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Judgment, or How to Avoid Harming Others and Ourselves

by Marshall Govindan

In the 1970’s there was a best seller, entitled “I’m O.K., you’re O.K.” which like many books since then, dealt with human relationships, and how to make the most of them. The title expresses what most of do unconsciously all the time: make judgments about others. Unfortunately, most of our judgments are not “O.K.” but rather express opinions, which harm others and ourselves. Consequently, our human relationships become a source of great division and conflict. In past decades much of psychology has focused upon improving our social relations, managing conflict, and making our personalities more acceptable socially. The role of judgments in our social relations, however, is not widely understood.

Empathy and antipathy

Studies in psychology have revealed that most persons form fairly accurate impressions of others within a few moments. It is as if the human being is able to quickly scan others and absorb, even intuitively, many valid factors. However, these impressions provoke reactions that are usually colored by one’s own tendencies and feelings, which in turn create judgments. For example, a recent study of people being interviewed revealed that interviewees who felt empathy for their interviewers, tended to be selected for the position, even though their answers and qualifications were often not adequate, while interviewees who felt some dislike or antipathy for the interviewer did not succeed, even when their answers and qualification were exceptionally good. This indicates that the interviewers formed judgments about the interviewees based upon subjective factors, including emotions, even intuition, more than upon objective facts. In other words, we have the ability to sense the judgments others have about us.

Judgment defined:

Judgments are opinions that develop on the basis of limited experiences, even hearsay. The problem with them is that they are not based upon facts and they tend to solidify before available facts are assessed. Even worse, too often, they are based upon prejudice, fear and imagination. For example, do you have an immediate response to seeing young Muslim men in a crowded airport or subway train? Or do you react upon seeing two men, or a man and woman who are of different races speaking intimately?

Good judgment:

Our challenge is not so much to avoid making judgments, but rather learning how to develop “good judgment.” “Good judgment” is a much admired quality, and its origins are not well understood. It is the product of reflection, and is imbued with common sense, if not wisdom. It is notably free of emotion and prejudice. It is also perspicacious, in that it attempts to weigh all relevant factors. It is “good” because it is edifying to all concerned. It uplifts, brings joy. It never harms. A friend may say something truthful to another friend, which the other is not ready to hear. Then, it is rejected, and there conflict, even loss of friendship. So “good judgment” expresses itself in a way that seeks to free all concerned of suffering, if not to find joy. It is the product of a mind, which has access to the truth of a situation either through intuition, experience, or strong analytical skills. Good judgment is the result most often of experience, and so elders are usually considered to be imbued with it, more than young persons, who judgments are too often imbued with emotional excitement or rebelliousness. Moreover, “good judgment” is attributed to the wise, who seem to have a special connection to the truth of things, an intuitive ability to touch the ground of being, that which outlives everything else.

Why are judgments harmful?

Judgments are generally harmful for three reasons. First, they reflect the state of mind of the person forming it. Psychological studies have revealed that more than two thirds of the time, the average person is in a negative mental or emotional state. Feelings of depression, grief, anger, fear, impatience, and pride rule the average person. Until or unless one has learned to master these states, judgment is usually an expression of one’s own state. That is, we project onto others, what we ourselves are experiencing. We assume that they are experiencing what we are experiencing because our perceptions are colored by our own internal state. They harm the other by projecting onto them a negative, if not erroneous reaction.

Secondly, judgments are harmful because they assume a static condition. When we express a judgment about another person, there is an implicit assumption that the person judged is unlikely to change. While human nature is generally habitual, it is often erratic. People have bad days, tragedies, emotional outbursts. Such behavior is atypical, and does not reflect the person’s underlying character. So forming a judgment about a person who is having a difficult day or acting outside their usual character, is erroneous. Also, young people do grow up overcoming immature behavior. The strong-willed overcome bad behavioral tendencies and reform themselves. Therefore judgments do not allow for growth, for change in a positive direction, and are therefore harmful. Judgment typically confuses the person with their behavior. One needs wisdom to perceive the difference. With wisdom, one realizes that we are not our body, mind and personality; rather, they are like clothing, which we can change, or keep out of habit. With wisdom, one realizes that one’s true identity is pure consciousness, the soul, the Seer or Witness, and that it has the power to change habitual behavior by exercising its will.

Third, and most important, judgments are harmful because they reinforce the quality condemned, not only in the person being judged, but also, and most significantly in the one who is judging. When we form a judgment about another, for example, thinking, “that person is so greedy,” we are actually dwelling upon the quality of greed, and are therefore strengthening it within ourselves. Like worry, which can be defined as “meditating upon what you don’t want,” judgment of others is meditating upon what you do not like in yourself.

Patanjali, one of the fathers of Classical Yoga, and a contemporary of Jesus said: “By cultivating attitudes of friendship towards the happy, compassion towards the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity towards the non-virtuous, the consciousness returns to its undisturbed calmness. (Yoga Sutras I.33) When we do not do this, what happens? Our minds become disturbed by judgment, ill feelings, resentment, anger, disgust. Consequently, we lose the fundamental requirement necessary for God realization: calm, peace, inner purity and innocence. The world is within us. To change the world from a place of evil to a “kingdom of heaven” we can and must change our thoughts. Overlook the lapses of others. Do not dwell on their weakness. That only reinforces those weaknesses.

Ahimsa, non-harming, the antidote for judgment

How to avoid making judgments which harm others? The wise tell us that we need to develop an attitude of non-harming, which in India is referred to as “ahimsa.” It includes thoughts, words and actions. It is based upon the recognition that there are consequences or karma which results from even thoughts. Thoughts, often repeated form habits, and habits then direct one’s life. If the habit involves and desire, and the desire is not satisfied, one becomes confused as to the source of happiness in life, that is, the ever existant inner joy of the soul.

Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” when he was hanging on the cross, speaking of those who had condemned him to such a terrible ordeal. Rather than being angry with them, or dwelling on his own pain, he was more concerned with the karmic consequences of his persecutors’ actions. He apparently knew, that according to the law of karma, the consequences would be severe, and he did not want them to suffer because of him. So, he asked his Father to forgive them. Forgiveness springs from love, not judgment. It was a supreme example of what Patanjali recommended, in Yoga Sutras: “When filled with negative thoughts or feelings, cultivate their opposite.” It also allowed Jesus to find peace, and to free himself with the corrosive effects of anger.

Blessing others, loving others is always a better alternative to judging. Our thoughts and prayers to have significant effects on others, and we can really make a difference in the lives of others by our good thoughts and blessings. On an occult level, thought forms have a life of their own. When we think of others, good or ill, we produce thought forms that attach themselves to these persons and influence their behavior and experiences. After discovering that her husband had been unfaithful to her, only a few weeks after their marriage, one young women prayed that he die. A few days later, he died in a traffic accident, and his head was decapitated. The young bride was so distraught with feelings of guilt that for over a year thereafter, she pretended that he was still living with her, and prepared his meals and served him as if he was, until her family convinced her to seek psychological counseling.

Researchers at Duke University, in the USA, have been able to verify that prayer is effective in helping the sick to recover from illness, often miraculously. In most cases, the time required for convalescence is greatly reduced when others pray for our recovery. On an occult level, prayer generates powerful thought forms which can help others. A woman critically hurt in a traffic accident recognized a total stranger who had prayed for her at the crash scene when the stranger came to check on her in the hospital. The woman claimed that it was this stranger’s prayers, which had brought her back. So, we should, as matter of routine, bless others, pray for others, silently and anonymously whenever we see somone suffering in some way. We all have many occaisons to do so. Even in traffic, when someone cuts us off or has car trouble, or when a passerby appears sad or troubled, we can say “May God bless this person.” Or “May God help this person to find peace,” or “to slow down,” or “to find happiness.” We can rejoice with others in their good fortune, rather than feeling jealous: “God has blessed this person. May they continue to be blessed, and share their blessings with others.”

Final Judgment or Forgiveness? Sayings and parables from Jesus

Jesus said: “With the measure that you judge others, so shall you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2) Jesus was challenging the religious norm of that time. Judaism was a legalistic religion. God was the Law giver, and he gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, on Mt. Sinai. God was the ultimate judge, and He was believed to condemn those who transgressed his laws, and to reward those who respected them. This was an advance over other religions such as that of the Canaanites, who worshipped an idol in the form of a golden calf. Primitive religions are motivated by fear. Especially fear of death or pain. So, primitive man tries to appease with sacrifices, what he regards as supernatural sources for natural events and phenomena, and which threaten his life. Later, when people organize themselves into societies, to avoid harming one another, societies develop laws to govern human behaviour with social norms. Because such laws need an ultimate authority, the rulers, generally kings or chiefs, attribute their authority to God. People however, often get away with murder, and bad things happen to good people, so to preserve a sense of justice, man creates an image of God who is just, and who is the ultimate judge, punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous. For example, we find in the Old Testament, many of the prophets speaking of the “Final Judgment,” and in India, the concept of “prarabha karma,” wherein the actions of ones life bringing consequences into the next one. So, people from this stage of religion, attempt to balance their sins, or bad karma, with things which will atone for their transgressions. The means for doing so may be as simple as penance, voluntary self denial, or in medieval Christianity, with indulgences, contributions to the Church which would allow their sins to be forgiven.

Jesus said: "Why do you notice the sliver in your friend's eye, but overlook the log in your own? How can you say to your friend, 'Let me get the sliver out of your eye,' when there is that log in your own? You phony, first take the log out of your own eye and then you'll see well enough to remove the sliver from your friend's eye." (Matthew 7: 3-5) In otherwords, critics should concentrate on correcting themselves. Furthermore, he said: “Don't imagine that I have come not to end the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17-20). What does this mean? Jesus was not saying ignore the law, but realize that God loves you. Repeatedly, Jesus tells us parables, like that of the prodigal son, (in Luke 15:11-32) to illustrate this “gospel” or “good news.” Because God loves you, you can love others. And a God who loves you cannot condemn you to eternal damnation! This was his most important teaching. He repeatedly exhorted his disciples and audiences to love one another, to purify themselves of material attachments, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, which he said was all around us, if only we could develop the purity of vision to see it. (Luke 17:20-21, Matthew 18:2)). We must become as innocent as little children, Jesus said, if we want to enter this ever present kingdom of heaven. He said: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Luke 6.27) He said: “If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer to them the other as well to strike.” (Luke 6.29) So love supersedes the law and judgment. You may have the right to claim “an eye for an eye” as the Old Testament prophets claimed, but as Mahatma Gandhi, said: “An eye for an eye ultimately leaves the whole world blind.” That is, when we are blinded by judgment and retribution, we fail to see that ultimately, we are all members of one human family, and that through love, all differences can be overcome.

Mahatma Gandhi: modern apostle of non-violence

Mahatma Gandhi said: "All sins are committed in secrecy. The moment we realize that God witnesses even our thoughts we shall be free." That is, sin is the absence of awareness of the presence of God. Therefore, judging others for their sins, blinds us to our own! Gandhi was a self professed student of truth, who, after forty years of struggle, in 1947 finally forced the British Empire to quit India without violence, by bringing the ancient principle of “ahimsa” or “non-harming” He developed his methods by studying Jainism, and the parables of Jesus, which puts emphasis on non-harming. Jain monks, wear a mask over their mouths, and sweep the ground before them, to avoid inadvertently killing even insects. His methods of non-harming, or ahimsa became the basis of the civil rights movement used by Martin Luther King in the USA in the 1960’s and other labor and social movements, which used passive resistance and non-violent protests and demonstrations to sensibilize the public to their causes. In India, thousands of men and women pledged themselves to his “satyagraha” movement, wherein they dedicated themselves to living according to principles of truth (satya) without harming others. In large demonstrations against the British colonial army, thousands of them were clubbed to death or maimed without the least resistance. So staunch were they in “turning the other cheek,” that the British at last were forced to give up over 300 years of colonial rule in India. Gandhi spent decades in British prisons, fasting for long periods, to demonstrate his resistance to the British and their policies. When he campaigned against the importation of British textiles to India, he won the sympathy of even the British textile workers, whose own jobs had been lost because of India’s boycott. His life and methods, demonstrated that we do not have to judge others to beat them! We need only take a firm stand in our convictions, and seek mutual accommodation without harming others, to gain their sympathy and understanding. He said: "The hardest heart and the grossest ignorance must disappear before the rising sun of suffering without anger and without malice."

Gandhi said: "Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law - to the strength of the spirit." And: "It is a force that may be used by individuals as well as by communities. It may be used as well in political as in domestic affairs. its universal applicability is a demonstration of its permanence and invincibility. It can be used alike by men, women and children. It is totally untrue to say that it is a force to be used only by the weak so long as they are not capable of meeting violence by violence."

In speaking of the political movement which he founded to free India, he said "Satyagraha is gentle, it never wounds. It must not be the result of anger or malice. It is never fussy, never impatient, never vociferous. It is the direct opposite of compulsion. It was conceived as a complete substitute for violence."

Seeing unity in the diversity

So, judgment, whether it pertains to our personal feelings about others, or how we view God and our soul’s ultimate trajectory, does not have the final word. The wise, the compassionate, the spiritual heroes of our civilization, from Buddha to Jesus, to Mahatma Gandhi, have discovered that love, forgiveness, compassion and non-harming, supersede it. So, if judgment causes you your peace of mind, it costs too much. If it harms others, it reverberates within you too. The Yoga masters, the wise Siddhas, called God “goodness,” and declared that we are all part of one family, one land. The wise, see what is good in others, and turn away from the rest. Judgment divides. Love unites. Love and forgiveness overtake the law, and bring about a new perspective, in which we see the essential unity of all.

Copyright: M. Govindan Satchidananda, Spring 2008

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