Lojong Practice Journal: Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
This has been my favourite Lojong Slogan since I first heard it in a teaching from Ani Pema Chödrön. The message of it is that you, more than anyone, are responsible for doing this work and therefore you, more than anyone, know where you have work to do and where the work you have done is noticeable. Other people might offer advice or make judgements, but ultimately, only you can determine where you are at on the path and in your practice. This slogan is about the gut level awareness we have even in the face of self-deception.
Self-deception, or ignorance, is one of what are called the three poisons in Buddhism, and it’s the one I struggle with the most. I see how insidious it is and it can make me feel pretty paranoid, which could make it hard to abide by this slogan. How could I possibly trust my own judgement when I can see how blind others are, knowing we are equally human and equally capable of hypocrisy and self-deception? If we don’t know what we don’t know, then how could I be a trustworthy judge of those blind spots?
But this slogan isn’t about what other people think of us versus what we think of ourselves — there is no denying that it is often easier to see how other people need to change than it is to see where we have some work to do. This slogan is about setting an intention to cut through deception and cultivating a level of awareness that has nothing to do with our ego.
My psychologist explained it well once when I was agonising over the concept of projection. I was telling her that I was worried about something my then partner had said, because I wasn’t sure if she was right, and I was projecting. I guessed I must be projecting because doesn’t psychology, and Buddhism, tell us that everything is a projection of our own mind?
My psychologist laughed and said it wasn’t like that. She explained that it was quite easy to tell whether or not projection was involved. “You just have to pay attention to the charge it carries.”
I asked her to explain and she asked me how it had felt when my ex-partner made the accusation that she had. I told her I felt confused, and a little sad, and then worried about her being right.
“Well then, that was about her, not you,” she said. “If there was truth in what she’d said, and you knew it, even at a gut level, the charge would have been defensive. You would have put up a wall. But a confused response is a sign that someone else’s assessment isn’t right. You questioned it, and looked, and couldn’t make sense of it because it wasn’t accurate. You were aware enough of your own experience to understand that what she was saying wasn’t true to it.”
I took this on board and applied it in my daily practice, and continue to do so today. I’ve come to see how checking in on how defensive I get about something is a very good way to gauge the truth of it. If my response is to put up a wall, it’s because someone has rightfully pointed out where I have been ignoring where I have work to do.
Sometimes they are right but there is no charge, and that’s because I’ve already seen the need to do the work and have been at it, even if the progress is slow. I can laugh or respond in a very light-hearted no-big-deal way. Often this is the case because of the intentions I’ve set to notice, or the very fact that I’m operating on the assumption that I have blind-spots that need addressing, even if I can’t see or name them yet.
Regardless, this is a practice of learning to recognise and trust our inherent wisdom. The principal witness could be described as your conscience or that angel on one shoulder versus the devil on the other. It’s Buddha-mind — clear seeing and equanimous. But however you think of it and whatever your practice, it is there and this slogan is advising us to trust it. Which is to say, trust that the principal witness is a good teacher that can and will help us to grow.
Originally published on Medium
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