A Zen’s-Eye View: Don’t ponder others

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This is another Lojong slogan that points to how easy, entertaining, and totally distracting it can be to notice and to dwell on what is wrong with everybody else instead of working to see the best in them. This habit of fault-finding is part of a larger pattern of insecurity in which we feel the need to compare ourselves to others before we can value ourselves. If we love living in a rural setting, we criticize people who love living in a big city; if we exercise diligently, we feel superior to those who don’t. It is as though we can convince ourselves that we are okay only by comparing ourselves to people who are less OK.

There is an old blues song with the line, “Before you ’cuss me, take a look at yerself.” In Zen mind training, one of the focuses is to take a really good look at the self. Dogen, a thirteenth century Zen master, taught that to study Buddhism is to study the self. But he didn’t quit there. He went on to say that to study the self is to forget the self and that when we forget the self, we become one with everything. This means that when we criticize others, we are criticizing ourselves; when we see virtue in others, we know it in ourselves. When there is one finger pointing, there are three looking back.

Every path for personal development extols the value of self-examination. Psychotherapists and counselors make millions of dollars helping people to examine their own nature. But the point of self-examination is not to dwell on our faults — or for that matter, our virtues. It is to see self and others in a clear and unbiased way without adding a layer of criticism or admiration.

The point of this slogan is the importance of trusting ourselves without comparing ourselves to others. It is to loosen the grip on the human tendency to be so fascinated with what is wrong with everybody else that we are unable to see what is right and good about them. One definition of an enlightened person is that they see Buddha nature wherever they look. Instead of covering up our own faults by highlighting the faults of others, Zen teaches us to do the exact opposite.

Strangely, when we are not afraid to uncover our own flaws without comparing ourselves to others, we experience great relief because we no longer have to convince ourselves of anything, and we have nothing to hide from self or others. Practicing this slogan improves relationships because we no longer have the ulterior motive of using what we see to prop up our feelings of superiority and virtue.

Suggested practice: As you encounter others in the next two weeks, pay attention to what comes up in your mind. Pay particular attention to the qualities of comparison mind and fault-finding mind. What is the difference between simply seeing a flaw and dwelling on it to prop yourself up?

This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.