The first substantive slogan that we must confront is “Drive all blames into one.” The “one” into which we are to drive all blames is ego. Other beings are not to blame. Circumstances are not to blame. Only ego is to blame.
Looking deeply, we can see that the cause of all conflict is ego. It is ego that makes beings selfish, fearful, and greedy. It is ego that causes them to misguidedly seek their own pleasure at the expense of the suffering of others. It is ego that causes them to believe that they are alone, unloved, unworthy, destitute, hopeless. It is ego that causes them to suffer and to render them incapable of caring for and transforming their suffering instead of compounding their suffering and others’ suffering by lashing out. Ego lies at the core of all anger, hatred, aggression, anxiety, and despair. It is the root of all evil.
In order to understand this slogan, it is necessary first to let go of identification with ego. Ego is a nonpersonal principle. It is not male or female, it is not black or white, not personal or specific to any person. There is no “my ego,” or “your ego.” It is not mine, it is not yours. It is not me, it is not you. It does not reflect anything. It has no characteristics. Ego is a process, a way of relating. Specifically, it is the process of creating and perpetuating the delusion that results from trying to reject what is given (that we don’t like) or to hold onto what is given (that we like). So to drive all blames into ego does not mean blaming yourself for everything. Blaming ego does not mean blaming you, because you are not ego.
Still, this slogan does not let us off the hook completely. There is still a very important message for us, which is: do not seek to avoid blame. Do not make any attempt to avoid blame. At all. Ever. Once you commit to following this slogan, you start to see just how often your inspiration for what you think, do, and say is to avoid blame. Something goes awry unexpectedly. Instantly we are gripped by the fear that maybe we did something wrong, that maybe we caused this to happen. We start to analyze the situation to reassure ourselves that we are not to blame. And we are so relieved if we are able to conclude that we are not. One of the best ways to persuade ourselves that we are not to blame is if we can convince ourselves that someone else is to blame. So we scan the environment to search for other people’s fingerprints, we start to concoct theories to pin the blame on others. Then we start to spin our little closing arguments to persuade the imagined jury of our peers that we are innocent and this other is to blame. We anticipate contrary arguments and the evidence that might support them, and we formulate a response to them, which we incorporate into our little internal monologue. We do all this in just a few seconds, or even a fraction of a second, although if it’s a particularly messy situation, or if it gives rise to an actual dispute with others, it could stretch out for several minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, or decades. The Israel-Palestine blame contest has lasted centuries.
What this slogan is telling us is to cut off this entire project before it ever gets started. The whole thing springs from the desire to avoid blame. But if we are committed to never seeking to avoid blame – if instead we commit to welcoming blame whenever the possibility of it arises – then there is no conflict.
Our western democratic habits of thinking can make this slogan problematic for us. We have been taught to view blame – indeed, justice itself – as an objective matter that can be and should be sorted out. If something goes wrong, someone is to blame, and if we have enough information and think clearly enough, we can figure out who. And then to blame that person is justice. If multiple people are to blame, then we can and should sort that out too, apportioning blame according to each one’s relative contribution to the calamity. We may not always get it right – sometimes we blame the wrong people or make mistakes as to the percentages – but there is an objective answer, which we could know (and which God knows and is keeping track of, in any event). With perfect knowledge we could apportion blame perfectly, which would be perfect justice. To understand this slogan and let it work in our hearts, we have to completely let go of this justice/blame mentality. We have to be open to blame, open to injustice.
This slogan applies anytime we would like to complain about anything. Remember the wisdom of the Heart Sutra: there is nothing in the way. We only perceive things – whether events, situations, people, other creatures, or objects – as obstacles to the extent that we have identified with ego, to the extent that we have started to be pulled into the illusion again. Blame is empty. It could only be a problem for ego. Only ego would worry about it. All of the problems and seeming obstacles surrounding our practice are not someone else’s fault. They aren’t even obstacles. All the blame for viewing them as obstacles rightly lies with ego. All these supposed obstacles are empty in themselves; we fill them up and color them in and breathe life into them only through ego-fixation.
S0 to drive all blames into one means that we accept the yuckiness, the sloppiness, the chaos of the situation. We take that in and possess it. We take responsibility for it. Not by trying to persuade ourselves that legally or scientifically or according to the grand objective scorekeeper in the sky we are officially to blame, but simply by accepting it all as a gift, taking it in, absorbing it, at the heart level. When we do the opposite – when we do what our instincts, and our culture, and maybe even our own conscience recommend – we only add to the giant mass of suffering, both for ourselves and for others. When we cling to ego and try to hold onto our blamelessness and deflect any blame that is hurled at us, we become uptight, defensive, brittle. We actually then start to invite further aggression and blame from others. We become a target for further conflict and calamity. On the bodhisattva path, we do not want to create or perpetuate any more neurosis; we do not want to export any more garbage. Instead, we are committed to absorbing and healing conflicts. And the practical means of enacting compassion in this way is to drive all blames into one.
Accepting blame can be a powerful gift to whatever group, community, or relationship gave rise to it. Once the desire to blame someone springs up, it will cause problems until it is absorbed by someone. As Chögyam Trungpa taught, it becomes like a big messy football that grows and grows, bouncing around and getting larger and more destructive until someone decides to take it. And the only way to get rid of it is to sit down and eat it. All of it. This is the highest and most profound logic. It is the most wonderful thing we can do on this earth. You can heal the whole situation. You can dissolve the evil and transform it into a space where joy, contentment, and peace can flourish. So even on a purely pragmatic level, driving all blames into one is a very elegant and powerful way of healing dysfunctional organizations and redirecting conflicts toward peace. And the earlier you do it, the better.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we should go around volunteering to take blame prophylactically. We don’t need to go out looking for blame. That would be a sort of perverse martyrdom or heroism mentality, which would actually be an expression of ego. Instead, we simply wait until we are blamed. Once that happens, you know what to do. You accept it, wholeheartedly, openly, gratefully. And don’t worry that you might miss this opportunity. It will not be subtle. It’s usually pretty obvious that you are being blamed. And we should expect to be blamed a lot. The samsaric mind is constantly looking for someone to blame. And the more we relate with others, the more opportunities they will have to blame us. Everyone is looking to blame someone. And they would like to blame you. They think you have a soft spot in your heart, that you are an easy target, that you are a safe place for them to dump their garbage. And they’re right. You are. That’s what it means to be a bodhisattva.
Moreover, even from a samsaric point of view, we are often to blame. Our lack of skillfulness may have created or perpetuated conflict; we may have acted out of ignorance, with a lack of understanding; we may have acted in the past in ways that have trained others to perceive our current actions as intending to harm; we may have failed to listen deeply. In short, we have not been mindful in many ways. Often, the blame is even more well-deserved. If we are parents, we know we have hurt this child in the past. Perhaps for years we have created an environment in which determining and apportioning blame has been a recurring project, even an obsession. Perhaps for years we have embraced conflict, aggression, opposition, and aversion as a way of life. Perhaps we have taught this dear one in countless ways that he has to cover up his soft spot and protect himself from others, including, and perhaps especially, from us. We know all this deep down. And that is precisely why we are so keen on deflecting the blame. And why we work so hard to blame him. He’s the one who is unreasonably aggressive, unreasonably rude, unreasonably impatient, unreasonably sloppy, unreasonably reckless. Not just unreasonably, but unusually. This is not “normal” behavior. This is “unacceptable.” And so we rush headlong into aversion, anger, hatred, and resentment.
At ground zero of this ziggurat of aggression we start constructing, we may be surprised at what we really see in ourselves. We may find that this entire effort gets going because we do not want to face our own vulnerability. We simply do not want to feel that tender, sickening feeling of having done something wrong, of feeling small and weak and helpless.
But we are on the bodhisattva path now. We no longer want anything to do with self-deception or avoidance. We are committed to facing ourselves completely. We are not afraid of feelings, emotions, and thoughts. We will face that tender, sickening feeling head-on. We will embrace it and accept it completely. We will hold it in our hearts like a mother holding her dear child. We will see this for what it is: suffering. And we know what to do with suffering. We bring it into our hearts and transform it into joy.
This slogan is an expression of our commitment to egolessness and to unconditional love for all beings. We do not seek to avoid blame for our actions, and we do not seek any reward for our love. We don’t seek any reward for anything. In fact, we seek to eliminate any possibility of ever receiving any reward at all. We are letting go of the very idea of any entity that could ever be rewarded. With no ego, there is no place for any reward to go. If we were to receive any reward, we would have no place to put it, no use to make of it. We have no pockets, and our hands are constantly busy with the work of compassion.
So whenever we are confronted with blame, we can say in our hearts, “I accept the blame. For many long years I have nurtured, fed, and served ego. I have acted out of ignorance and confusion and have perpetuated the sufferings of samsara. I am co-responsible for this dear one’s actions. I have not been skillful enough, and that is why I have created, perpetuated, and failed to clear away misunderstanding. Thank you for this reminder. Please come back to remind me again and again.”