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Judging Other People

by Fleda BrownOctober 31, 2011

We had a big group at the Unitarian Church for our usual discussion and sitting practice yesterday, including some new people and some we haven’t seen for a while. It’s great to have them back. I started by reading a paragraph from “Acting for the Good,” the chapter of One Dharma we’re reading now. Joseph Goldstein says we may have a tendency to get judgmental about people who meditate a lot instead of being involved in social action—or the opposite—or people who have no interest in meditation. But as he points out, we only have a snapshot of a much larger situation. How do we know what the whole picture is? The Buddha changed countless lives by his seemingly hermetic practice.

This led us into a really interesting talk about judgment. Toby described what seems to be the difference between discernment and judgment—the former is simply taking in the information available and using that to make decisions, the latter seems to involve more conceptual thinking (I have a concept that says this is “bad,” and so I judge it as bad). Something like that. Karen said that it appears that both of those are judgment: both involve separation (this is good/ this is bad).

Both Mahinda and Michael led us into thinking about the difference between “provisional” thinking (interpretable, subject to argument) and “definitive” meaning, a meaning that includes all information and is therefore completely empty and completely full and beyond the kind of splitting apart we do when we make an argument.

Completely empty and completely full? This takes us beyond what our rational, liner mind understands. You can kind of see that. To be rational requires a careful analysis of cause-effect, which is a linear process. As we meditate more and more, we take in more and more information about what is, right then, at that moment. We begin to see “through” the linear. There is language that only points in that direction, but cannot go there.

Although Goldstein doesn’t label them as such, this chapter has been about the six Paramitas, the “perfections”: generosity, morality (ethics, sila), patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom. Each of these describes an enlightened quality of the heart, and is actually the essence of our true nature. But they’ve been obscured by delusion, selfishness, and other ways in which our mind and body has been “programmed” (karma). As we practice each of these “perfections,” the muddy water of delusion begins to settle, and we begin to see our own true nature. . It’s circular: we see more, more of our own true nature emerges. As more of it emerges, we see more.

Goldstein quotes Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

And I add this from “Wanting to Experience All Things,” by Robert Bly. His first line is “The blind horse among the cherry trees–” Then this last part:
We cannot see–
But a paw
Comes out of the dark
To light the road. Suddenly I am flying,
I follow my own fiery traces through the night!

It is ourselves who light the way for ourselves, if we can only see that!


Poet and writer Fleda Brown reflects on the gatherings of her weekly meditation group, speaking to you as one who has long practiced meditation but still comes to the practice with a learner’s mind.

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