In the ordinary sense, this slogan simply means not to make fun of others or draw attention to their defects and problems. Rather than dwelling on what is wrong with people, which only exaggerates and perpetuates their weaknesses, we should remember that they are doing the best they can. We should accept them as they are.
It seems to be endlessly entertaining to dwell on other people’s faults. There are so many to choose from. We can take pride in how astute we are and how wittily critical. Each little jab makes us feel a tad more superior. We forget that to see a trait in others we have to first know it in ourselves. When there’s one finger pointing, there are three looking back. Criticizing others can be nothing other than a way to avoid looking at ourselves. For some reason it seems so much easier to pick out what is wrong with someone than what is right, and negative traits provide far juicy fodder for that harmful community sport, malicious gossip. That approach not only exaggerates the other person’s problem, but it heightens our own smugness and arrogance and distances us from people.
This slogan does not imply that you should not notice the problems or deformities people have, or that you should pretend everything is OK. It does not mean you should simply vague out or not be interested in what is going on around you. The point is to examine how you react to such things.
It may seem a kindergarten level of advice to be told not to poke fun at people. Of course, most of us don’t outright do that. But at a subtler level, we are both fascinated and repulsed by other people’s deformities and weak points. This leads us to dwell on those defects, and in turn, our focus on their defects turns the people themselves into kinds of defect-appendages. So although we may not be talking behind their backs or poking fun at them, we are still distancing ourselves from them. We are engaging in a technique of subtle rejection.
This slogan is based on combining awareness with acceptance. It points to a way of viewing the world that takes people, no matter what condition they are in, at face value, pure and simple. You don’t look away, you don’t stare, you don’t poke fun or make awkward jokes or small talk. When you see people in this straightforward way, you are not embarrassed by their ugliness, weakness, or infirmity. Instead, you simply meet them where they are.
Suggested practice: This slogan is great because most of us have people in our lives with such big defects that we can’t see past them. Think of a person you are embarrassed to be around, whose flaws are obvious. See if you can expand your attention, so that you can see past that person’s defects, and past your reactions and ideas about those defects, to the person themselves.
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.