Honest Feedback Out of Compassion

Ajahn Sucitto

Honest Feedback Out of Compassion

So it’s interesting that the Kathina season begins with what’s called the Pavaranā – which means ‘Invitation.’ Pavaranā is the invitation that the samanas, the monks and nuns, offer to each other; it’s a kind of voucher. And this voucher says: ‘If you see or even suspect that there’s something that I’ve been doing wrong – please let me know.’

The Buddha said this is the most precious gift we can offer to each other – it helps us review our actions and consequently the mind-set from which they arose. In this way we get wiser and see what we didn’t see clearly before. Of course, we can feel worry about being humiliated or attacked, but without another person offering correction, how are we going to get out of our blindspots?

In a dialogue on this theme, the Buddha used the analogy of training horses to refer to mind-sets of different kinds of disciple. One kind only needs a few reminders, occasionally. These are like the horses that get the message when the trainer just raises the whip and they see its shadow. With others, he says he has to bring the point home more directly, as in the case of the horse that a trainer has to flick with a whip from time to time. Another kind of disciple is like a horse that only gets going or changes direction if it’s struck repeatedly.

And finally there are those disciples that he, or others, have to kill. The other person in the dialogue is naturally taken aback by this: ‘You kill your disciples?’ The Buddha replied: ‘Yes, we kill them. We give up admonishing and correcting them. And it is death in this Dhamma-Vinaya, when one’s companions no longer feel it is worthwhile admonishing you.’

So to not give honest feedback out of compassion for another’s welfare is like spiritual murder; it’s the worst thing that could happen to you. Because then you’re left in your own mess, you continue to develop bad habits, cause pain for others, and leave unskilful mind-sets untouched – and go to a bad place.

This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is from the article, “The Good Friend.”