Eat the Blame: A Zen Invitation to Forward Motion

What’s the number one rule of the internet? Don’t read the comments. What’s the number one truth of the internet? You read the comments, didn’t you? The comment section is the thorn in the rose of every thought provoking article, news story, or cat picture the 24 entertainment cycle can throw at us. And yet, we always want to know what people are saying. At least – until we see it. Then we are trapped with all that jumble of bad spelling, poor grammar, anonymous “studies,” misapplied scripture and the blame. Oh, the blame.

"Oh, the blame, Blame, BLAME..." (c) 1966, MGM Television.

“Oh, the blame, Blame, BLAME…”
(c) 1966, MGM Television.

They blame the victim.

They blame the system.

They blame the “ism”

Or the political schism…

(Apologies to Dr. Seuss – I start rhyming like this every Christmas…)

Our world is filled with people who know exactly who is to blame for nearly everything. Blame is so much a part of our DNA that it sheds from us like skin cells, dropping from our mouths into the environment as so much judgmental dust. Before we polish our coffee table and pretend we don’t know what’s happening, think of the many times you’ve said, heard, or come across these questions?

  1. What was she wearing the night she was assaulted? Why was she in his apartment?
  2. Why was he jogging at 11:00 PM? Doesn’t he know he could be robbed?
  3. If they can’t afford three kids, why did they have them?
  4. Why don’t they get a job?
  5. Why didn’t he just do what the cop said, even if it violates his rights?
  6. If she didn’t want diabetes, why did she eat like that?

And so on…

Take a handful. There's enough for everyone.

Take a handful. There’s enough for everyone.

Blaming is a national pastime. But what good does it do? Little. Blame makes the victims of violence hide their experience and allows perpetrators to go free.  Blame adds a pile of shame on top of every situation, and doesn’t help anyone become stronger, wiser, better or happier. Blame doesn’t take us forward. Blame doesn’t offer us an opportunity to change.

Blame makes us feel superior, smarter and eases our fears about a world that is unpredictable, violent and out of our control. Instead of admitting there is a rape culture on many college campuses– we say, “Don’t drink and don’t wear tight clothes,” because those things we can control. Instead of looking with compassion at someone who is suffering from obesity, recognizing that most of us also have a troubled relationship with food, it makes us feel powerful to add shame/blame to the challenges they face. Instead of admitting our country has a pattern of judicial and institutional racism that we don’t know how to change (without going through the pain of real change), we blame the victim again and again. Blame is our protection plan, practiced so often it has become a cultural reflex.

Make no mistake – we blame because it makes us feel better. But – it doesn’t make us better. It just keeps us spinning bitterly in place.

How can we stop this reflex? Eat the blame.

Mmm..blame...now with flakier crust.

Mmm..blame…now with flakier crust.

There is a Zen koan that gives us a map to healthier way of living. It’s called (in English) “Eating the Blame.”

Circumstances arose one day which delayed preparation of the dinner of a Soto Zen master, Fugai, and his followers. Quickly the cook went to the garden with his curved knife and cut off the tops of green vegetables, chopped them together and made soup, unaware that in his haste he had included a part of a snake in the vegetables.

The followers of Fugai thought they never tasted such good soup. But when the master himself found the snake’s head in his bowl, he summoned the cook. “What is this?” he demanded, holding up the head of the snake.

“Oh, thank you, master,” replied the cook, taking the morsel and eating it quickly.

 What’s going on here?

The cook has made a terrible error. The monks are strict vegetarians. To have eaten a snake in their soup would have violated their vows and brought shame to them.

The cook had a number of choices when the head appeared in the Master’s bowl. He could have:

  • Blamed the Master for forcing the cook to work too quickly.
  • Blamed the gardener for allowing snakes to infest the garden.
  • Blamed the followers for breaking their own vows – they liked the soup and didn’t question.
  • Become the victim, apologizing profusely and drawing attention to the crisis.
  • Instead, he simply ate the mistake that was pointed out to him and went on.

The cook’s actions do a number of good things.

  1. It shows his compassion for the monks by not wanting to draw attention to the misstep.
  2. He eats snake too – becoming one of them – so no one is better than anyone else.
  3. He takes responsibility for his mistake in eating it himself.
  4. He allows the Master to move forward with polite gratitude.

Those are the very things we can do to stop the blame cycle infesting our culture. When you see a news story – try some of the following responses.

  1. Approach the situation with compassion for everyone involved. Instead of jumping to the “what x did wrong” scenario, instead think of how they must feel, what they’ve been through, and soften your heart.
  1. Walk in their shoes. You don’t have to become a victim or perpetrator  – but you can understand a time when you’ve been lonely, or hungry or made the wrong choice, or found yourself in a bad situation of your own making or someone else’s. Instead of being quick to judge “the other” be willing to walk beside them.
  1. Look into your own heart and take responsibility for your feelings. Often the situations that make us the most angry or judgmental are the ones that touch a part of our past or our heart that we haven’t resolved yet. Before you dump your mistakes onto another situation, own them and accept them. Awaken.
  1. Allow the situation to move forward. Give hope, and have gratitude.

If someone is in the wrong, there will be a world of people ready to make that known. Be one of the people who gives them to power to change, to overcome, and to continue to a brighter day.

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