The Lion's Roar: Fully Speaking our Truth
One reason that the Senate hearings with Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh were so captivating is because these two figures carried themselves so completely differently — Dr. Blasey Ford with her strong resolve to be heard despite her terror at being there, and Judge Kavanaugh with his full-throated embrace of anger and indignation. Indeed, the New York Times reported that White House counsel Don McGahn told Kavanaugh that “the only way to save his nomination… was to show the senators how he really felt, to channel his outrage and indignation at the charges he had denied”. Similarly, Clarence Thomas passed his confirmation hearing in 1991 by showing his anger at Anita Hill’s allegations.
What lessons will we draw from these situations that keep arising? Since Kavanaugh and Thomas were successful, many people will conclude that getting angry is the best way to respond to challenges, that might makes right, and that it’s okay to bluster, storm, and browbeat our opponents into submission. However, we have already seen how much toxic conflict and suffering this kind of attitude leads to — we have seen how dark our world can be when we let ourselves be ruled by anger and fear.
Regardless of our political and spiritual views, a different lesson we could learn is offered by considering the approaches of Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh in relation to a key principle from Buddhism, the “Lion’s Roar”, as in the Buddha’s Greater and Lesser Discourses on the Lion’s Roar.
Of Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, who was doing a lion’s roar?
With our ordinary associations of a lion roaring, we might think that the angry, snarling attitude of Judge Kavanaugh is a lion’s roar, since it was full of force, bravado, self-importance, and entitlement, thinking that he deserves to be the king of the jungle, while Dr. Blasey Ford was extremely nervous, eager to please, and didn’t have a trace of anger. However, that’s not what a lion’s roar means in Buddhism.
What is the Lion’s Roar?
In Buddhist discourse, a lion’s roar is traditionally defined as a statement that we’re willing to stand behind in public debate, as in the ten characteristics that the Buddha says demonstrate that he is awakened (such as understanding patterns of cause and effect, understanding the world as it actually is, and remembering his past lives).
However, most generally, we could say that a lion’s roar is anything we say or do with complete self-confidence, fully knowing who we are, what we are doing, and why we’re doing it. When we fully stand in our truth, we are connected with an inner reservoir of unshakeable strength, and fear and anger naturally fade away. If we are angry when we speak our truth, that is not a lion’s roar, that’s an outburst from the ego or subconscious, coming from a perspective of fear and weakness, being afraid that we won’t be believed, and don’t know how to be persuasive.
The lion’s roar comes from a perspective of deep connection with our truth and whole self, as fully as we’re currently able to grasp it. In other words, the lion’s roar comes from the perspective of what some would call the soul, higher self, wisdom mind, luminous mind, Buddha Self, Christ Consciousness, or Self, which can shine through in moments of clarity and insight, whether we’ve had awakening experiences or not. That is the state that’s pointed to by the five Reiki precepts (“For today only, don’t bear anger, don’t worry, be humble, practice diligently, and be compassionate to ourselves and others”), by the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism (“Right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi”), as well as the state of mind pointed to by the Ten Commandments of Christianity, and many other traditions. If we’re angry when we speak our truth, we’re clearly not coming from the perspective of the lion’s roar.
We may still be somewhat nervous, as Dr. Blasey Ford was, but when we fully speak our truth without our ego being involved (as with her statement “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter”), what we say will ring out in the world like a clarion call. Some will hear it, and some will not, so we can’t assume that any particular outcome will happen, but the lion’s roar isn’t about browbeating others into submission, or forcing our way with brute strength. All we can do is stand fully in our truth, do the best we can, and let go of any attachment to the outcome (i.e., “letting go of the fruits of our labor”, as the Bhaghavad Gita puts it). Regardless, our lion’s roar will spread out into the world, causing ripples that may turn into mighty waves as they spread across the vast ocean of existence.
If we are going to transform this world from the dark, feudal, conflict-ridden past that we’ve been stuck in for millenia, we need as many lion’s roars as possible. Every single one of us needs to speak our truth, without anger or fear, neither demonizing others or censoring ourselves, and without attachment to any particular result. Not everyone will feel moved to do a lion’s roar, and that’s perfectly fine, everything comes in its own time. And, it may be helpful to remember that lion’s roars don’t have to be in words — a lion’s roar is anything that comes from the perspective of our soul, higher self, or the sacred. So, a work of art, a poem, book or any kind of creation can be a lion’s roar, as long as we speak our truth not from the perspective of fear, anger, or other so-called negative emotions, but from the perspective of truth, beauty, love, and whatever we hold most dear.
We may need to persist over and over again with our lion’s roars — making the clearest statements we can of the truth as we see it, creating the most beautiful works possible, sharing anything that shows what is truly important. It's not about trying to convert anyone to anything or convince anyone of anything. It’s just a statement of our true self, our commitment to not be bound by the usual constraints of the ego (aka the monkey mind, grasping mind or ordinary self), and our knowledge that we don't have to settle for the ‘usual’ levels of fear, anger, sadness, greed, jealousy, etc. that plague so much of our lives.
Of course, there are times when the so-called ‘negative’ emotions are reasonable reactions, and there's a time for all emotions and all states of being — we’re not saying people should never be sad, angry, afraid, or any of the other ‘negative’ emotions. However, these emotions are such frequent parts of our daily lives that we don’t question them, thinking that we have to settle for the insane levels that we think are normal. The vast majority of us are frequently stuck in some negative emotion or another, or stuck ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or any of the many other ways that are ordinary selves let us down, letting us remain caught in the grip of the subconscious (aka the lower self, shadow, animal self, pain body, or id), until we have learn that there’s a different way of being.
Ultimately, a lion’s roar is a reminder that there is another of way of being that isn’t stuck in fear, anger, sadness, or other negative emotions. We don’t have to believe in any particular way of characterizing what we’re connected with, whether we think of it as part of our own self (as in our soul, higher self, Buddha Self, Christ Consciousness, wisdom mind, luminous mind, or the total of all our energy across the entirety of our existence from the very beginning to the very end), or whether we think of it as connecting with something outside ourselves (as in a spirit guide, muse, angel, holy spirit, the divine, the sacred, the Source, the Dao, the Brahman, the fundamental ground of being, or God).
There are countless different ways of conceiving of what we're connecting with, and in different cases we may be connected with different entities, different levels of the Great Chain of Being. The vast spectrum of identity ranging from our individual ordinary self up to the everything. A lion's roar doesn't have to be any particular statement of belief, or something we're trying to say that everyone should believe. It's just an expression that we try to have be as genuine an expression of our experience as possible. Most emphatically, a lion’s roar is not a statement that anyone is better than anyone else.
It’s said that after Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha, he ran along the road saying that he's the king of the world. I personally don't know whether he actually said that or if that was something attributed to him later by others for various reasons, but if we believe that we're better than anyone else, then we clearly haven't traversed the entire path yet. After an awakening experience, we may well feel ecstatic beyond all measure, and feel like we need to change our name to recognize the shift that has happened, as we may feel reborn or completely transformed. We may even be tempted to start a new religion, but there have been far too many divisions already, far too many separations and claims that one path is better than all the others.
If anyone or their statements seem to indicate that they feel that they're better than anyone else, then they would not seem to be a trustworthy guide. To be clear, I'm not saying that the Buddha was not a trustworthy guide, as in the initial moments after an experience I can completely understand and exuberance of feeling All the subsquent teachings by the Buddha show he had great compassion for others, and believed that all are completely equal (as in him saying that everyone’s teachings should be examined and questioned and not just taken because someone said them, and saying that if you see a Buddha on the road, kill him), but we need to guard against even a single moment of feeling superior to others.
It’s worth noting that the Buddha’s “Greater Discourse on The Lion’s Roar” includes various points that the Buddha did not claim to have, as in supernatural qualities like being able to go through solid walls, become invisible, and flying through the air. As the Buddhist scholar Andrew Olendzki has suggested, these statements may have been intended as a way to allude to meditative states, lucid dreaming, and our spirit body or energy body. No one can actually walk through walls or fly with their physical body, but many people have out-of-body experiences (OOBE’s), near-death experiences (NDE’s), and awakening or transcendental experiences in which they leave the physical body and find that they are a field of energy that can move through walls, float, and fly. That’s the sense in which an accomplished meditator might be able to go through walls or fly, like people who learn to astral project.
However, I would say that there are other supernatural powers that we should focus on, which are actually attainable. After all, a very useful superpower is to able to ground ourselves, center ourselves, and balance ourselves whenever need be (even in the most difficult circumstances that life brings), to not get distracted by all the vast amounts of information we’re constantly deluged with, and to not become overwhelmed by all the negativity out in the world. That’s why I felt it was so important to write the previous article “Returning to Balance”, including steps that anyone can take to return to balance, including techniques from Reiki and other traditions for grounding, centering, opening, and energetic balancing. We can all learn the superpower of being able to balance ourselves, why not learn it.
One reason why the concept and practice of the lion’s roar are important is because many people who try to approach life with consciousness and introspection have learned to become somewhat timid, anxious, or doubtful in life. There’s certainly nothing wrong with asking questions, but if our attitude is always pervaded with a certain hesitancy where we are second-guessing everything that we are doing, constantly wondering if we are doing the right thing, these kinds of thoughts or subconscious ways of holding ourselves have an impact on our energy. If our goal is to be completely open fully in the Reiki space (or whatever we want to call the fully-open, highly-energized space), that isn’t consistent with hesitancy, doubt or skepticism. We can certainly ask all the questions and be as skeptical as we want when we’re thinking intellectually about something; but when we’re trying to actually be in the Reiki space, that’s a time for just being, rather than asking, worrying, and doubting. Thinking of the Lion’s Roar is one way to remind ourselves of how to get in that fully opened and expansive state. If a different metaphor works for people, that’s perfectly fine, but the point is to find some way to have an attitude of exuberant confidence that can help us fully get into the Reiki space, no matter how challenging our circumstances might be.
The attitude of the lion’s roar can also help us to remain in the Reiki space despite distractions. After all, distractions may come up such as sounds nearby, sensations we notice in our body, as well as thoughts, emotions, and images that may arise. While our ordinary self can easily get distracted, there is a deep part of ourself that, like a lion, isn’t afraid of sounds, distractions, or anything else that may arise. The lion knows that no matter what happens, we’ll be fine just as the most essential part of ourselves is always okay, whether we call it our soul, higher self, wisdom mind, spacious mind, Buddha Self, Christ Consciousness, or any other name. This deep part of ourselves is never threatened by anything, not even old age, or when we have to leave the physical body, the soul’s still always totally fine. Even if we don’t feel any kind of confidence or connection with the deeper part of ourselves, or if we aren’t feeling at all like a lion, we can still act like it.
For anyone who doesn’t feel like lion’s confidence, but wants to explore this type of firm, centered, way of expressing our deepest truths, there are many tools to gether. The system of Reiki has many tools, such as the Reiki precepts, and all the meditations, symbols, and mantras that point to our whole self (as laid out by Frans Stiene in his book The Inner Heart of Reiki: Rediscovering Your True Self, for example). One suprisingly powerful method from beyond Reiki is “Fake it till you make it”, as in Amy Cuddy’s popular TED talk. The basic idea is that our body language can help shape how we feel — if we put our hands above our head and say “Woohoo!”, even if we’re just acting like we feel great, before long we may actually start to feel great. It may not happen right away, and may take many sessions before the effect is at all lasting, but if we persist long enough in acting a certain way (such as happy, excited, or any other attitude or emotion we might want to embody), eventually the body and mind won’t be able to distinguished feigned emotion from real emotion, leaving just the real emotion. Similarly, if we act like a lion roaring, soon enough, we’ll actually feel like a lion roaring. The ultimate goal is to authentically embody the attitude we’re reaching for, but acting like we already feel that way can be one useful way to get there.
These days, a great many people are bursting with self-confidence which comes entirely from the ego, but if everyone who is truly connected with their selves would roar with the confidence of a lion, this world would be completely changed. We don’t need to have a million people roaring — even if a few lions roar, others will hear, until our collective roar will completely transform the world.
Whenever we speak our truth fully, no matter how terrifying that might be, as it clearly was for Dr. Blasey Ford, that's a lion's roar even if we aren't speaking in a loud voice or with an aggressive or angry tone. Judge Kavanaugh may well be speaking his truth as much as he remembers it, but we don't have to be angry and aggressive in order to speak our truths, and anger is a clear way to tell when someone is coming from a perspective of fear and weakness, afraid they can’t speak their truth clearly. In this day and age, we desperately need to learn how to deal with our differences in a constructive manner without resorting to anger. The lion's roar as about acting not from the perspective of fear, anger, or any other ‘negative’ emotions, but from the perspective of balance, truth, understanding, compassion, love, and wholeness.
If we don't feel connection with a deep, unquenchable reservoir of peace within us, which comes whenever we truly speak our own truth without attachment to how others see us, without even the slightest thought of trying to force others to agree with us, then we have no right to do the lion’s roar. If we know who we are, what we're here for, and feel moved to share something about the fundamental truth as we understand it, then by all means, the lion's roar should spring forth. If we don’t yet know who we are, why we’re here, and what our truth is, there are many tools to help us get there, including tools from Reiki, “fake it till you make it”, and many other traditions.
The point is not to have our egos, our ordinary selves become inflated and think that our egos are the masters of the universe. But if we allow our ordinary minds to calm down and fully get in the Reiki space, then we’ll have a sense of the connection with everything that ultimately each of us is everything, each of us is the divine. From that perspective, we have both all the humility and all the confidence of the entire universe and nothing at all can bother us; that’s a perspective from which the lion’s roar emanates.
First, we need to be silent and listen deeply, both within and without. It'll probably take years if not many lifetimes of listening before the time is right, but when the lion’s roar builds up within us, it would be irresponsible and a denial of our true self if we stifle out of concern about how we might come across. We all need to express who we truly are, and whether it comes out as a mouse’s squeak or a lion's roar, so be it. Absolutely every expression of who we are is beautiful and blessed, so let's all truly listen to ourselves, and then let the symphony of our roars ring out.
If anyone has any thoughts or questions, please let me know.
Peace, love, and blessings.