We all know it’s bad but let’s hear how Krishna talks about it to Uddhava in the 11th Canto:
na praśaṁsen na garhayet
para — anyone else’s; svabhāva — nature; karmāṇi — and activities; na praśaṁset — one should not praise; na garhayet — one should not criticize;
The translation should be obvious here – one should neither praise to criticize others. Two simple rules. There is another rule hidden here, however, and it’s been decoded in this verse by Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami in CC Antya 8.80: ‘Between the former rule and the latter rule, the latter is more important.’
This means there is rule #1, rule #2, and rule #3, stating that #2 is more important than #1. If we are compelled to speak about others and have to make a choice than offering praise breaks rule #1 (and not rules #2 and #3), but criticizing others breaks two rules – #2 and #3 (but not #1).
Put it another way – on first reading there are two rules and if you break one your fault is at 50%, but when this third, hidden rule is considered than offering praise brings your fault to only 33% (one rule out of three) and criticism raises it to 66% (two out of three). This means that criticizing others is twice as bad as praising them. Fascinating math is at work here.
Still the question remains – why praising is the sin, too? One thing is the nature of the praise itself and I don’t want to delve into it now. What we should definitely avoid is being enamored with “achievements” because that obviously leads to creating material attachments. The point Krishna makes in the rest of the verse is different:
viśvam ekātmakaṁ paśyan
prakṛtyā puruṣeṇa ca
viśvam — the world; eka–ātmakam — based on one reality; paśyan — seeing; prakṛtyā — along with nature; puruṣeṇa — with the enjoying soul; ca — also.
Let’s focus on the first part here – both “achievements” and “faults” are part of ONE reality. Just yesterday a new explanation of this came out, based on Nyaya Sutras. Rule #3 above also came from Nyaya, btw, as was explained by Srila Prabhupada in the purport to that CC verse. That Nyaya Sutras article is rather complicated so I’ll only restate its conclusions and if you want proof then go through that sequence of sutras yourself.
The reality is like the famous Yin-Yang, it is ONE but has black and white sides to it. Black contains white, white contains black, and they continuously merge in and out of each other and absorb each other in turns.
In other words, the reality contains both good and bad, and within each “good” there is an unmanifested seed of “bad” which will eventually grow and absorb the very “good” it has grown out of. And then everything will become “bad” but carrying an unmanifested seed of “good” inside which will eventually grow and wipe out all the “bad” around it. But will keep the seeds of “bad” inside which will eventually grow and wipe out all the “good”, and so on and on and on indefinitely. Therefore there are two rules – take shelter of neither good nor bad. They are one and the same and both should be avoided.
Okay, but what about rule #3 then? Where does it come from and why “good” is made better than “bad”? I’m afraid I can’t answer it based on Nyaya for the simple reason I don’t know where it came from exactly and how it is explained there. In this Bhagavatam verse, however, it was Krishna who put “good” first and made it a lesser evil than “bad”, and it’s usually easier for us to understand Krishna than to understand Nyaya.
The Yin-Yang description is good for the world itself but it does not include existence of the spiritual reality and it doesn’t include the connection between the two. Krishna, however, tells Uddhava how to leave this world and enter into transcendental reality, and with that in mind He traces a path out of the indefinite sequence of “good” and “bad”. This was a chapter on Jnana yoga which is a mechanical process of stopping the wheel of samsara. The wheel, btw. The WHEEL! In the wheel analogy a thing that is currently down will eventually be up and that which is up will be eventually brought down. The “upness” and “downness” of a thing are both embedded within and, in due course of time, will come out and become dominant. That which made you a winner will make you into a loser, too, and that which made you a loser will bring you victory as well.
In any case, there is a path out and Krishna illuminates the stepping stones that won’t make us sink into samsara again. “Do this, then that, and never do those things, and if you can’t avoid it then it’s better to do these things, but you should remember that if you step into this you will eventually sink if you don’t move out in time.” It’s like a dance where all the floor tiles are equal in shape and size but correct sequence of steps and correct timing create something transcendental to the floor and to the tiles – a dance.
In a similar way the Lord guides us through the events of this world, partaking in some and avoiding others, and when we do it right and respond to His movements it creates a beautiful dance of life. Sometimes it’s Lord sankirtana movement that overwhelms everyone who comes in touch with it. At other times it looks mystically enchanting to others. And yet at other times they don’t get it at all and turn away in disgust. They can have their opinions, but what we should remember is that we are not “dancing on the floor” – we are “dancing with the Lord”.
“Eyes up here, please,” as they love to say in a somewhat different context. But it’s the same principle.