A kind, authentic, genuine, sincere, specific, thoughtful and honest compliment is like a form of magic — as long as, you know, you genuinely feel it and thus actually mean it — it has the power to turn someone’s day around in an instant and make them feel happy and appreciated. It may help restore a person’s self-esteem and encourage one to work further.
But if it is hyperbole or gratuitous praise or an applause (ਚਾਪਲੂਸੀ), then beware!
Whatever may the case be, let praise or flattery not go into the receiver’s head. Perhaps, the person praising you is genuine. Or perhaps, the person praising you wants something out of you!
Generally, applause is indicative of a crowd-mentality, which does not think!
Aptly, the SGGS counsels to beware of worldly praise. For it serves the animal aspects of our biological nature which always ends up causing pain.
Praise, slander, honor, disgrace, pain and joy etc. (ਉਸਤਤ, ਵਡਿਆਈ, ਨਿੰਦਿਆ, ਮਾਨ, ਅਪਮਾਨ…) — the way the majority of us view or gauge or measure them is different than the Gurmat Wisdom of the SGGS.
Generally our measure of these is through the eyes of the world. In other words, the majority of us are always concerned about what does the world say or think about ‘me’ etc.
However, the Gurmat’s yardstick seems to be something else.
- ਕਬੀਰ ਡੂਬਹਿਗੋ ਰੇ ਬਾਪੁਰੇ ਬਹੁ ਲੋਗਨ ਕੀ ਕਾਨਿ ॥: Kabeer (says)! O wretched man, you will be drowned (death of your divine lifestyle) through undue regard for public opinion. (sggs 1373).
- ਲੋਕਨ ਕੀ ਚਤੁਰਾਈ ਉਪਮਾ ਤੇ ਬੈਸੰਤਰਿ ਜਾਰਿ ॥: I have burnt in the fire the artifices and praises of people. (sggs 528).
People may ask for criticism, but in reality they only want to hear and read praises about them.
In fact, to please the world in order to get praise from others, many go out of their way.
For example, we pretend to be Mahatmaa, display phony religiosity, display show off religious robes and other paraphernalia, give and take ‘Siropa‘, practice rituals or formalities (Karamkaand), imitate others etc.
- ਲੋਕਿ ਪਤੀਣੈ ਨਾ ਪਤਿ ਹੋਇ ॥: Honor (improvement in life) is not obtained by trying to please people. (sggs 661).
- ਦੁਨੀਆ ਕੀਆ ਵਡਿਆਈਆ ਨਾਨਕ ਸਭਿ ਕੁਮਿਤ ॥੨॥: O Nanak! (If the Divine – Naam, Wisdom, Virtues, Hukam, etc. – is forgotten) All worldly praises are like bad friends. ||2|| (sggs 319).
However, a spiritually elevated person (i.e. a Gurmukh) is sensitive to being unduly praised. He feels uncomfortable. Although people who praise him may be well-meaning, but he nevertheless feels uncomfortable, and care less of worldly praise.
He feels uncomfortable because, for one thing, such praise only reminds him of his limitations, his shortcomings, his weaknesses, his decadence, his faults etc.
He knows that the Way of the Gurmukh Lifestyle (Jeevan Padavee – eternal life) is through self-criticism and not through self-adulation. He also knows that the success is not the same thing as worldly recognition, and that it can neither be given to others as a mundane gift or made to an order.
The SGGS teaches us that the worldly praise (honor, recognition, glory, grandeur…) is temporary, which inflates one’s false ego-sense (Haumai) and distances from one’s Mool (Jot Saroop or True Nature…). Hence, it puts one on a wrong path.
- ਮਨਮੁਖ ਅਹੰਕਾਰੁ ਸਲਾਹਦੇ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਮਤਾ ਵਾਦੁ ॥ ਜਿਨ ਸਾਲਾਹਨਿ ਸੇ ਮਰਹਿ ਖਪਿ ਜਾਵੈ ਸਭੁ ਅਪਵਾਦੁ ॥: Manmukhs (perverse) loud arrogance (pride, self-conceit…), egotism and attachment; and (because of this, they cause) quarrel (controversy, dispute, argument…). They, whom they praise, die away; and all (those who do praising – Manmukhs) pine away in wrangling (i.e., this chain or order of praise-slander is unavailing, useless, futile…). (sggs 301).
To the contrary, however, a fraud or an unwise person (i.e., Manmukh, Sakaakat, Mayadhaaree, etc.) deems false to be real and enjoys self-glorification, or being praised, glorified or recognized by others, because he is not able to understand the ridiculousness of such praise. He fails to recognize the fact that such glorification is an implied insult. One’s intellect gets plundered when it follows Maya.
Not only that, those who utter false praises are false themselves. Sooner or later, their falsehood gets exposed.
- ਕੂੜੁ ਠਗੀ ਗੁਝੀ ਨਾ ਰਹੈ ਕੂੜੁ ਮੁਲੰਮਾ ਪਲੇਟਿ ਧਰੇਹੁ ॥ ਕੂੜੀ ਕਰਨਿ ਵਡਾਈਆ ਕੂੜੇ ਸਿਉ ਲਗਾ ਨੇਹੁ ॥: Falsehood and deception wrapped up in false gilding remain NOT undetected. (False ones) utter false praises, (for they) love falsehood (sggs 311).
Since a Gurmukh is after ‘Parmaarath’ (eternal life or Jeevan Padavee, Spiritual Wisdom …), he is careful for he knows he is walking on a razor’s edge to reach his life’s ultimate Goal of Mool-Abidance.
- ਗੁਰ ਕੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਸਮਾਈਐ ਪਰਮਾਰਥੁ ਜਾਣੈ ॥੨॥: By being absorbed in the Gur-Shabad, know the ‘Parmaarath‘ (Supreme Truth …). (sggs 419).
A Gurmukh knows praise can be a temptation to relax or to become bloated with pride or false ego-sense (Haumai) resulting in losing longing for searching own self. Instead, he constantly wants to bring out the best in him. He always try to be better than his own self.
He is also aware that praise gives false sense of euphoria and weakens the zeal needed to meet all challenges on the Way of Truth. Thus may serve to undermine motivation.
Other pitfalls of praise are it fosters dependency; becoming accustomed or adducted to praise one overlooks opportunities for growth; it gives rise to arrogance, ignorance, egotism, self-conceit, complacency, unrealistic expectations of always being praised, misplaced priorities due to addiction to praise, and so on.
In its essence, praise is a comparison. For example, when we say ‘You’re wonderful’, it implies somebody else is not. Or, when we say ‘You are an extraordinary!’, it implies superior to someone else. Or, when we say ‘You are very intelligent’, it implies someone else is less intelligent, and so on.
The fact is if one is susceptible to praise then that person is likely susceptible to criticism, or slander. The Gurbani urges the Wise person to shun both — be above both praise and criticism.
- ਉਸਤਤਿ ਨਿੰਦਾ ਦੋਊ ਤਿਆਗੈ ਖੋਜੈ ਪਦੁ ਨਿਰਬਾਨਾ ॥ ਜਨ ਨਾਨਕ ਇਹੁ ਖੇਲੁ ਕਠਨੁ ਹੈ ਕਿਨਹੂੰ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਾਨਾ ॥੨॥੧॥: Renounce both praise and blame; seek instead the state of Nirvaanaa (Aatmic Avasthaa devoid of Vaasnaa). O Nanak (however)! This is a difficult game; only a rare who has become the Gurmukh understands it! ||2||1|| (sggs 219).
- ਨਾਨਕ ਪਰਖੇ ਆਪ ਕਉ ਤਾ ਪਾਰਖੁ ਜਾਣੁ ॥: O Nanak, if someone judges himself, only then is he known as a real judge (sggs 148).
He wants to learn more and new everyday (‘ਨੀਤ ਨਵਾ’-Neet Navaa). He wants to shun false ego-sense (Haumai).
He knows his best is yet to come! If people criticize him, he is not dismayed. If someone points to him his defects he had never suspected they existed in him, he does not get angry. Instead, he starts working on those defects to remove theme. On the other hand, however, if worldly people praise him, he hardy takes notice of it.
- ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਪਾਈ ਵਡੀ ਵਡਿਆਈ ਸਚੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਰਸੁ ਪੀਜੈ ॥: Realization of Gurmati (Wisdom of the Gurbani) is the great glory; drink in the essence of the True Shabad (sggs 568).
However, those established in their Mool, care less if and when they are praised, slandered or criticized by the worldly people. Nothing can deviate them from the Way of the Truth. Bhagat Kabeer Jee tells worldly people:
- ਨਿੰਦਉ ਨਿੰਦਉ ਮੋ ਕਉ ਲੋਗੁ ਨਿੰਦਉ ॥…: Slander me, slander me — go ahead, people, slander me (by telling lies about me)… (sggs 339).
Also, Baabaa Nanak’s life teaches us very important lesson in this regard as well. For example, contemptuously, many would call him ‘Bhootanaa’, ‘Betaalaa’, ‘Vaechaara’, etc. But this did not deter him from his Goal.
- ਕੋਈ ਆਖੈ ਭੂਤਨਾ ਕੋ ਕਹੈ ਬੇਤਾਲਾ ॥ ਕੋਈ ਆਖੈ ਆਦਮੀ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਵੇਚਾਰਾ ॥੧॥: (For not following the worldly ways…) Some call (Nanak) ‘Bhootanaa‘ (a ghost…); some call ‘Betaalaa‘ (demon…); Some call ‘Vaechaara‘ (wretched, helpless, poor…). ||1|| (sggs 991).
Hence, the SGGS counsels us to rise above and not be susceptible to praise or slander, etc.:
- ਉਸਤਤਿ ਨਿੰਦਾ ਸਬਦੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ ਜੋ ਦੇਵੈ ਤਿਸ ਕਉ ਜੈਕਾਰੁ ॥: If a person considers Shabad-Vichaar in depth, then he will understand what is praise and what is slander (i.e. he will know right and wrong, bad and good, courtesy and wickedness etc.). Glory to the one who gives this Wisdom. (sggs 1331).
- ਜਾ ਤੂੰ ਕਰਣਹਾਰੁ ਕਰਤਾਰੁ ॥ ਕਿਆ ਮੁਹਤਾਜੀ ਕਿਆ ਸੰਸਾਰੁ ॥੨॥: O Creator ( Universal Energy, Hukam: System-Rule-Law of Nature), when You are capable of doing everything; then why should one be dependent upon anyone and (in any case) what can the world do to him (i.e. nothing). ||2|| (sggs 349).