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Lojong 32.) Don't transfer the Ox's burden to a cow. (Don't shift responsibility)

6. Commitments (21-36)

32) Don't transfer the Ox's burden to a cow. (Don't shift responsibility)

This saying reminds us to take responsibility for our feelings, words, and actions.  It is about not making excuses.  Instead we should face up to the truth.  To the extent that we engage in excuse making we create another barrier to seeing reality clearly.  At one level this saying is about straight talk, so that I simply tell the truth, but it is also about owning my feelings and judgments (about others). 

Do we know when a thought we have (or statement we make) is a simple statement of fact and when it is a judgment, colored by our prejudices, feels, or culture?  My judgment is this is an area that requires significant awareness and mindfulness, so we don't "transfer the Ox's burden to the cow".

In the collection, The Best of Buddhist Writing (2008), edited by Melvin McLeod, the first essay is "Meeting the Chinese in St. Paul" by Natalie Goldberg.  It is a personal story, so it is about Ms. Goldberg's understanding and insight, that she obtained from a particular Zen koan.  The full reference for the source of the koan can be found in the essay.

The koan goes something like this. 

One day Yanguan called to his attendant, "Bring me the rhinoceros fan."

The attendant said, "The fan is broken."

Yanguan said, "If the fan is broken, then bring me back the rhinoceros!"

The attendant had no reply.

Ms. Goldberg has an intricate and detailed personal understanding of what this koan means to her.  (I don't get how she comes up with it, but I suppose it is her personal truth.)

I would like to suggest the meaning of the koan is similar to Lojong saying 32.  That is, Yanguan did not ask his attendant for a report on the status of the fan.  He asked the attendant to bring him the fan.  Instead of bringing the fan, the attendant made an excuse "The fan is broken."  Yanguan "busts" the attendant on his failure to be in integrity, by saying, "... then bring me back the rhinoceros!"

How often do we make an excuse for not accomplishing something we have an agreement to do, by making some (lame) excuse.  In the koan, the response from the attendant that would have integrity and honesty, would be to bring the master the fan and perhaps say, "I see it is broken, what else can I offer you."

Remember, "Don't transfer the Ox's burden to a cow."  Stay in integrity, by owning your feelings, judgments, and actions.  Don't make excuses, that are additional blinders to seeing reality.

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