Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Being Judicious, not Judgmental

--by Thanissaro Bhikku (Feb 22, 2010)

One of the most difficult but necessary skills we need to develop as meditators is learning how to be judicious without being judgmental. An as a preliminary step to developing that skill, it's good to reflect on the difference beween the two.

Being judgmental is basically an effort to get rid of something we don't understand and probably don't want to understand. We see something we don't like and we try to dismiss it, to stamp it out without taking the time to understand it. we're impatient. Whatever we're being judgmental about, we just want to get rid of it quickly.

Being judicious, however, requires patience together with undestanding. A judicious choice is one you've made after understanding all the options, all the sides of a question. That way your choice is based on knowledge, not on greed, aversion, or delusion. [...]

The problem with being judgmental is that it's not effective. We try to stamp out things here and they go springing up someplace else. [...] Being judicious, though, is more effective. It's more precise. We see what's really skillful, what's really unskillful in the mind, and we learn how to disentangle the two. Often our skillful and unskillful habits get entangled. The things we don't like within ourselves actually do have some good in them, but we don't notice it. We focus instead on what we don't like, or what we're afraid of, and we end up trying to stamp it all out, the good along with the bad.

So this is why we meditate: to step back a bit, to watch things patiently so that we can see them for what they are and deal with them effectively. Our concentration practice gives us a comfortable center in our awareness where we can rest, where we feel less threatened by things. When we feel less threatened and less oppressed, we have the resilience to be more patient, to look into what's going on in the mind, and to develop the proper attitude toward what is skillful and what isn't. [...]

One of the main problems in modern life is that people have so little time. When they meditate, they want to cram as much of their meditation as possible into their little bits and pieces of spare time. Of course that aggravates the whole problem of bing judgmental. So keep reminding yourself that meditation is a long-term project. When you have a sense of that long arc of time, it's a lot easier to sit back and work very carefully at the basic steps. It's like learning any skill.

- By Thanissaro Bhikku, from "Meditations"

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Previous Reflections:

On Feb 22, 2010 Prasad wrote:

I have been reflecting on being judicious vs. being judgmental for past two weeks consciously. I found that my ego, past memories, attachment to certain interpretation that I like are the things that make me judgmental. If I can hold my judgment instead of passing it and observe myself, it was easier to be judicious. Just yesterday, I was listening to a new CD that my friend Sangeetha gave. It has a set of bhajans. The way the singers pronounce Siva or Sankara as Shiva or Shankara was a bit harsh to my ears. I grew up differentiating si as in sitar; si (with an accent) as in Sani and shi as in she. Recently, I found Siva and Sankara are pronounced as Shiva -- (she-va) and I was very judgmental and could not hear that song but got caught up in the sounds. When I realized that it is getting in my way, I relaxed into accepting that different people pronounce names differently but God is beyond all names and forms anyway. That allowed me to listen to Bhajans and by the end of that CD, I was really into it and have heard that CD 3 times in past 24 hours already. I suppose, I need to be judicious in listening to music -- bhava, raga, tala not just words to enjoy music!

On Feb 23, 2010 Rod Templin wrote:

To expand slightly on the wisdom of the famous RamDass saying, "BE HERE NOW"  .   .   .

This significant entry in my journal came many years ago:

Simply BE Mindfully aware to Witness HERE in non-judgmental Gratitude NOW.

A good question to take into meditation ; How can I be non-judgmental about judgmentality itself  (both my own, as well as that of others)?

This notion of "judiciousness" speaks well to that inquiry. Thanx for sharing it.

On Feb 24, 2010 Candy Marie wrote:

I find it hardest to be judicial, as it is defined in this reflection, and easiest to be judgemental, when passions are involved.  Passsions referring to those overwhelming emotions experienced when we are debating a deeply felt issue, a topic of some controversy and even in day to day communications with family, friends and peers. 

Someone very wise once told me, and I am constantly reminded of this, "kindness before expression."  The beauty of this philosophy lays in its simplicity yet; however, I have found this to be one of the most difficult things to activly 'live.'  It takes constant effort and is very rewarding when achieved.


Thank you for sharing CF!


On Feb 26, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

To test the depth of a philosophy, I find it useful to go to the extreme. The distinctions of being judicious versus judgmental imply a context of some unpleasantness, much more so in the latter. The extreme example of unpleasantness would be to fight in a physically violent war. I could argue to myself that this is the judicious thing to do, that I'm not being judgmental, and there really is no other way of resolving the situation. The question is, how do I know that I'm not fooling myself?

The Gita exhorts us to not be fearful when faced with the prospect of fighting to protect dharma. In the next breath it asks us to fight as a yogi. And the test of being a yogi is whether we have even a trace of hatred in our hearts for anyone (least of all our "enemies.") If we hate the "other" in a fight, we are not fit to be yogis, and the fight is no longer one that will protect dharma. I found my breath taken away by this incredibly high standard. If I can eradicate all hatred in my heart and fill it only with love, then it is hard to imagine any situation where fighting would be necessary. There is always another way that will emerge. 99.9% of the world's conflicts would not exist anymore if this standard were adopted by fighters on all sides.

In the 0.1% of the world's conflicts that are inevitable (in my mind), the Tao Te Ching offers advice on how the fight itself must be conducted. J. Legge translated a profound verse from Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching as follows:
"A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He does not dare (by
continuing his operations) to assert and complete his mastery. He will strike the blow, but
will be on his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it. He
strikes it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery."

I will go further than Legge into this interpretation. The skillful commander is one who
mourns upon victory that there was no other way to resolve the dispute. There is no notion of victory over others for one who truly sees.

Being judicious, to me, is about integrating the head and the heart. It is about balance, so we see things as they are. It is what results when we "return" from a state of undifferentiated being to the realm of confusion (or daily life, where we have to make decisions).  The state of undifferentiated being is not a supernatural state - we enter into it many times a day when we love someone, or do an act of kindness from a space of genuine connection. In such a state, there is no confusion whatsoever. There is no decision to be made. There is no judgment or judiciousness. However, we don't stay in that state for very long, and find ourselves back in the land of confusion. It is here that our intellect is extremely useful. It is here that our memory is a great gift. If we utilize our intellect properly, retaining our memory of the undifferentiated, then we develop distance from the decision situation, enough to be able to dissect it with an unwavering hand and see it for what it is, and act to be consistent with our values.

In the passage, another thing that stood our for me was the notion of packing everything into a meditation session because of a perception of lack of time. I remebered a conversation with Viral, where, to paraphrase him, all of life is a long meditation (which also seemed to emerge from the New Year's reflection: Receiving Each Day As An Invitation). There are really two kinds of meditation - one that we do with our eyes closed, and the other is when our eyes are open. Without realizing it, we are actually meditating our way through life, learning from each experience that comes our way. From this perspective, all of us will be experienced meditators by the end of our lives - all is well!

Finally, a story. I found myself in a situation where someone had a terrible group experience and wanted to complain about other members in the group. The "others" were non-native English speakers. The protagonist of the story was very upset with the incompetence of the others, and couldn't stop crying about it. It was clear to me that something was badly wrong, and that the protagonist was very upset about it and that these two things were distinct. I wondered how to make it clear to the protagonist. Would it be more upsetting if I gave no sympathy for the emotional buildup? Would it make matters worse? But wait a second, was I being judgmental of the protagonist? Was there contempt or compassion? In matters of confusion, I've found it useful to go to my deepest intention and connect with it. Memory returns in such times. I remembered that when we connect with our deepest intentions, it matters not what we say - the intention is understood. The deepest intention here was compassion. So, the next step was to lay out the two distinct events - the team was dysfunctional, and the protagonist had chosen to make a big deal out of it. I gave full sympathy to the first event, and no sympathy to the second.

Having made that clear, sound advice had to still be given. The situation was unpleasant and time was limited. Again, memory of my own experience in Japan and research in global teamwork returned. A colleague suggested a quick check on past grades, which revealed that the other team members should not be incompetent, and I put a high probability on this being a communication issue. Non-native speakers need time to process what they hear in a foreign language, translate it into their own, formulate a response, and then translate it back. A professor had taught me a rule of thumb - give at least 10 seconds after you speak. I gave this advice back to the protagonist, and emphasizing the need to slow down and develop patience.

A week later, the protagonist came with a big smile - the problems had resolved. The team needed a safer space to work in, and it developed with patience from the protagonist. To me, this was a great lesson. Advice we give to others is really a desire for us to repeat the wisdom for our own benefit. The judicious nature of this advice resulted from a refusal to judge the other team members. But I wonder if this wisdom would have arrived if instead of the protagonist, I had been the one facing the problem. I can only hope to have access to a kind soul who would have helped me be judicious.

Hearing others, what stuck out for me was "jujubee" (judicious seemed to be a mouthful for many), and Shruti pointed out that jujubee meant simplicity in a Southern Indian language. Nipun shared a lovely story of how berating someone may not be a judicious use of our intellect and ability; that there is something about authenticity and patience. Not just 10 seconds, or 37 seconds, or 37 years, but 3700 years. It is the authenticity that lives on for 3700 years! Now where he got that number, I do not know, but that sounds like a cool yardstick.

Ripa shared a reflection from an inspiring film on Kabir called "Had-Anhad," where one of the singer-philosophers in the film shares this incredible story. The flies wanted to get the status of the moths, and went to the king of the moths and applied for it. The king of the moths said that the process was simple. The flies had to go and find the light. The flies raced out, found different sources of light everywhere - people's houses, street lights and so on. When they returned, they didn't see any moths come back, so feeling pretty victorious, they asked the king of the moths for his decision. The king was confused - "What decision?" The flies replied, "Whether we have been victorious in finding the light, and can now get the status of the moths." The king grinned and said, "You idiots! The decision has already been made. The moths who find the light become one with it, and never return. If you've found the light, why on earth would you return? You have not found any light - you are simply doing the work of getting a certificate from me."

Guri pointed out that being judicious also involved some judging. I'd agree with that - in the land of confusion, we do need to "make good decisions"  using our intellectual and intuitive capacities. We had a few people who had just returned from a Vipassana meditation retreat- and had a unique perspective on judgment having spent 10 days looking at their own minds.

And aunty took the cake tonight, with a side of bitter melon (cur-ray-laa as it is called in India)! With great trepidation, she finally made this dish, not knowing whether people with a Western taste would like it. It was a recipe she had received from her mother-in-law, and I loved it :).

In gratitude!

On Sep 5, 2010 Austin. wrote:

For years and years I have struggled to understand the text, "Judge not and you will not be judged." or "Do not judge... do not condemn... forgive... give..."  How can we live without making judgements?  Is this text practical?  Here comes a sage to finally explain the difference between being judgemental and being judicious...  Another gem in my collection of distinctions/distinguishing between being alone and feeling lonely, argument and discussion etc...  Thank you soooo much!