Defense Mechanisms: Projection

Defense Mechanisms: Projection

In our previous newsletter, we posted part of Bhante Buddharakkhita’s talk on Defense Mechanisms. We discussed repression and aggression. In this newsletter, we take you through Projection as the third defense mechanism. Read more here.

Again, when the bhikkhus are reproving a bhikkhu for an offence, he attributes an offence to the reprover himself, saying; you have committed such and such an offence. Make amends for it first.

Here is a bhikkhu saying first make amends before you come to me. Of course, the instruction that the Buddha gave is that first learn yourself before you reproach another person. That is the instruction we have even in monastic tradition. Before you go to reproach another bhikkhu or person you make sure you are clean. So, no wonder this monk is saying make your amends first before you come to me. The Buddha goes on that;

“I say this person is similar to the wild colt when told go forward, and when spurred and incited by its trainer loses its thigh from the chariot pole and crushes the chariot pole. There is such a kind of a person here like a wild colt. This is the third fault of a person.”

This in modern terms, we call it projection. This is more of a person defending oneself against one’s conscious qualities whether positive or negative by denying their existence in oneself while attributing them to others. This is very common during retreats. It takes the form of judging others. Usually, when we judge, we start judging others. These qualities we don’t like in ourselves. We judge others because they are doing something, we don’t like ourselves.

Let me start with an example. As a lay person, I went to a boarding school. They taught us that we have to be smart; combing hair and in uniform. When you are not smart, the teacher will say you are not allowed to go to the parade. Even day schools, smartness was very important. When I became a monk first time in 2001 in California, I was given these robs. These robs were not easy to put on. I am telling you, this is a rob; it is not a dress. It is like a bedsheet (audience chuckles). So, you have to wrap it around yourself. You think you practice mindfulness? You put on this; it keeps falling apart. You don’t want to do it in public. I think Guy can relate to it since he has been a monk. Every time I was so disappointed with this thing falling off. You have to be mindful to keep it on. Otherwise it will fall apart when you have just ordained. There is even the tie-full rob; you go to the public and you are always worried that it may fall apart (chuckles). You haven’t seen me tie it around because we usually do that when going out. This is even terrible. Your arms always have to be raised so that your robs don’t fall off. Now, I got the trick how to tie it together. When I learned it, it became my judging point when I see monks who don’t do it properly. I started judging other monks because there is not a lot to do in a monastery. I was so preoccupied because I didn’t want this rob to go off. So, whenever I go to a monastery, the first thing is to look at the monk whose rob is going down; whose rob is uneven. I was struggling with judgment in first two years. I asked myself, did I become a monk to judge? Or I came to attain liberation? I found out I am actually here to attain liberation. I don’t know if I can finish this story. Maybe I break it apart because it is very interesting. Sometimes the monk was senior than me. And I look at how is his rob his uneven and how it is falling off. That is where I learned that actually when I judge others, it is because I don’t like this behavior in me. Here are the solutions I came up with. I am sharing with you. They are around six of them. These are from my practice and consolidating Buddha’s teaching.

  • The first one is MYB—Mind Your Business (audience chuckles). It worked. Every time I would see a monk with robs going and sometimes stepping in robs, I would say mind your business. You came here to liberate yourself not to judge monks. It worked. You can use it next time you see yogi walking slowly or too fast. You can use it in anyway, I have no copyrights.
  • Another one which is very helpful—non-judgment day is here. You know I was born in Uganda. It is a Christian country, so I learn about judgements days coming. So, what I do is just play with it. Non-judgement day is here. That also worked.
  • Another one, you can use some teaching by Anne. It is called reflection on the law of Kamma. Anne gave a talk on that. That is my Kamma. If I put on a rob so smartly, it is my kamma. If others put it badly, it is their Kamma. It has nothing to do with me. That is kind of mind your business. If they put on a rob in a bad way, it is not going to affect my kamma. So, reflection on law of Kamma also helps. I am not going to talk about Kamma. I think she did a very good job.
  • Another, it also works. If you have a judgmental mind or projecting others. You don’t want to eat too fast but others eating too fat. These things actually happen during retreats.
  • Reflect on your thoughts first. Have you never done anything wrong? You do of course many things wrong. Why are you a fault finder? Trying to find what others are doing wrong. It happened to me when I was in Burma in 2003. I was meditating for two months with Sayadaw U Pandita. This is a big retreat at the end of the year bringing monks, nuns and lay people together. It is wonderful. They taught us how to do walking meditation. I started doing walking meditation; lifting, moving and placing. I had of course done walking meditation in our monastery in California. But all of a sudden, I saw a monk coming close to me. He was taking pictures with a digital camera, all my moves; lifting, moving and placing. I said, we are not supposed to take pictures. The monk took all these pictures. I was wondering what I did wrong that this monk took pictures. During evening time, as monks don’t do dinner, we give to other people out of compassion. But we go for juice though. All monastics will sit together and take juice. The monk pulled out a camera, and I said you are doing wrong. You see, he didn’t mind his business. He said you should walk like this. He started running back all the pictures showing me exactly how my feet were raising and not going properly. Amazing! What yogis go through? He was judging my walking. I thought I was doing it well. I went to Burma after a three months long retreat at forest refuge. I had done retreats and I knew how to walk (chuckles). Look at what you are doing. I think he was not doing it right. But because he wanted to do it right, he doesn’t want to go wrong, and thought I was doing it wrong that is why he took pictures. Find out what you are doing wrong before you go to others to point out what they are doing wrong. That also works.
  • Another one is more of discernment—judgmental mind; you become a judge. You judge others. We call it judging mind. What if you shift your understanding to what we call judicious? To be judicious is not the same as to be judgmental. Judicious is more of discernment. You need some wisdom and understanding to be judicious. So, you want to be judicious but not judgmental. With judgment, we are acting on our prejudices. With judiciousness, we are bringing in wisdom to discern what is skillful and unskillful. That is the difference.
  • Finally, whenever judgment comes, make a note of judging, judging, judging. Not so loud but a soft mental note. ‘Oh, this is my judging mind’. That works.


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