Original TDE article, as featured in For You (Information) 佛友(资讯) magazine
The Dharma for the unenlightened is a one-sided mirror for self-reflection. With this mirror turned away, its proper function ceases. Thus, the Dharma is for checking personal faults, before holding it up for others to check theirs.
In the ‘The Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sūtra’s Chapter On Prajñā’s Formless Ode’《六祖坛经》（般若品：无相颂）, among other teachings, the Chán (Chinese Zen) Tradition’s Sixth Patriarch Great Master Huìnéng（禅宗六祖惠能大师）taught on fault-finding with its Verses 9-11. As they are often misunderstood and abused as ‘rationale’ for why others’ faults should be excused, and why others should ignore one’s own faults, here they are, as retranslated, followed by commentary to elucidate on their true meanings.
If personally without [the] mind [for walking the] path [to Buddhahood],
[in the] darkness [one] walks without seeing [the] path.
If [as] a true cultivator [of the] path,
[one does] not see [the] world’s faults.
Commentary: It is crucial to have pure motivation for spiritual cultivation towards Buddhahood, as based upon Right Understanding, to learn and practise the Buddha’s teachings properly. Without these, one is simply walking in the darkness of ignorance, not even seeing the path to Buddhahood, what more to be walking on it. One might be walking in circles, or even be misled by personal delusions to imagine one is walking on the right path, when one might be walking deeper into the darkness, straying further away from the path to enlightenment.
True cultivators of the path do not deliberately do fault-finding of others, as they are already busy being as completely mindful as they can, of their own conduct in thought, word and deed, from moment to moment. Once there is straying away of attention to look for others’ faults, one creates the fault of not paying enough attention on one’s (potential) faults, that might grow unchecked. Not fault-finding does not mean not knowing right from wrong, or to ignore others’ faults. It means to not purposely look for others’ faults; so as to focus on correcting one’s own.
If seeing others’ wrongs,
[this is a] personal wrong, [which] is nevertheless improper.
Others [might be] wrong [but] I [should] not [also be] wrong,
[while] my wrongs [are] my personal faults.
Commentary: Seeing another’s fault becomes a personal fault if one becomes fixated on it, leading to neglect of one’s already existing faults. One’s perception becomes occupied with others’ faults that cannot be rectified directly, to that extent becoming defiled too. As it is our negative karma’s ripening, to be ‘disturb-able’ by others’ faults, while we are still not skiful enough to guide them to be free from those faults, in this sense, their faults are ours too. It is however not improper if we happen to be aware of others’ surfaced faults, which should be skilfully highlighted, with compassion, to guide them to give rise to wisdom, to see the error of their ways.
We are each responsible for our own wrongs, but if we choose to be blind or apathetic towards one another, without inter-cultivation of compassion, how can we safeguard the Buddhist community’s spiritual well-being? The Buddha himself, although able to perceive the pure Buddha-nature (i.e. potential for Buddhahood) within all beings, including errant ones, also corrects them, to facilitate realisation of their mistakes, and to further align them to their Buddha-nature. When we see others’ mistakes, we must be reminded to not make similar mistakes. Seeing our faults is also more urgent and practical than seeing others’, as we can immediately change our ways, while we cannot ‘force’ others to change theirs.
Only personally retreat [from the] wrong mind,
[to] eradicate afflictions, [and] break [free from them].
[With] hate [and] love not concerning [the] mind,
long stretch [the] two legs [and] lie [down].
Commentary: Especially for beginners, the immediate task is to retreat from the ill habit of fault-finding in others, so as to clearer see personal faults, which are the root causes of all afflictions (i.e. suffering that originate in the mind). Extending of both feet to rest represents ease, when letting go of both attachment (i.e. worldly love) and aversion (i.e. worldly hatred), which are the first two active ones of the Three Poisons (which are the causes of all evil and suffering, with the third being latent delusion, that gives rise to the two). When the first two are inactive, the third is also deactivated, if not already eradicated. Those personally more purified from the poisons are in better position to help ‘cure’ the more poisoned ones. Others might only stir up more afflictions for both parties.
In a related incident as an example, a lady once adopted the ascetic Paveyya and looked after his needs. When she heard neighbours’ praises of the Buddha, she invited him over for alms offering. While the Buddha was expressing Anumodanā (i.e. 随喜迴向功德: rejoice and dedication of merits, with appreciation and blessings), Paveyya who was in the next room became angry, scolding and cursing her for venerating the Buddha. Hearing this, she felt so ashamed that she could not focus on the Buddha’s words, to which he told her not to be concerned about the swears and threats, but to focus only on her own good and evil done. Thereupon, he uttered Verse 8 of the ‘(Chinese) Dharmapada’s Chapter On Flowers’ Fragrance’《法句经》（华香品）:
[Do] not labour [at] observing others,
[on what they have] done [i.e. commissions] and not done [i.e. omissions].
Constantly examine oneself [i.e. self-reflect],
[to] know [if one is] right [or] not right [i.e. wrong].
If after adequate self-reflection, we are clear in our conscience, on the issue at hand, that we are not with fault, and that we are virtuous, there is no need to be disturbed by others’ groundless accusations. Yet, out of compassion for those who ready to listen to our clarifications, to prevent them from slandering which creates negative karma, we should communicate with them calmly to clear the air. For those clearly not rational at the moment, we should simply let them cool down first, instead of adding ‘fuel’ to the fire of their rage. On the Bodhisattva path to Buddhahood, to lack compassion and wisdom to skilfully help others realise their faults is a personal fault, though the priority is to rectify other existing personal faults first. Mere seeing of another’s faults never led anyone to faultless enlightenment!
The Dharma for the fully enlightened is a one-sided mirror for others’ reflection. With this mirror turned away, its proper function never ceases. Thus, the Dharma is for checking others’ faults, after holding it up for oneself to check one’s own.
Three Spiritual Diseases, Evils & Mistakes To Avoid
Why Denounce Precept-Breaking ‘Buddhist Teachers’?
Highlighting Others’ Faults
Hush About Others’ Faults?
Your Suffering Is Always Your Fault!