It is good to equally practice non-judgment toward oneself and others. Non-judgment seems like a difficult task because we ask ourselves, “How do we not judge?” Does this mean we have to forfeit good judgment? Does this mean we should not have a sense about how things should be, passively taking in whatever and whoever comes our way, however good or bad, and not do anything about it, or not strive towards any goals?
This comes from confusion between the words “discernment” and “judgment.” Discernment is what we mean when we say “good judgment.” With discernment, I set goals and aspirations for myself, I take in criticism, I give others constructive criticism if requested, I follow my own ethics, I think about the quality of my work, and I am able to tell how others are treating me. I change my behavior as a result of all of this based on discernment.
Judgment is being punitive and harshly critical, and it accompanies feelings of frustration, guilt, anger, hatred, disgust, or prejudice. There is a sense of attachment to the judgment—attachment to the judgment as an absolute truth (as if I absolutely know better given my superior moral position), and attachment to the negative feelings that come along with judgment. Judgment is doled out to oneself and others, and its source is the ego.
Since judgment derives itself from the ego, it is blinding, because the ego has to ignore the possibility that the judgment is incorrect or refuses to absorb the full story of the truth in order to preserve its own image when the judgment indeed turns out to be incorrect or untruthful. Even if the judgment is negative towards oneself, what it is really trying to do is preserve a private negative image of oneself in order to diminish the Self or create a punitive method of self-correction so that one can get another, better image of oneself.
When one discerns, in contrast to judging, there is a sense of non-attachment from the standards it creates, such as goals, constructive criticism, ethics, and ascertainment of the behavior of others. It sees these standards as tools, as non-absolute but helpful parameters or guidelines to use for oneself and one’s relations that may very well be prone to error. I can accept error in my standards because my ego is not attached to these standards.
Through discernment, I set standards for myself in order to realize the Self within and thereby gain wisdom, help my work become better, and have healthy social relationships. I do not realize the Self, gain wisdom, do my work, and have social relationships for the sake of my standards. I may discern that someone may be troublesome in certain respects, and thus I may need to keep a respectful distance from him if my safety or wellbeing is at stake, but I do not judge him as bad or evil.
Discernment is non-attached from the emotions of frustration, guilt, anger, hatred, disgust, or prejudice. These feelings can be damaging to the soul of oneself and others. The ego desires to protect itself, thus shaming oneself would only lead the ego to counter that shame, and shaming others would only lead others’ egos to fight off that shame. This sets off a reactionary chain, and reactionary behavior refuses to see reality of what is.
With discernment, one sees with clearer eyes, fully taking in perceptions of what one observes, quietly questioning the ascertainments it makes, but holds to the standards one creates when necessary. One uses the standards as tools rather than wields them as swords. Thus discernment is better than judgment, because one can use correct standards for the appropriate situation or activity, rather than reactionary standards that are born out of bad feelings.
Discernment does not mean we do not feel. Indeed, with discernment, we fully experience our negative emotions, but we find ourselves to be the observers of the emotions we feel. We let ourselves feel them, but in a non-attach way. We do not let them infuse us and we do not need to exacerbate the emotions beyond what they are. Understandably, there are circumstances in which these emotions are hard to contain, for life can be difficult and at times unbearable, such as when one is undergoing depression. We may end up shouting, but even when we do that, we observe the shouting, and non-attach from it. We observe our shouting but we do not judge the shouting, then we stop it when we can.
Sometimes we cannot help but be infused by negative emotions and have the need to act them out. This is okay, and it is better than repression. Learning to discern rather than judge is an ongoing learning process. In the beginning, we let these emotions take their course and we try to see them as an observer, and if they do get to us, we may let them. Slowly through patience, however, our abilities to be observers of our emotions rather than their passive recipients, to not let ourselves become infused by them, and to not exacerbate them increase over time. We do not deny the emotions, but via discernment we understand and accept where they are coming from. Non-attachment is different from detachment, since the latter is aloof and repressive of feeling.
Overtime, these negative emotions and judgments may even subside on their own accord. This is because your perspective on things will change and a newer perspective may even find these past negative emotions and judgments as bewildering, given the standpoint from which it freshly views things.
Nevertheless, never forget to understand where all your past emotions and judgments were coming from, and doing so does not lead to justification of their righteousness but rather to the embracing of your very own humanness.
Even after a period of subsiding, the emotions and judgments may come back again, but then use the same method of observation and non-attachment to work with them. Overall, their intensities and abilities to cloud your discernment will greatly decrease. They do not disappear, as the ego from which they stem never ceases to exist.
Non-judgment helps us realize what is there: it helps us notice the observer, who is ourselves, and it helps us to see our emotions and perceptions for what they are. Thus non-judgment is the art of relaxing, or loosening up the tightly wound up web of confusions we have manufactured about ourselves to cover up who we are, and the relations we have toward others and things in life.
It is not relaxed in the sense of sleepiness or hypnosis, but rather it is an alert kind of relaxation. One is wide awake, focused, but clear-headed and calm.