Musings

June 2024 Musings

"Oho!" said the pot to the kettle;
"You are dirty and ugly and black!
Sure no one would think you were metal,
Except when you're given a crack."

"Not so! not so!" kettle said to the pot;
"'Tis your own dirty image you see;
For I am so clean – without blemish or blot –
That your blackness is mirrored in me.”
--Anonymous
 
This little exchange can help us clarify projection.
 

--from The Key
 
The way to use projection is not to ascertain the nature of objective reality which is the domain of science or philosophy…
 
Is the pot really black?
What is black anyway?
Is there such a thing as a pot?
 
…but to focus attention on the subjective nature of experience. In fact, projection aids in the examination of the subject experiencing. It helps the pot examine the “who” that calls the kettle black. Understanding “Who am I?” is at the heart of the spiritual journey. 
 
Give up all questions except one: ‘Who am I?’ After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are. The ‘I am’ is certain. The ‘I am this’ is not. Struggle to find out what you are in reality. 
--Nisargadatta Maharaj
 
In the depths of meditation, the Buddha saw there is “no self.” The self human beings normally identify with is a mental fabrication and seeing its falsity leads to freedom from suffering.
 
Projection is essentially a tool to disidentify from the false self, the source of suffering.
 
If neither the pot nor the kettle is suffering, projection is merely an interesting idea. But let’s say the kettle takes exception to the pot calling it names. The tool of projection would help the kettle understand several things about the nature of its experience.
 
The pot says the kettle is black. This says a lot about the pot and nothing at all about the kettle. The awareness that we are always projecting who we are may allow the kettle to not take things personally and consequently be less upset about the pot’s projections.
 
The kettle can then be curious about the process of getting upset. What does it have going about being called something it isn’t? Why is it so hung up about its polished self-image? After some looking, the kettle may realize that its feelings are hurt. The pot seems unappreciative of the effort the kettle makes to sparkle. The kettle is envious of the pot’s relaxed approach to its own appearance. It resents being judged as imperfect when it so wants the pot’s approval. But as a good practitioner, it stops to consider how it can possibly know that the pot disapproves of it. Enter projection again.
 

--from The Key
 
Projection reframes the kettle’s experience accurately. 
 
The kettle can’t know (without asking) if the pot is paying it a compliment or casting an aspersion when it says, “You are black!” It can only know its own experience of the statement.
 
It isn’t: Pot is disapproving of kettle-me. 
It is: Kettle-I am feeling judged and found wanting.
 
This opens up further lines of inquiry! 
 
If judgment is something “I” do, then how often, the kettle can inquire, is judging the basis of my experience? Is it always that kettle-I feels judged by pots and pans and other kitchen appliances, or does the projection of judgment go both ways? With some further looking, the kettle gathers more intel on the process of judgment. For example, sometimes it finds the microwave beeping off key and sometimes it’s the perfect accompaniment to its “tea water is ready” whistle.  It occurs to the kettle, “Since microwave isn’t being tuned, how can it be off key on occasion? Perhaps it isn’t the source of my annoyance or appreciation but a reflector of my mood.”
 
If the kettle stays with inquiry, it discovers something revolutionary. 
 
If one is curious, one cannot also be upset! Projection helps the kettle move from upset to a disidentified perspective from which further observations are possible, if self-hatred doesn’t sabotage the process.
 
Where projection gets tricky for kettles and human beings is having to face the uncomfortable truth that negative qualities being projected are as much “me” as positive ones. If the kettle projects that the pot is a hateful racist and hates the pot for discriminating on the basis of color, the kettle has to confront the fact that it has just become the very thing that it purports to dislike about the pot. The absence of love is in the kettle (it may also be in the pot, but for a spiritual practitioner, there is only one life to save!) and that identification with not-love reinforces the sense of separation, perpetuating the kettle’s suffering. Perhaps this is why Christ said, as the mob readied to stone the adulteress, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
 
Once there is acceptance that the seeds of greed, hate and delusion are within the mind and that any human is capable of unspeakable thoughts, words and deeds, we can take responsibility for ending suffering at its source, where it is experienced. This is the power of the tool of projection—assisting a seeker to bring awareness to the process of me as the cause of suffering. This does not mean the kettle can’t campaign for equal rights or neighborhood cleanliness. It just means it has a growing clarity of the Second Noble Truth! 
 
So let’s assume the kettle has a wise Zen teacher who made sure that the lesson in projection is preceded by a lecture in going beyond self-hate. Rescued from the despair of being hated for being so judgmental, the kettle is ready to proceed with its inquiry. 
 
It gradually dawns on the kettle that if it is possible to watch kettle-I judging, kettle-I feeling judged, kettle-I getting upset, then who is watching?  
 
What is it that is aware?
What is Awareness?
That Thou Art?
 
And so begins the real spiritual quest…
 
If we get past ego projections, projection opens the door to an altogether different dimension, a dimension we refer to as “the experience of the joy of Intelligence knowing itself.”
 
And what about the kettle?
 
Last we heard, it has taken up residence in a wise Zen teacher’s kitchen. Imbibing the teachings embodied by her presence, satori is often its experience. And in those moments of insight, the kettle sings out phrases that rival Basho himself.
 
There is nothing you can see that is not a pot; 
there is nothing you can think that is not the kettle!.

Gasshō
ashwini

 

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