Lojong Practice Journal: Liberate yourself by examining & analyzing

The 59 slogans through a social justice lens

A Lojong card that reads “Liberate yourself by examining and analyzing” sits on a wooden shrine, to the right of a statue of the Bodhisattva Manjushri.

The older I get, the more I appreciate my upbringing and the skills my parents encouraged in my brother and me from a very early age. Both my parents came from pretty dysfunctional family situations, and my mother in particular carried the intention not to replicate the dynamics of her childhood home when it came to raising us. On my mum’s part, this meant encouraging critical thinking and discouraging group-think or going along with the status quo. From my dad, the encouragement was one of general curiosity — he raised us to be scientists, to experiment, to test things out for ourselves, and appreciate how a good question is something you can carry for life.

It’s little wonder that Buddhism appeals to me so much, given the values of my childhood, which were further enforced by a social circle of punks and attending an alternative high school in my teen years. I have always been inclined to ask questions so I can understand myself and the world with greater clarity. Buddhism teaches us to ask questions as a means of awakening. The slogan “Liberate yourself by examining and analyzing,” captures this.

The Buddha taught that suffering is born out of delusion. To free ourselves of delusion, he offered up the eightfold path. This path helps us respond to reality as it is in any given moment. With the eightfold path, we orient ourselves to right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

The use of “right” in this context is not in opposition to “wrong.” Rather, it’s about discerning what will reduce harm or alleviate suffering. There isn’t a fixed answer to what any of these might be — how could there be in an interrelated world? What is “right speech” in one situation, would be entirely inappropriate in another. My right livelihood will look different to your right livelihood. This is why we examine and analyze.

As I reflected on this slogan in preparation for this commentary, I found so many examples of how examining and analyzing has led me to liberation. The earliest and most notable example I can offer is when I knew I was queer. The overarching messages of society are that everyone is or should be straight, and cisgender according to a binary of only two genders. Along with these messages of what is “normal” are messages about what the so-called “abnormal” or “deviant” other identities are like.

Because these messages about heterocisnormativity didn’t fit my experience, I examined and analyzed them, questioning who I know myself to be, rather than what society would like me to be. In recognizing my own queerness, I’ve been able to cast aside the limited and limiting ideas of the so-called “dominant” culture—the biggest one being that queer people live difficult lives because they are queer. With further examination and analysis, I see that the challenges I face aren’t because I’m queer, but because cisheteropatriarchy is an oppressive system. It’s not that queerness is hard, but that cisgender and straight people are violent, discriminatory, and oppressive of queer, trans and intersex people.

Coming out as queer was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. I let go of trying to contort, mask, or change myself. In that letting go, I have been met by an incredible community, my relationships have blossomed, and my overall wellbeing improved. My life is better for having questioned the so-called ideal of cisheteronormativity.

This had a big influence on my move from “I am suffering” to “There is suffering.” Being able to recognize that it is not my embodiment that’s the problem but systems of supremacy, my understanding is broadened. It’s not that being Black or brown is hard, it’s that white people target, discriminate, and are violent to non-white people. It’s not that being poor is a personal failing, it’s that Capitalists do all they can to ensure a permanent lower class for them to exploit. It’s not that “humans are a virus” but that billionaires and the companies they own and control are invested in growing their wealth at the expense of our shared home. And so on.

Liberation comes from the clarity we find when we cut through dualism, victim-blaming, individualism, and propaganda that serves the status quo. Examining and analysing is often about flipping the script or being precise with our language. It’s about questioning what we’ve been told and looking at whether it reflects the reality of our experience. By examining and analyzing, we see the truth of our interconnected reality more and more clearly. This is what it is to wake up.

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This blog was originally published on Medium.

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