Friday, February 12, 2010

Judging Mind

At a retreat some years ago at Spirit Rock, I heard a dharma talk given by Rodney Smith. He had been a monk in his younger days, and is now a dynamic and popular teacher based in Seattle.

His talk that night was about the judging mind. He said that in his twenty-plus years of teaching, one of the most common problems reported by students is the experience of judging that compulsively arises during meditation. You don't have to go on a retreat to know this is true, however. The judging mind usually comes up almost every time you sit still and get quiet.

As in yesterday's blog about how the survival mechanisms that once serve to protect us have become dysfunctional in modern society, the ability to make discerning choices is an important and useful evolutionary trait that has gotten out of hand. Obviously, those of our ancestors who were able to discern the presence of a dangerous situation passed that trait to the next generation. If you could not discern which cave might have a bear in it, your chances of survival might be seriously diminished.

"Discernment" implies conscious awareness, receptivity, and humility. After all, maybe that cave doesn't have the bear in it right now, but the chances are good. The discerning mind is still an open mind that can admit that it doesn't know the whole story, yet. The judging mind, on the other hand, is not very conscious, has a compulsive quality to it, and is not interested in anyone else's opinions. It knows.

Most often, the judgments we experience in our meditation practice are about ourselves. Jack Kornfield once said that we have a judge in our minds "that wouldn't be allowed to sit on any court in the world." How often have we said things to ourselves and about ourselves that we would never allow anyone else to say? It seems impossible to stop this compulsive train of thinking, even when we know how much suffering it causes us.

In today's world, we are continually bombarded by advertising that preys upon this tendency toward self-judgment. In a television commercial, there is always a problem in search of a solution. The problem is that you don't have what they are selling, and therefore you are less of a person. You don't enjoy the same status or peace of mind that others who own this product have. The solution, of course, is to buy the product in order to fill the void resulting from your not having it.

After seeing millions of these images throughout our lifetime, is it any wonder that when we are quiet for a while we are beset with thoughts of self-judgment? And then, on top of all this, we may find ourselves judging the fact that we are experiencing judgment.

When you are experiencing the judging mind in your practice, or in daily life, the first thing to do is to acknowledge that you are judging something. Open your mind to this experience instead of closing down around it. We do this by applying "friendly curiosity" to it. By being curious about what is happening, rather than trying to shut it off or making things worse by doing more judging, we can begin to cultivate a more discerning attitude. This posture of discernment lets us see clearly the experience of judging as simply another event that is occurring right now. In this way, we will not add to the situation by creating suffering through continued judgment and the negative self-talk that often results.
When the thought is in bondage the truth is hidden  
for everything is murky and unclear. 
And the burdensome practice of judging  
brings annoyance and weariness. 
What benefit can be derived  
from distinctions and separations? ~ Third Zen Patriarch

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