue that there is something you could try to change in yourself. Can you take a moment and consider what rule of yours that they are breaking?
Once you know what the rule is that they are breaking (or bending), you can try to determine where that rule comes from, and if it still serves you. Is it something you learned as a child, but isn’t useful anymore? Is it a rule you learned from your parents or a teacher, which is no longer useful?
Is it something unrealistic in this day and age? Is it even proper, given the change in societal standards over the past few decades? Are you tilting at windmills, or otherwise behaving in an anachronistic manner? Perhaps you could change just a little bit, right?
In the case of the driver mentioned above, they have a certain set of habits that the other driver didn’t know, and wasn’t likely to have developed on their own. Without any communication of common ground rules, there was little chance that the other person would do what was expected.
This would be a prime case for changing our rules for just a little while, so as not to get angry or frustrated with the other driver, right? Then everyone can arrive happy and relaxed, not angry and frustrated. How much of a change do you think it would take to accommodate the quirks of the other person?
Grab some paper and write down a few of the things that annoy you. Once you have a couple of them listed, try to figure out what is the rule that people are breaking that causes each of the annoyances. Now write down what some of the reasons why you have those rules.
Pick one of the items on your list where you want to make a change. The first thing to determine is if this is a life-long change, or just a rule you need to relax for a while under certain circumstances. For a life-long change you’ll need to completely dismantle the rule, as well as replacing all the old reasons with new reasons which support the new rule.
If all you have to do is put up with someone’s quirks for the duration of a trip, a holiday gathering, or a weekend away, all you need to do is come up with reasons to temporarily relax your rule until things are more or less back to normal for you.
Either way, you will have to spend some time carefully examining your life and your reasons for being the way you are. “I’ve always been that way.” may be a good excuse, but it is not a reason. Until you can find the beliefs and examples that support your rules, you will forever be subject to them.
Whether you believe in spirituality or not, I believe the very basis of civilization is self-discipline. Without it, society and even families break down rapidly. When this is combined with the realization that we cannot force others to change, we can come to realize the power of this quote. I hope you chose to live it, as I am trying to do.