Question: Is pointing out others’ mistakes to them considered as speaking of the fourfold assembly’s transgressions (说四众过)? Is pointing them out to others considered as gossip (说闲话) or personally praising slander of others (自赞毁他)?
Answer: Pointing out others’ mistakes to them, to help them see the error of their ways and to urge correction is a compassionate act; not speaking of their transgressions just to blame or scold them. If thus, without hatred, this is surely not a personal transgression.
Pointing out others’ definite mistakes to someone else to seek solutions to help them see the error of their ways and to urge correction is also a compassionate act; not gossiping about their transgressions to sow discord (搬弄是非). This might also be needed to protect more from the unrepentant, if they refuse to change their ways.
Preventing more from being harmed also prevents the unrepentant from creating more evil karma, which will harm herself (or himself). There should be no speculative accusations, only speaking of matters as they are, for differentiating right from wrong (辨别是非). If thus, without hateful, deluded and false assertions, this is surely not slander. Generally, when communication is not constructive in nature, it is usually destructive; seldom neutral.
If merely to speak of others’ faults is to gossip and slander, the fully enlightened Buddha would have been very ‘guilty’. Of course, he was not wrong at all. In fact, he was totally right, by kindly and correctly pointing out the rights and wrongs done by others, so that all can learn to avoid evil and practise good accordingly.
The Buddha also taught that we should ‘name the demons’ without animosity, out of good will for everyone’s welfare, including those named. In the Brahma Net Sūtra’s Bodhisattva Precepts’ Text《梵网经菩萨戒本》, the ‘Fifth [Light] Precept Against Not Teaching Repentance Of Transgressions’ (第五不教悔罪[轻]戒) says, ‘If the Buddha’s disciples, see all sentient beings violating the Eight Precepts, Five Precepts and Ten Precepts, destroying and abandoning the precepts and rules, with the Seven Heinous Transgressions and the Eight Difficulties, of all who have violated the precepts with transgressions, they should be taught to have repentance. And if Bodhisattvas do not teach repentance, together dwelling, together with the Saṃgha having benefits and support with them, and together during Poṣadha, with one in the assembly speaking the precepts, yet not raising these transgressions, not teaching them to repent for their faults, they commit a light defiled transgression.’ (若佛子，见一切众生犯八戒、五戒、十戒、毁禁、七逆、八难，一切犯戒罪，应教忏悔。而菩萨不教忏悔，同住、同僧利养，而共布萨，一众说戒，而不举其罪，不教悔过者，犯轻垢罪。)
The essential spirit of the precept says that for the good of one and all, those known to have done evil, or who are doing evil, should be told of their mistakes (if unaware), and encouraged to repent for their wrongs before an appropriate community. (If the mistakes are grave, they should be raised to the community, if not confessed by the guilty, lest the community and beyond be harmed later. Pure monastics are forbidden from sharing offerings with those who have violated precepts.) Admittance of faults helps to ensure there will be remedial actions and resolutions to not repeat the mistakes. Indeed, those who secretly do evil tend to continue, without any remorse. The secrecy is seldom due to pure shame, but with the intention to be morally shameless… relentlessly. Fellow Buddhists should look out for, and correct one another. What is the point of being in a spiritual community, if its members do not care about one another?
Notes On Dharma Terms:
The Bodhisattva Precepts (菩萨戒) are moral guidelines for avoiding doing of all evil for the sake of all beings, practising all good for the sake of all beings, and guiding all beings to Buddhahood.
The Five Precepts (五戒) are basic moral guidelines to (i) not kill lives (不杀生), (ii) not steal (不偷盗), (iii) not have sexual misconduct (不邪淫), (iv) not have false speech (不妄语) and (v) not drink alcohol (不饮酒).
The Eight Precepts (八戒) are purification days’ (斋日) and retreat moral guidelines to (i) not kill lives (不杀生), (ii) not steal (不偷盗), (iii) not have sexual conduct (不淫), (iv) not have false speech (不妄语), (v) not drink alcohol (不饮酒), (vi) not wear perfumes, flowers and garlands, apply fragrant oils on the body (不着香花鬘，不香油涂身), (vii) not sit (and lie) on high, broad and big (chairs and) beds (不坐高广大床), sing, dance, have entertainment, go see or hear such (不歌舞倡伎，不往观听), and (viii) have untimely eating (不非时食).
The Ten Precepts (十戒) are novice monastic moral guidelines to (i) not kill lives (不杀生), (ii) not steal (不偷盗), (iii) not have sexual conduct (不淫), (iv) not have false speech (不妄语), (v) not drink alcohol (不饮酒), (vi) not wear perfumes, flowers and garlands, apply fragrant oils on the body (不着香花鬘，不香油涂身), (vii) not sing, dance, have entertainment, go see or hear such (不歌舞倡伎，不往观听), (viii) not sit (and lie) on high, broad and big (chairs and) beds (不坐高广大床), (ix) have untimely eating (不非时食), and (x) not clutch money, gold, silver and treasured objects (不捉钱金银宝物).
The Five Heinous Transgressions (五逆罪) are (i) killing of father (杀父), (ii) killing of mother (杀母), (iii) killing of Arhat (杀阿罗汉), (iv) causing Buddha’s body to bleed (出佛身血), and (v) breaking up the harmonious Saṃgha (破和合僧).
The Seven Heinous Transgressions (七逆罪) are (i) causing Buddha’s body to bleed (出佛身血), (ii) killing of father (杀父), (iii) killing of mother (杀母), (iv) killing of senior (venerable) monastic (杀和尚), (v) killing of Ācārya (杀阿阇梨), (vi) breaking up the karma and Dharma wheel-turning Saṃgha (破羯磨转法轮僧), and (vii) killing of noble persons (杀圣人). These five and seven transgressions lead to fall into the Uninterrupted Hell (无间地狱).
The Eight Difficulties (八难) are from not seeing a Buddha (见佛) to hear the Right Dharma (正法), which are the (i) difficulty of being in the hell path (在地狱难), (ii) difficulty of being in the hungry ghost path (在饿鬼难), (iii) difficulty of being in the animal path (在畜生难), (iv) difficulty of being in a long-life heaven (在长寿天难), (v) difficulty of being in border land’s Uttarakuru (在边地之郁单越难), (vi) difficulty of being blind, deaf and/or mute (盲聋喑哑难), (vii) difficulty of having worldly knowledge and intelligence to debate (世智辩聪难), and the (viii) difficulty of being born before a Buddha or after a Buddha (生在佛前佛后难). These difficulties arise from evil karmas, from breaking the precepts.
The conventional Saṃgha (僧) is the community of Buddhist monks and nuns, while the Noble Saṃgha (圣僧) is the enlightened fourfold assembly (四众) of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen.
Poṣadha (布萨) is the Saṃgha’s fortnightly confession, raising and repenting of faults, with recitation of Monastic Precepts (出家戒) and Bodhisattva Precepts by one representative, as practice reminders. This is also practised by lay Buddhists who are Bodhisattva Preceptors, without the Monastic Precepts.