To Judge or Not to judge

Everyone can visualize the irony of a situation where someone is pointing a finger at you telling you not to judge. Also when reading an article in a spiritual magazine there is a big chance it would say something like it’s ok to have an opinion but stay away from judgements. And when learning about mindfulness we are being asked specifically to not judge but to observe instead. 

As a modern seeker of the higher truth I often feel quite confused. There are all these judgements and contemplations going on in my mind and yet I am being told it is not ok to judge. I understand that it might not be my place to judge someone else’s actions, when I don’t have all the information and am using preconceived values and beliefs. And I agree that judgements can easily provoke defensiveness, withdrawal or anger when interacting with someone. So we can learn to become very good listeners and prevent escalations from happening, but does this mean we have to let go of our judgements?

Thankfully I am studying at the feet of a most eloquent, experienced and very knowledgeable Vedic teacher Acharya Shunya, who conveys the teachings of the non dual Vedic tradition in its full authenticity and makes them extremely relevant and applicable for us today. In our recent encounter online, during what we call a sanctuary, with my Ayurveda Alchemist class, Acharya Shunya elaborated on the following sloka from one of the ancient Ayurveda Vedic text. 

Brahmacharya jnana daana maitri karunya harshopekasha prashamparashcha

(Charak Samhita, Sutrasthanam chapter 8, verse 29)

This sloka or verse is meant as a life strategy. One you can choose to adopt in a similar way as deciding to become vegetarian. When analyzing every word, this sloka gives us all the steps we can take in order to live a life full of happiness. All just gifted to us in this one impactful verse. As I understand it, it can be explained as follows. First adopt brahmacharya. Brahmacharya doesn’t mean to withhold from any sexual activity as it is so often translated. Brahma is the highest supreme truth and Charya is path. We are being asked to take up a greater spiritual quest. There is no need to abandon our life. We can just stay in it while studying with a teacher and exploring and contemplating on this higher truth. Secondly the word jnana stands for the higher wisdom of the one Self. Although there are many many different people, species, worlds, cultures and so on, we all share one common self. Hence, we are being asked to look beyond the differences we all have. This concept of oneness entails kshanti, the spirit of accommodation. Thirdly we adopt daana. Daana is about generousity and adopting a heartful way of living. Fourthly, maitri is friendship that emerges from our shared humanity. Not only taking care of each other but taking care of the environment too. Then Karunya, means cultivating deep compassion. Harshopekasha is when you are happy for the people who are helping you or who are leading the way and when you do not get disturbed by the the people who act differently and who move, so to say, away from the light. It means to not be emotionally attached either way. Prashamparashcha means peacefulness, poise, alertness and calmness. 

In an ideal situation or on a sunny day it seems pretty doable to follow this way of living and feel great and joyful about it. But I am curious to find out how our judgements will fit in. How do you go about it when encountering a difficult situation? When you have to, for example, accommodate the behavior of your difficult in-laws? Or how are you going to be indifferent when thinking of all the people that cause injustice in the world and hurt others? Do you just let them all be and don’t judge because, after all, we are all one? Do you ignore how you feel in favor of accommodating others? If we only listen and don’t react does this mean we do not react inside ourselves also?  And why would we be happy or feel joy when doing all this? 

In the Bhagavad Gita, the main character Arjuna is torn between what he himself might have labeled as compassion and accommodation, or choosing righteousness action. His judgement is initially skewed and we learn that we should always choose the latter. Accommodation doesn’t mean we have to do as others please, we have to use our discernment. Discernment means the ability to judge well.

We can learn to be the bigger person. Not from a place of superiority, but from a place of understanding and love. In our example, if we would reject our in-laws instead of accommodating them, we have to understand we also reject part of ourselves in doing so. It doesn’t mean we just let everything be and that we can’t have a judgement or opinion about certain issues. Again, our judgement is one of discernment. Sometimes we speak up and other times we can let it go.

In regards to harshopekasha when practicing indifference, I realize that it doesn’t serve me when I worry or when I am upset about things I cannot influence. It’s really pointless. It is better that I focus my energy on things I can influence. It doesn’t mean I have to disregard my thoughts, feelings or judgement on the subject or in this case on the injustice, it just means I shouldn’t be emotionally attached to it. 

It is all about practicing to control our minds. When we can control our mind we can control everything: our body, our thoughts, our actions and our reactions.

The sloka offers us the tools to help realize this. Become generous and act as a friend. Friends do not lash out at each other just like that, they think things over first. Also when we celebrate other peoples’ successes, we experience being part of the winning team. ‘We’ versus ‘I’. When we cultivate peacefulness, poise, alertness and calmness our joy increases, we can literally feel it in our bones. We feel more joy overall. We learn to pause and to take a step back before reacting.

How do we know when to judge or not to judge? In the Bhagavad Gita Arjuna learns it’s important to judge and choose righteousness action, also known as dharma, instead of  just accommodating people he knows and loves. 

For Ghandi the story goes that he, before he died, was able to look his murderer in the eye and to not judge the person and forgive him. Ghandi’s well known saying is: hate the sin, not the sinner. Similarly, some of us might be familiar with the story of Ashtavakra, the disformed son who goes to court to help his father find justice, only to find the assembly    judging him on his appearance. But because Ashtavakra knew everyone is different from what they experience, he was unaffected. He was able to accommodate the people in the assembly, which was so powerful that everyone started to bow for him, even the king. 

What was Arjuna learning what apparently Ghandi and Ashtavakra already knew? He was learning to own the concept of oneness. That we are different from what we experience. That we can accommodate, feel generosity and friendship, while choosing righteousness. To be peaceful. To not take all our life stories into account. To use discernment to judge and not to be attached. 

How do we know we’re not attached to things, situations or people? Ironically I think we know when we judge! When we judge it functions as a mirror. When we’re able to implement the life strategy of this sloka, we are teaching ourselves to take a step back. We can look at our judgement and examine it. Our judgement might imply that some of our convictions and values need work, especially when it’s filled with too much life story and too little oneness. Or our judgement might be just right when it is one coming from dharma, righteousness action. In case of, for example, injustice or harm.

The next time you come across someone pointing a finger at you, in one way or another, telling you not to judge: use your judgement! And when you come from a place of oneness everything will be alright.

With gratitude for the teachers in my life,

Much love and a smile, Aika

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