Judgment has it’s deepest roots in fear. We judge others in an attempt to reassure ourselves that we are more worthy, or better than, instead of realizing that through the act of judgment, we diminish who we are capable of becoming. This is because we are unconsciously telling ourselves that being who we are at any given moment is not okay and that we aren’t good enough just as we are. This stems from profound feelings of insecurity, shame and a generalized discomfort with who we are.
“Judging a person does not define who they are, it defines who you are.” -Anonymous
When we give our mind over to the inner judge and jury, those around us begin to sense that it’s not safe for them to be vulnerable with us. Their trust diminishes and our relationships remain superficial. We armor our heart against the experience of true intimacy that comes from baring our soul, warts and all, to another human being. Learning to embrace who we are and becoming comfortable in our own skin is a gift we give not only to ourselves, but, ultimately, the world at large. When we communicate to those around us that the space we hold is one of acceptance and love, others can find peace in themselves and feel that it is safe to relax.
(Read more on this in Vulnerability and Bravery.)
Buddhism's 5 Moral Precepts
In Buddhism, there are five main moral precepts. They first originated as a set of behavioral rules for monks and nuns living together in communities. They are: non-harming, not taking what is not freely given, not gossiping or lying, abstaining from intoxicants and abstaining from sexual misconduct. These are similar in many ways to the five yamas of yogic philosophy: ahimsa, asteya, satya, brahmacharya and aparigraha.
(More on The 5 Yamas According to Patanjali.)
In our Western Zen tradition, these precepts have been further refined to more intentional and aspirational vows. Within this context, not gossiping is understood as the precept known as "Speaking of Others With Openness and Possibility." Judgment, of others (and self), falls under this precept. It usually occurs as a mental conversation we silently engage, or externally in the form of gossip in a group setting. The San Francisco-based Zen Abbess Diane Eshin Rizzetto discusses this precept in her book, “Waking Up To What You Do.” She says,
“Studying the ways in which we discuss the faults of others can reveal much about the ways in which we place walls between ourselves and the world in general. By creating this separation, we encourage the specialness of me. Feelings of inadequacy, imperfection, fear, and shame may be temporarily assuaged, but they are only pushed aside to reappear at another time.” -Diane Eshin Rizzetto
When we discuss the faults of others, we are passing judgment on them based on our expectations of how we think they should behave or what we think they believe. When we do this, we are simultaneously disowning that shadow part in ourselves that finds it’s own reflection in those faults. When we take up the way of speaking of others with openness and possibility, we learn to see ourselves with the same level of acceptance we hold for others. In practical terms, this means pausing before we launch into an inner dialog about, not just the faults of others, but our personal shortcomings as well.
Finding Beauty in the Broken
There is a beautiful practice in Japan when a tea cup or bowl is broken and it's called kintsugi. All the broken shards of pottery are carefully collected and the bowl is repaired by gluing the pieces back together. Gold lacquer is then used to highlight the cracks and fissures in the bowl, making them gleam in the light. The goal of this technique is to acknowledge and venerate the beauty in the broken. It elevates the bowl from a broken bowl to a work of art. This can be taken as a metaphor for mindful living.
When we feel broken, sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we are less than, less capable of weathering the ups and downs life throws our way and feeling ashamed. We think being broken isn’t okay. In kintsugi, the Japanese believe that what is broken and put back together is stronger and more lovely than it was before. It even has it’s own philosophy — kintsugi life — similar to that of wabi sabi: We are all human; therefore, we all suffer. However, our imperfections, our very brokenness, is what can make us exquisitely beautiful. This is one of the rewards of practicing this Zen Buddhist precept. When we learn to embody this precept, we make peace with ourselves, learning to view our own actions and missteps with openness and possibility.
(Read on in Moving Beyond Failure.)