Ulterior Defenses by Ming Zhen Shakya


Janus, the Roman God


FOREWARD by Fashi Lao Yue

When I would grumble about something to Ming Zhen, she would inevitably get to the point where she reminded me “everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.” It was her way of telling me to be quiet – to stop complaining or thinking I am better than or less than any other being. This knowledge, although simple to read and even memorize, is not easy to practice. In this essay, Ming Zhen asks us to study the ego-self before the ego-self grabs hold with either attraction or aversion. A hard task indeed! For a very long time, we spiritual seekers find ourselves in a mess after we have grabbed something with the energy of attraction or aversion. These two energies are the harbingers of the three poisons of the soul – namely, greed, hate and delusion and all the various concomitants; the endless array of associated collateral. (i.e., worry, resentment, pride, envy, jealousy…)

Ming Zhen calls it being buried in our egos. I understand her to say as she says in Beckett’s quote, a dead mind. Dead in the sense its shape has taken on a name and form of becoming a such and such which we all know is deadly for any spiritual adept. To continue to see the sins of others is a fool’s view – and to worry about the other’s view of you is equally foolish. I can hear Ming Zhen laugh as she once again reminds us, “everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.” Amen.

I have taken the liberty as editor for ZATMA to edit this essay towards a focus of helping us all to look at our ulterior defenses and to remember her way of telling us to be quiet.


Everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.”




Say what you will, you can’t keep a dead mind down.”
Samuel Beckett, More Pricks Than Kicks

People buried in their egos – victims of their own poisonous anger, lust, or ignorance – find release only when they can spew that venom onto others. It’s the only catharsis they get. We hear them on moonless nights, stalking the land, targeting anyone within spitting range.

We need to remember this is us each and every time we find ourselves spewing venom.

To avoid the mess during these Nights of the Living Dead, the rest of us have to find a Refuge – and wait for sunrise. We are able to avoid the mess when we stop ourselves from discharging our own poisons. Then, if we are disciplined, we are able to seek Refuge. The Big Spiritual refuge of turning towards the Precious Buddha Mirror of our true image.


It helps to understand – if not the source of others venom – at least the display of it. Sometimes we encounter it “in kind” and sometimes “in degree.”


The “degree” is easier to see. We all feel that we’ve imposed ethical limits upon our behavior, limits that constitute a boundary between acceptable and unacceptable actions. “He is a terrible man. He beats his wife for no reason at all. (Pause) I beat my wife, too, but I make sure she deserves it before I strike her.”

In prison ministries we often see a rationalized hierarchy of crime. “I may be guilty of armed robbery, but I’ve never raped anybody!” Sometimes the hierarchy stumps us. A man who is serving three life sentences for multiple murders can say, with perfect equanimity, “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a thief.”


Often, we find ourselves declaring such nonsense, as “I’d never do such a thing.”

No, it is difference in “kind” that gives us trouble. It is a matter of identity. Identification with a false self; a made-up identity. A change in kind is an apparent change in genus and species. We think we’re seeing one kind of animal, but in reality, we’re seeing its natural enemy. This is not quite the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” motif. The wolf knows he’s a wolf and the woolly garments are a conscious disguise. If caught with his toes or his tail showing, he knows he’s been busted. The wolf is not deluded enough to growl and bare his fangs and insist that his accuser is a vicious sheep hater – the only reason he could possibly have for calling him a wolf. This kind of response is a purely human one.

In such a self-absolving defense tactic, the person unconsciously assumes an identity opposite to that of his true victim, i.e., the person he can righteously accuse of having the very same faults as those that got him buried in the first place. If he is a fearful coward – one that would betray his country at the slightest inconvenience, he may emerge from his interment as a martinet, swaggering with stick and sneer, exhorting his subordinates to commit acts of cruelty upon some ‘cowardly’ enemy, deriding his men as wimps and unpatriotic pansies, and punishing them harshly if they are in any way reluctant to inflict such injuries. If there’s one thing he hates, it’s a coward.

Have any of us ever made such statements – in a ridiculous piety. Or perhaps its opposite?

Again, it is in the exaggerated response that we find a clue to the nature of this inversion.

It is when we do take time to reflect upon moral issues that we need to consider the motivation of those who so vehemently question other people’s morality – and this includes our own outcries as well.

Buddhists who’ve been buried in their own egos often get their disinterment passes by shouting that somebody in the vicinity is violating a Precept. It never occurs to them that they are shifting a burden of guilt onto someone else. Whether the transfer is hissed or shouted, the theme is always the same: the assumed superior stance of one person over another.


Everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.”

Pointing accusingly at other people’s offenses requires scrupulously clean hands. This is a universal principle in law except, perhaps, in the judicial proceedings of the Cosa Nostra. When two men rob a bank, intending to split the loot, and one of them runs off with all the money, the victimized robber cannot charge him with theft or seek redress of his grievance in the civil courts.

Seeing that our hands are dirty requires a degree of self-awareness that we usually don’t possess.


As the Buddha said,

The faults of others are easily seen, but one’s own faults are seen with difficulty. One winnows the faults of others like chaff, but conceals his own faults as a fowler covers his body with twigs and leaves.”` (The Buddha, Dhammapada, XVIII, 252.)


Reminds us of Adam and Eve who made a poor effort to cover their shame with a leaf.

Ordinary flaws, those convenient hypocrisies we devise to get out of uncomfortable positions or to gain personal advantages, are far easier to recognize than the ones that are not just covered by twigs and leaves but are buried beneath them.

If we haven’t yet used a defense mechanism to dig ourselves into a pathologic hole, we can try routine Buddhist self-help techniques. Success depends on luck and on having attained a certain proficiency in meditation. There is a line that is crossed when fascination becomes emotional involvement. Whenever we notice that we are aroused – by either attraction or aversion – we can try to analyze our response. Unfortunately, by the time we are emotionally “hooked” we have passed the point of disinterested observation and our conclusions are likely to be prejudiced.


Hsu Yun noted that the best time to become aware of our connection to a person or object is at the very beginning, when fascination has not yet progressed to emotional involvement. Initial actions and reactions are rather like the experience of seeing a dog pass a narrow window. By the time we’re aware that a dog is passing, we note only the dog’s body and then its tail. In order to identify the dog, we have to put a head on it… to go into our subliminal data banks and retrieve information of which we originally were not quite conscious. This task is referred to in the mondo concerning the master and the novice who asks when he will achieve enlightenment.


When you came here tonight,” the master asks, “on which side of the door did you leave your slippers?”


Naturally, the novice does not have the meditative proficiency necessary to recall details that his brain recorded, but which he made no conscious attempt to remember. Just as a journalist learns to ask the relevant questions, “Who?”; “When?”; “Where?”; “Why?”; “How?” and so on, we have to try to connect various stimuli, to establish a causal link, and try to determine the critical point – the point at which our interest was aroused. We often find that we make the same kind of mistake over and over. We can never “catch” ourselves before we fall into the trap. We need to be able to reconstruct the chain of impulses, the actions and reactions, the events that led us into the troublesome situations.

It’s only when anger, lust, and ignorance progress, unimpeded by constructive and corrective review, that we find that the defensive foxhole becomes a trench, and the trench a spiritual grave.



The Take-Away by Fashi Lao Yue

In order to clarify the teaching, we need to call upon the Roman god, Janus. As many remember, Janus is the god of many things: beginnings and gates, transitions, time, duality and endings symbolized by having two faces.

When conflicts arise, Janus is the god involved; when conflicts end, he is the god involved. Making him the god of war and peace. It is safe to say that he represents the god of all duality which is the heart of this teaching. We have a tendency to split things along the classification of good and bad.

When we set ourselves in a position for one-side, we have lost half our face.  We act out one side of Janus’s faces, forgetting the other side is true as well.

Most of the time we do not want to be reminded that we are dualistic; we hide one side of the face in favor of the other rather than recognize we have two faces. We dislike this so much we find it a real insult to be called ‘two-faced.’

We want to be single-faced – pure. Not knowing that purity is our real nature, we wish for it and pretend we are it. But time and time again we split towards a preferred tendency.  Some of us prefer, for example, to begin something rather than end something or the other-way-round. There is an endless slough of how this plays out in our daily life.

In order for us to realize our real nature, we must recognize our tendency to split and make efforts to integrate our awareness. When we are far enough along on the spiritual path, we see the oneness in such a way that everything is our real nature and we surrender our human tendency in humility.

Humming Bird
Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


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