Judging and Criticizing

by Rev. Kinrei Bassis

It took me many years of Buddhist practice to recognize how much my mind was filled with harsh criticism. I was hard on myself and hard on others, and I did not understand how I could be different. I did not understand how I could see all mistakes and suffering I witnessed in my life, with compassion and acceptance rather than with judgment and criticism. How do we face all the wrong behavior and suffering that we encounter without blaming or judging? How can we instead embrace and help all this difficult karma that we encounter in our life?

We generally begin Buddhist training with a mind that is caught up in its likes and dislikes, in its opinions and views. This mind places us firmly in samsara, as it is a mind that cannot escape the first Noble Truth:suffering exists. The mind that is always judging everything and grasping opinions is the foundation of the delusionary small self. Yet it is necessary, normal and functional that we evaluate and discriminate when we are making the endless decisions that are needed for living. It is a vital that we use our intelligence to help us navigate this often confusing and complex world and make the best choices we can. Yet the problem lies in that we let this useful function, the part of our mind that generates and holds judgments and opinions, take over and dominate our mind and our heart. One way of viewing meditation and mindfulness practice is that we are allowing our minds and hearts to stay in touch with a sense of stillness, silence and spaciousness and not allowing our judgments and opinions to dominate and fill us. We want to view everything with equanimity and peace. It is good to notice how our hard judgments and strong opinions lead to a sense of conflict and a rejection of what we are facing in our life.

It is very difficult to convert these strongly held viewpoints and opinions. One reason is that it gives us a sense of superiority to look at others and judge them. We know the way things should be, whether it is the behavior of other people, the way the world is, or how we should be. It is helpful to look at this critical mind and see how it feels and where it brings us. It never brings us to real happiness and joy, nor real peace and contentment.

Being judgmental about other’s mistakes becomes deep suffering when we see ourselves making mistakes. Many people have come to me after making a serious mistake and believing what they did was unforgiveable. As a Dharma teacher, it is then helpful for me to point them to compassionate acceptance, that nothing is unforgiveable. We can learn from our mistakes, try to accept the consequences and at the same time, try not to condemn or judge ourselves. We need to trust that there is no problem in the deepest sense. When we view something as a problem, it means we are demanding that what unfolds in a situation goes the way we wish. We do not control the unfolding of the karma in our life. Buddhist training teaches us to try for the best possible outcome in whatever we are facing in life but to also be willing to accept whatever happens. There is a Buddhist teaching, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, do the possible.

We have to see that our mind has this compulsive tendency to judge all the time and to take sides for and against things. One way we can get in touch with our pervasive judging is hearing ourselves saying “it should be this way” or “should not be this way”. We counteract these pervasive shoulds which fill our minds by bringing ourselves back to the Buddhist teaching “things are as they are.” Or the teaching that “everything is the life of Buddha”.

One way of letting go of the compulsive tendency to judge is to fully open our hearts to the law of karma. Everything that happens in our life and in the world is due to causes and conditions. Every thought we have is due to karmic causes and conditions and every feeling we have is due to karmic causes and conditions. This means whatever is happening is due to karma. What we frequently neglect to understand is the problem is not the feelings and thoughts we have now have in the present, because their cause lie in the past over which we have no power. The thoughts and feelings are karma which is flowing into our life. The problem lies in our mistaken response to our present thoughts and feelings by judging ourselves and others. The work of Buddhist training is directing our thoughts and actions towards that which will lead ourselves and others to finding the place of great compassion and peace. Whenever we make a problem out of the karma which is unfolding in our life, we are pointing ourselves towards suffering and away from seeing the fundamental purity of these karmic conditions.

We can view our opinions as being reality and believing in their truth. But all opinions are based on only a partial view and we can never know everything. This means that we can never know when we will see something that we were previously unaware of. This new insight can completely change the way we view and judge something. This also means whenever we are certain of our opinions or judgments, we can still be wrong. It does not mean we ignore the judgmental mind; it means we should not let that faculty of judging and discriminating dominate us. We want to approach everything in our life with an open mind that recognizes that we could be wrong. The mind of Buddhist training is not obsessed with being right or being perfect.

Buddhist training means we are trying to see the world with the eyes of the Dharma. When I have a problem, I need to trust the Dharma and trust that all my seeming real problems and difficulties are a consequence of my viewing the situation with a mind full of judgments and opinions. If I let go of the mind that is asking for things to be my way, then whatever is happening is just the unfolding of some karma and there is no problem. Problems are my judgments coming into conflict with reality.

Rev. Master Jiyu used to like saying “if we look with the eyes of a Buddha, we will see the heart of a Buddha.“ The eyes of a Buddha sees everything as clean and immaculate. The only thing getting in the way of us viewing the world with the eyes of a Buddha is the mind that condemns and judges. The mind of meditation and the practice of the Buddhist Precepts softens our harsh judgments and strong opinions and helps our heart and mind to be more open and see everything with more acceptance and compassion.