A Zen’s-Eye View: Slogan 34: Don’t transfer the load from the ox to the cow

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This slogan is about weaseling out of our own duties and responsibilities. It is about manipulating others into doing what we ourselves do not want to do. It is about making a commitment and then, instead of following through on the details required to meet that commitment, handing the responsibility off to others. People who use this tactic to avoid work are so concerned with their rights and with what they feel others owe them that they think very little about what they owe to others and to their communities at large. They are the people who let others volunteer for community service and when they are asked to contribute time and energy to a community project feign incompetence and humility. But their humility is dishonest because they are looking for a way to avoid taking on a project they know they could accomplish if they applied themselves.

As leaders, the easiest people to manipulate are often in a subservient position to us, and in many cases they are not as capable of completing the task as we are. In Tibet, the country where the Lojong slogans were developed, an ox is seen as being stronger than a cow. This means that the idea of this slogan is not to put the heaviest burden on the ones who have the least capacity to accomplish it. Leaders may make the mistake of feeling that it is unfair that they carry a heavier load than others, but, realistically, not everyone has the same capabilities. Each can only do their best.

The most remarkable leaders are those who are willing to step up when a job needs to be completed. For a good leader, no task is too lowly or insignificant. One definition of an enlightened person is that they don’t discriminate between tasks; they see what needs to be done and then with good timing and skill, step up to do it. They don’t expect others to do what they themselves are in a position to do, and they don’t whine. After the question, “Is anybody willing to step up?” ineffective leaders play the disappearing act, withdraw into their offices and offer nothing but silence. But when a situation demands action, a good leader who has the background and ability to respond will contribute time and energy to complete that action. This is called leadership by example.

This slogan is about developing skill in working with others and taking leadership in our families and communities. It is about developing the art of knowing how much responsibility to take on and how much to delegate so that each person involved feels challenged but not overwhelmed.

Suggested practice: Pay attention to the temptation to shift your burdens to those who are weaker than you. When you find yourself hiding your own strengths and abilities, look into what is behind that. In what ways do you avoid taking on your fair share of responsibilities?

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.