- in my meditation garden -
The U.S. presidential elections are more than a year away and yet full-blown campaign rhetoric already permeates the media almost every single day. In fact, I have come to the point where I can barely pick up a paper, turn on the news, or click onto Facebook without feeling that I cannot possibly listen to one more speech or view one more post about whose fault it is that the country is in such “deep trouble,” as Republicans blame Democrats for an immigration crisis or weakness in the economy and Democrats say, “No, it’s your fault.”
Yesterday, as I heard the tail-end of some speech about whose fault it was 10 years ago when New Orleans was so devastated during Hurricane Katrina, it struck me that, besides being unproductive, playing the “blame game” is actually a deeply destructive spiritual impediment, a roadblock on any path to deeper wisdom and greater truth.
It’s interesting to me that, across a wide spectrum, the wisdom teachers of the great religious traditions have all warned against the “slippery slope” of searching out and judging the faults of others while failing to see the faults in one’s own self.
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye,
but do not notice the log in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your neighbor,
‘Friend let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when you do not see the log in your own eye?
first take the log out of your own eye,
and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
The Buddha taught a similar wisdom:
The faults of others are easier to see than your own faults;
the faults of others are easily seen, for they are like chaff,
but one’s own faults are hard to see.
And in the Holy Quran, the Prophet Mohammed likewise teaches:
Glad tidings to the person more concerned about his own faults
than bothering about the faults of others.
In some sense it is always much easier and far more comfortable to see the faults of others, heaping blame on them for the difficulties of life: “We are ‘going to hell in a hand basket’ because of what he did when he was president;” “I can never get anything accomplished at work because my colleagues are so incompetent;” “We wouldn’t have a problem in this relationship if my spouse (or girlfriend or boyfriend) was willing to spend more time with me.”
And yet, as I think about my own experiences I am well aware that, whenever I have resorted to playing the “blame game” in my life, I almost inevitably have done so from the vantage point of my own ego. In fact almost every single time I have found a fault in another person that fault is almost always something about myself that I don’t like but I am afraid or unwilling to admit or take responsibility for.
When I judge others for their faults I am usually speaking with the voice of my own self- centered ego. It somehow makes “me” feel better if I can look at and judge the faults of someone else without having to look at my own life, somehow doing this seems to protect “me” from my failures; and yet it is only when I am vulnerable enough to look into the eyes of my own imperfections that the ego starts to break apart.
You can never walk the way of wisdom with an isolated ego, protected and in tact - that’s why all the great teachers warn against judging the faults of others without looking at yourself.
Since I will no doubt be forced to endure at least another year of the inevitable “blame game” rhetoric of presidential politics, I think I may use this as an opportunity for practicing a spiritual discipline on my part. When I hear people talking about the speck in the eyes of others, I will take the time to see if I can discover the log in my own eye.