The Bodhisattva vows: “Failing to ward off defamation”

The Buddha taught the “eight worldly conditions” (Lokavipatti Sutta), instructing his disciples among others not to be attached to status and not to have aversion to disgrace.

In Tibetan Buddhism we speak of “the eight worldly concerns” or “the eight worldly dharmas” (Tib. འཇིག་རྟེན་ཆོས་བརྒྱད་, jikten chö gyé, Wyl. ‘jig rten chos brgyad).

While the items in the list of the four pairs of “the eight worldly conditions” translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu are:

  1. Gain/loss,
  2. status/disgrace,
  3. censure/praise,
  4. pleasure/pain,

Tibetan Buddhism and their teachers¹ usually teach these four pairs of “the eight worldly concerns”:

  1. Gain and loss,
  2. happiness and unhappiness,
  3. Fame and insignificance,
  4. praise and blame.

Tony Duff gives the following four pairs in his Illuminator Tibetan-English Dictionary:

  1. རྙེད་པ་ and མ་རྙེད་པ་ "gain and no gain,
  2. བདེ་བ་ and སྡུག་བསྔལ་ “pleasure and pain”,
  3. བསྟོད་པ་ and སྨད་པ་ “praise and blame”,
  4. སྙན་པ་ and མི་སྙན་པ་ “fame and infamy”.²

Tibetan Buddhism traces back their list of “the eight worldly concerns” to Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend, verse 29:

You who know the world, take gain and loss, Or bliss and pain, or kind words and abuse, Or praise and blame—these eight mundane concerns— Make them the same, and don’t disturb your mind.³

Sometimes practitioners in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage misunderstand, that the practice of abandoning the eight worldly concerns includes to not care about their reputation. This is not correct. It’s about not to be occupied by these “eight worldly concerns” out of attachment and aversion. In fact, a Bodhisattva, or a person who has taken the Bodhisattva vows, must care about the own reputation – not out of aversion or attachment but in order to be able to help sentient beings. Therefore, the Bodhisattva Vows teach that it is a breach of the Secondary Bodhisattva Vows when one is

Failing to ward off defamation.⁴Candragomin

Dagpo Lama Rinpoche offers the following comment⁵ regarding this Secondary Bodhisattva Vow:

Chandragomin: Not rejecting disrepute

The Great Way⁶ describes this fault as ‘not protecting our reputation’. In short it is not trying to overcome disrepute.

There are two possible scenarios. In the first, bad rumours are circulating about us because we have made a mistake like saying something untrue. Doing nothing to rectify the situation, such as admitting our error and correcting it, is a misdeed associated with kleshas. In the second case, we are criticized or blamed for something that we have not done. Once again doing nothing to restore our reputation and correct a false impression is a misdeed for it prevents others from having a good opinion of us. In this case however the misdeed is dissociated from kleshas. It is not a question of denying the bad habits that we have and we certainly do not avoid the secondary misdeed by merely disowning them. On the contrary, it is by acknowledging our error that we must try to end others’ blame.

In certain cases doing nothing to correct others’ bad feelings toward us is not a misdeed, first when we are convinced that they will not listen because of their strong personal opinions. Secondly, we know that they will not believe us no matter what we say. Thirdly, the people criticizing us are so angry that they would not understand what we said to them.

Geshe Sonam Rinchen:

Bodhisattvas must protect their reputation and avoid defamation because unless they are seen as trustworthy, their interaction with and work for others will be hampered.⁷

¹ See for instance: Tenzin Palmo or Judy Lief.

² According to Dharmasaṃgrahaḥ. The Excellent Collection of Doctrine. A large collection of dharma terms written by Āchārya Nāgārjuna. Book with original Sanskrit, Tibetan and English published by Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, Vārāṇasi, India, 1993.

³ Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend with Commentary by Kangyur Rinpoche by The Padmakara Translation Group / Snow Lion Publications (2005), p. 39

Difficult beginnings: Three works on the Bodhisattva Path by Cangragomin, Translated by Mark Tatz, p. 28

⁵ The Bodhisattva Vows: A Practical Guide to the Sublime Ethics of the Mahayana by Dagpo Rinpoche, 2007, p. 64

Asanga’s Chapter on Ethics With the Commentary of Tsong-Kha-Pa: The Basic Path to Awakening, the Complete Bodhisattva – Translated by Mark Tatz, Edwin Mellen Press Ltd (1989)

Tsongkhapa Ibid., pp. 220-221:

3.1 Not guarding one’s own reputation.
(12c) Failing to ward off defamation.

Not to guard against, to fail to dispel the stench of an unflattering or ignominious report of oneself, when it is based upon something that is true, is a defiled fault. To fail to guard against and dispel it when it is based upon something that is not a matter of fact, is undefiled. […]

“Not to guard against” indicates the failure to stop it from occurring in the first place. “Fail to dispel” indicates the failure to stop its spread once it has occurred. […]

The Bodhisattva Vow by Geshe Sonam Rinchen, Ruth Sonam, Snow Lion Publications, p. 146