Praise & Criticism
"Bhikkhus, possessing two qualities, the wise, competent, good person preserves himself unmaimed and uninjured; he is blameless and beyond reproach by the wise; and he generates much merit.
Only by mastering these two opposites, "Praise & Criticism" precisely, can a good learned true man behave righteously.
This one tiny part of the discourse actually covers all 84 thousand dhammas. Some may say I am overstating but this is the truth. During your life you must know black from white, what to follow and what to avoid. Isn't that all what the 84,000 dhammas try to teach us? To me personally, I think so.
The learning of precepts, meditation and wisdom train us to do good and avoid evil and keep a clean mind. "Keep a Clean Mind" is only put in to clarify things but "Avoid Evil, Do Good" is completely sufficient. "Avoid Evil, Do Good" already includes "Keep a Clean Mind". "Keep a Clean Mind" is result of "Avoid Evil, Do Good".
"Avoid Evil" means avoid evil action, avoid evil speech, avoid evil thoughts. "Do Good" means do good deeds, give good speech, think good thoughts. Training these well and you achieve a clean clear mind. Training with the ten completeness (paramis) you can get through the Four Stages Of Enlightenment.
If you want to "Avoid Evil, Do Good" you must first understand and analyse what is evil and what is good. This is the foundation for accurate assessment of all your actions. This is the focus of the sutta: Praise what deserves praise and criticise what deserves criticism.
Praise & Criticism here means those that you analyse internally, not things you say out loud from your mouth. Praise in your mind what you see that you need to learn, to remember, to follow, to copy and to respect. Criticise mentally what you see as things you must avoid, remove, cut off. But this mental acknowledgement does not mean you have to show disrespect. Because when you see a person doing bad things you learn to avoid doing the same but you should avoid judging that person. Because there is no such person! The transient names and forms come and go. Good, evil, sadness, gladness taking turns to give the illusion of our flimsy existence. Only the evil vs good deeds. A Buddhist practitioner does not judge, praise or criticise anyone because there is no-one. Only names and forms. Only evil and good. Only gladness and sadness. No-one really there for you to disrespect. Actually "disrespect" is nonsensical because in good dhamma philosophy, there is no such verb as "disrespect". So, nobody deserves disrespect, and the word "disrespect" itself is a negative, evil word.
We should not praise and criticise verbally. We train our minds, not our mouths.
Good deed in this life is cause of gladness in future ones. Evil deed in this life leads to suffering in the next. Happiness now is due to good deeds in the previous lives. Sadness is from bad deeds in previous lives. We must memorise and carry this concept with us throughout our lives. All day we move around and in and out of those things, bad, good, sad, glad - all due to interactions of causes and effects - and these define our existence on this life. Until we have enough wisdom (Four Noble Truths) and realise that suffering (or non-satisfaction) exists with all emotions (sadness or gladness). Any passion lead to clinging and suffering and continues to burden our mind with more and more suffering. To stop suffering, we must stop wanting.
A student once told his master "Please help me! I Want Happiness!". His master replied "Remove the 'I' and then remove the 'Want' in your quest and you get left with only 'Happiness' ... "
Back to our topic of Praise and Criticism, here what is there to praise or to criticise? Who can we praise/ Who can we criticise? In the sentence "I Want Happiness" itself, the words "I" and "Want" are already wrong.
How does a bubble criticise another bubble? How does a rat criticise an owl? Both are just blobs of names and forms, nothing to praise or criticise here.
So Praise and Criticism must be done internally and analysed mentally. Accurate analysis brings right understanding. Right understanding leads to right practice. Right practice hopefully brings fruitful results. But if we analyse poorly, not knowing what to follow and what to avoid then that in itself is a great error, a great loss. Without correct assessment, right knowledge and right practice, we cannot reach liberation or any good results. This sutta has such deep meaning.