Lojong Practice Journal: Drive All Blames Into One
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
‘Drive all blames into one’ is provocative, as well as being one of my favourite of the Lojong Slogans. To understand what this slogan is getting at, we must first do some reflection on our relationship with blame.
Human beings seem to love a villain. When something goes wrong, we are often inclined to lash out and blame. We want to find a cause, something we can give fault to or go on the attack against. Sometimes that cause might be an individual we know, or it could be a whole group of people or even a system. Sometimes we may, as Ani Pema Chödrön notes when she teaches on this subject, blame ourselves.
Whether blaming ourselves or blaming others, when we do it mindlessly, we’re not actually addressing the problem. I want to be clear here: there are many times when external circumstances are most certainly to blame, which is why I used the word ‘mindlessly’ in the above statement. What this slogan is getting at is how to cultivate a higher level of awareness so that we can find a resolution, instead of just pointing fingers.
To explain what I mean, I’ll use a metaphor:
Imagine you are running along and you trip, breaking a bone. You could sit there and wonder if it was a root, or a gopher hole, or the long leg of your trousers that is to blame for the fall. You could blame yourself for being clumsy or not looking where you were going. Perhaps you were playing tag, and someone was chasing you, so you could blame that person who was in pursuit. It makes sense that all these factors probably came into play. Paying attention to the circumstances that led to a broken bone matter if you’re going to prevent it in the future, but regardless of who or what was to blame, the bone is still broken. Finding out the reason and laying blame on it isn’t going to unbreak it.
Blaming can be a distraction and an unhelpful one at that. We can spend years blaming someone for our pain, including ourselves, but never address the pain and therefore never heal.
This slogan is pointing out how to use blame effectively, which is to see ego-clinging as the problem. This slogan is about personal responsibility and self-awareness. It is about looking at how our attachments blind us to what needs to be done.
This might not make sense when I’ve just said that blaming ourselves for stuff is as problematic as blaming someone else, but driving all blames into the ego is not the same as blaming ourselves. We recognise that the ego, and our attachments, are to blame and that these things do not define us. To put it bluntly: There is no self.
The ego tempts us into a trap of conceit of suffering, as if there is an inherent ‘self’ which is unworthy or irredeemable. Blaming a ‘self’ that can’t be found is pretty painful, but when we put the blame on the ego — on the belief that our suffering makes us special — we can start to see that it’s not all about ‘me’ or ‘them’. When we blame ego clinging, we realise that attachment to a sense of ‘me’ or ‘them’ as solid and fixed causes a lot of problems.
To illustrate the difference between seeing the ego as the root of a problem, versus thinking of ourselves as the problem, I have a personal example. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at seventeen, and for years I identified with it. I thought of it as who I was, rather than something I had. This is a common and problematic approach we have to mental illness as a society. No one goes around saying they ‘are pneumonia’ or they ‘are the flu’, and yet we will go around saying we are depressed and we are anxious.
I blamed myself for not being happy when I thought I should be happy. I was stuck in a mentality of unworthiness because I didn’t think my life was challenging enough to justify having a mental illness. This is what is meant by the ‘conceit of suffering’. I didn’t think I deserved to feel how I felt.
Over time I’ve come to realise that this mentality was really unhelpful. I began to see how identifying with the anxiety as if it was a personality trait and not an illness was causing me unbearable suffering. While there were legitimate reasons for the anxiety, I wasn’t able to approach and handle them while I was in total resistance to how I felt. In short, I was unable to address the pain because I was avoiding acknowledging it.
As I began to sit with how I felt, come to understand the nature of mental illness and see a therapist, I began to understand how my attachment to being a happy person was a problem. I was making myself static and carrying an unreasonable expectation about my mood. I wasn’t letting myself be fully human, which is to experience a range of emotions and mental states, not all of them pleasant, but none of them an indication of my worth or set in stone.
It has been a long process and a true application of this slogan. It’s been over eight years since I started learning how to look at my mind and the source of pain, but even within six months of doing this practice, I had a much better sense of myself as changing and changeable. Thinking I had to be only one particular way was causing me a lot of suffering.
It’s like the movie ‘Inside Out’. I learned to let go of this singular identity of self and see how I could experience both joy and anxiety in the same moment. Life, and therefore humanity, is rich, interconnected and dynamic, not stable, inherently one way or static.
In doing this work, I have been able to bring this slogan out more and more in my relationships and also into my role as a social activist. I realise that when I feel annoyed or upset by someone else, that’s my ego clinging to an idea of how I think another person should behave. When I see how that ego-clinging causes me pain, and the blame laying does nothing to address the bigger issues at play, I can begin to let it go. In this way, I can let the people I meet and live with and love be just as they are, which is dynamic, fluid and changeable, and I can meet my experience from a place of openness.
Or to put it another way: I am better able to relate to what it is to be human.
Originally published on Medium.
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