Discernment vs Judgment

By Elena Gamez, LTY trainee/2016

Something that I constantly work at is not judging. Being judged doesn’t feel good. One would think that if one acknowledges this for oneself that it would be easy to not fall into the pattern of judging others, but sometimes we do so unconsciously. I believe this is one of the hardest practices to maintain because so much in our culture has conditioned us to be reactive and to sum things up and put them in a box with a label. There are probably times in which we need to do this to survive but for the most part this keeps us from seeing things and people as they are. We all have a tendency to want to define what is good or bad, right or wrong, etc. but we must remember that these conditions or states are not static.

Although, I at times falter and find myself making a judgment, as soon as I do, I do not feel good about it. I look inward and ask myself why am I making this judgment? Bringing in the practice of self-study (svadyaya). Usually the reasons have nothing to do with the person or thing I am making the judgment about. Rather it is about me. My own fears and insecurities necessitate defining someone or something abruptly to give myself a false sense of security at that moment.  What I find helps me to overcome this more and more is to ask myself instead what is appropriate or inappropriate. Since this will change depending on the circumstances.

There is a fine line between discernment (viveka) and judgment. Here are the subtle differences. When a judgment is made the person making the judgment perceives power over the other.  This comes from the ego. Judgment also carries a sense of a statement being finalized, like a condemnation. Because all things in nature (prakriti) and of this world (maya) change constantly, one must leave room always for any conceptions to also change with them. In comparison, discernment is seeing from our inner self instead of from standards imposed from the outside.  From this place we also practice non-harming (ahimsa) toward our self and each other.

Here is an Old Indian tale that serves as an analogy to the aforementioned…

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Once upon a time a king gathered a few men who were born blind. They were asked to describe an elephant but each one was presented with only a certain part of it. One was presented the head, to another the trunk, to another its ears, to another the leg, the body, the tail, etc. The one that was presented with the head said, “The elephant is like a pot!” The one that was presented with the trunk answered, “The elephant is like a hose”. The one who touched only the ears thought the elephant was a fan, the others said it was a pillar, a wall, a rope, etc.  Then they quarreled among themselves, each thinking that he was the only one right and the others were wrong. The obvious truth is that the elephant is a unity of many parts, a unity that they could not grasp in their ignorance.
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