But the worst stain of all is ignorance.
Be purified of this and you are free.
Dhammapada verse 243
Can we contemplate together what happens when we get caught in blaming?
Several times recently I have heard used the expression, ‘a culture of
blame’. Strangely, some of those using this expression appear to feel
that someone ‘out there’ is responsible for the existence of this
From the perspective of practice we begin our investigation into blaming
by looking first for what it is that we ourselves are contributing to
our suffering. Once we are able to acknowledge our part, we are then in
a position to perceive the causes for the arising of this suffering more
Let us consider some examples. Last week, the driver of the JCB, working
on the building site which will become our retreat centre, dug up the
mains water-pipe, so that the monastery and surrounding houses were
without running water for four hours. There was quite a bit of blaming
going around in response to that. Some thought it was the driver’s fault
for not being more careful, others the project manager for not doing
sufficient research, some the site manager for leaving the workers to
carry on without supervision. There was even the suggestion that the
neighbours brought it upon themselves with the bad kamma they had
created by being so difficult!
Then there has been all the talk about the terrible weather we are
having. The blame, it has been suggested, rests with those responsible
for global warming. And that can’t be Britain because she is too small a
country. It must be the Americans; four percent of the world’s
population generating twenty-five percent of the pollution! It’s easy to
blame the Americans.
But where does this blaming get us? On a superficial level we can feel
better if we have someone to blame; we can feel right when we think we
know who is wrong. Being able to label people as responsible also deals
with the anxiety which comes from always wanting to know things are
under control. But does having someone to blame – and that someone might
be ourselves – free us from suffering? It gratifies something
momentarily, but is that the same as finding satisfaction? Now we have
created an enemy, which is another kind of suffering. And if it is
ourselves we have blamed then we become even more hurt and inwardly
divided than we were before.
Surely our motivation to uncover causes for our problems is a natural
interest in being free from suffering – and there isn’t anything wrong
with that. Yet the kind of blaming we’re discussing does not come from
pure-hearted interest. In these cases the healthy impulse to seek out
the causes for suffering became poisoned by the untamed passions. Our
life energy experienced as our human passions, flared up and invaded
hearts and ignited minds.
This life-energy is not in itself either good or bad; it is neutral. But
the way in which it manifests gives rise to perceptions of good and bad;
it is in how we relate to our perceptions that we can begin to take
responsibility for our suffering. How we view our experience determines
whether we live our lives blaming whenever we suffer, or whether, when
suffering arises, we are strengthened in our commitment to being free.
So what can we do? In our contemplation of falling in love we
investigated how, in the height of intensity and aliveness, we might
tend to default to old ways of contracting the heart-awareness, thereby
losing the beauty and freedom of ‘being loving’. We considered how this
happens as a result of our inability to accommodate the fullness of life
with all its energy. This inability arises out of habitual fear, which
results in our becoming chronically limited in our capacity for
whole-hearted living. Instead of being liberated by that which promises
to give us ever-lasting happiness, we end up spoiling it and becoming
dependent on each other through attachment.
Isn’t it similar with blaming? When we don’t get what we want, or get
what we don’t want, or lose that which we enjoyed having, we suffer the
pain of disappointment, sorrow and despair. The energy flares up and we
start to burn. Our initial reaction turns into indignation and rage. As
the storm intensifies and moves upwards into our heads, we start
imagining where we can place the blame. Through a perceived inability to
hold the pain – like a volcano that cannot be contained by the earth’s
crust – our energy bursts out and lands on the object of our blame.
Because the pressure of frustration feels intolerable, we project our
Just to notice this is to see the very point where things can change. If
we have prepared ourselves for these reactions it is possible that
instead of becoming more rigid in our clinging to what we want, we open
up to accommodate the passions. To prepare ourselves with this kind of
contemplation is to increase the likelihood of mindfulness being there
when we need it.
We all know what it is like to become caught up in the passions, so we
do not need to wait until it happens to do something about it. Right
preparation is the way to protect ourselves from our own harmful habits.
By establishing in advance this kind of understanding, we are much less
likely to fall into old ways. The force of habit is inhibited by
mindfulness. This kind of considered restraint is not the same as a
blind repression that we might fear will lead to the energies returning
in a more potentised form in the future.
In exercising such restraint we create the conditions for seeing through
the appearance of suffering. We develop the capacity to overcome that
state of inertia which binds us into the humiliating condition of
‘losing it’ time and time again. When we experience the state of
fearlessness that we know as love, we are tempted to grasp at its beauty
– believing that this will make it last. But with right restraint
insight arises, outshining old painful habits, and love is purified. By
comparison, when we are hurting, we tend to react by rejecting, seeking
someone or something to blame. But shooting our passions out onto an
external figure makes us weak and dependent. If we can stay with the
energy long enough, refusing to succumb to the temptation of trying to
release ourselves from it, the energy builds up until the walls which
held us imprisoned and chronically limited, crumble. The awareness we
occupy opens up. Being restrained with informed awareness is the work of
transformation. Mindful holding back is the dynamic that frees us.
After consciously going through such an expansion of awareness, we know
for ourselves that we are not hopeless victims of our inner fires. A
transformation of the wild passions through awareness means that we feel
altogether differently towards their flaring up. We find that there is a
little more space for them – at least until we find ourselves limited
again. They are no longer seen as enemies against which we must forever
brace ourselves. From this point onwards we can view suffering
differently. The teachings that tell us that mindfulness of suffering
leads to freedom from suffering become true in a new way. Henceforth
when pain such as disappointment arises, we have a sense that inhibiting
the impulse to blame is the way itself – not torturous endless
endurance. Allowing the pressure of the passions within us to increase
while staying steady and focused in an interested manner is the path to
a new understanding. In other words, our suffering, held with such a
view, becomes the key that opens the doors that have kept us feeling
There is a further point we should consider, and that is how, when we
taste the fruits of our practice and delight in the spaciousness of
increased awareness, we are at risk of being infected by the blight of
conceit. We might feel, “I have transformed my anger.” This is to lose
ourselves again. The energy that actually liberated us out of the
cramped space of a contracted heart is not the energy of our deluded
personality. It is not ‘me’ that did it. It is nature. It is Dhamma.
Laying claim to it is the habit of grasping raising its head once more.
But we can learn from this too. We come to see more clearly how the
unawakened ego continually seeks to find security by grasping. The
impulse to awakening, however, only seeks the truth: there is no freedom
I hope this contemplation helps us all learn to be careful.
© 2005 Aruna Publications