By my bedside is a translation of the 59 lojong slogans--a Tibetan Buddhist program of spiritual discipline and mind training. One especially helpful slogan is the twelfth, which in my favorite translation is phrased in this way: “Drive All Blames into One.”
I imagine it would be even more helpful if I was truly good at the practice .
The meaning is essentially this: Whenever misfortune or controversy befalls us, we're advised to simply accept the blame for it, rather than seeking excuses or devising explanations for it, or looking for others to blame for the problem.
“Now hold on just a second,” I can hear some of you saying. “That’s hardly fair. What if I’m really NOT to blame. Maybe it IS the other guy’s fault.”
This might be so if you insist on some kind of human arithmetic, but it’s really not the point of the practice. The idea is to turn our typical manner of being completely on its head. In our standard way of living, so much of our time and energy is spent in defending ourselves, in trying to see ourselves as blameless or good people, that our essence is pretty much held hostage by the effort. So in the same way that it’s human nature to try to talk your way out of a speeding ticket when a cop stops you, we find that we're constantly trying to establish our rightness in the world. In various ways, in fact, this effort to defend an image for ourselves occupies virtually all our effort. We have become so accustomed to a defensive style of life that we never really experience freedom.
So, for example, the advice within this practice would be that when we find ourselves in a squabble with the family member or neighbor or work colleague, rather than trying to argue for our own rightness, we simply capitulate and accept all the blame. Absolutely and unequivocally
I’m sure this is easier in the eastern traditions, where it's literally believed that the woes that befall us today are likely the karmic debt of bad decisions made in other lifetimes. In those traditions, you might well actually believe that kicking a puppy in a former life is why we have have come down with a painful case of boils today.
But strangely enough, there is a notable benefit to this practice even here in the modern, bustling West.
A pretty remarkable thing can happen when you stop defending against fault and imperfection and just accept it. A large amount of tension is instantly released, and a feeling of relief and freedom comes upon you. What you come to realize is that the price of accepting blame is far less ominous than we thought, and, in fact costs us a great deal less than constantly establishing our rightness. It's like carrying a three-pound weight high above your head for your whole life, then realizing that you can just as easily cradle it comfortably in your arms.
This practice can work in all sorts of everyday situations, including the most routine of squabbles between friends or family members. Surrendering the need to be right can instantly make the world seem enormously brighter and far less complicated.
It costs me nothing to entertiain this "what if," and in this way, misfortune seems much less personally insulting and outrageous.
And the practice is even more valuable, I think, if you happen to have done something that is most definitely embarrassing to your reputation or damaging to your career or family. For at these moments, if you simply acknowledge your blame, your mistake, and decide to accept whatever retribution or judgment the world chooses to give you, all worry vanishes and you find yourself able to sleep nights.
And slogan 12 has lulled me to sleep on more than one occasion. Recently, in fact.