Sacred geometry

Letting Go of Judgement

Date1st October 2006
Retreat/SeriesSilent Autumn Retreat, Finland 2006


So what I would like to talk about tonight is letting go of judgment, the possibility for us all to be free of the judging mind, free from the judging mind. Judgment, I think, if one is a sensitive human being and one aspires towards that, one realizes that this is quite a common thing. It's quite common. One sees it in oneself and one sees it in others -- judging, judging oneself, judging anything. Not only does one see how common it is, one sees the pain associated with it. So a judging mind is not really a happy mind. Sometimes, if we're honest with ourselves, it's true that when we're judging others, we may actually enjoy it a little bit. [laughter] If we're really honest. But just to be clear, this is what the Buddha keeps saying -- what leads to happiness? What does not lead to happiness? Judging mind does not lead to a very deep or fulfilling or lasting happiness. Actually, judgment is the thief of happiness. And it's the thief of peace.

Almost always, though, we sense that judging ourself is painful, and we can see it blocks our creativity. How often in our life have we tried to write a poem or a painting and we end up just screwing up the paper and throwing it out or something, often because judgment has come in: "I'm useless. I have no talent. I'm crap." What's happening? The judgment is coming in. It's blocking the creative expression. It's blocking the flowering of the human being, the opening of the human being. And in a way, there's a real sadness in that. There's a real tragedy in that. When we come to meditation practice, we find the same thing there. The judging mind comes in: "How am I doing?" Dharma practice, this practice, needs passion, okay? And if you're around for a while, this kind of practice, you realize it takes -- I mean, you already know -- it takes a lot of work. And that work, if it comes from passion, if it comes from love, from love of the Dharma, love of exploration, it has energy in it and it can take you very far through all the ups and downs and difficulties. Judgment of ourselves strangles that passion, and we need that passion for practice. We need to have, in a way, a heart that's wanting to practice, loves to explore, on fire a little bit even.

So it's important to see practice is not about being a super meditator, super concentrated, or making ourselves better or perfect people. It's not about perfecting oneself. It's about freedom. And they're different things. The point of practice is freedom. It's not about correcting all my faults.

In English, we can make a distinction between two words. I don't know if this is correct with a dictionary or whatever, but just to illustrate something. We can talk about judgment, and we can talk about something called discernment. I don't actually know if there are two words in Finnish, but I'll try and explain what I mean. Discernment is when we just are clear what's helpful, what's working, what's useful, and what's not. So it's quite simple. In a way, it's quite a neutral, just, "Oh, I see. This is helpful. This is not." So someone a little while ago asked me what I thought about taking LSD on a spiritual path. I don't actually think that it's that useful in the long-term. Just to be clear. That's discernment, okay? We can see love is good, it's helpful. We want to cultivate that. It leads to my happiness. It doesn't create harm for others. Whereas if I cultivate anger, irritability, etc., I can discern this actually is not helpful to me, it's not helpful to other people. So it's quite a neutral clarity about what's needed.

So that's discernment. And judgment is, again, when the self gets wrapped up in that. Instead of saying this or that is helpful or not helpful, what happens is a judgment gets made about self -- my self or another self, another. "I am useless. I am a failure. I am stupid. You are an idiot. You are an angry person." You, me, I -- watch out, those words; they're loaded. So judgment is when the self has got hold of this and made it more about the self than about just simply what's useful and what's not, what's helpful and what's not. I don't know, are there two words in Finnish for that? There doesn't have to be. Yeah, yeah. In a way, in discernment, too, there's value involved. So we would say we're valuing -- we value calmness; we value love; we value patience, but we're not making so much ego in it. Do you understand the difference? It doesn't matter if there's not a word, but I just want to be clear, the differences.

So at one point, the Buddha, when he was practising before he was enlightened, it occurred to him one day, "What if I divide my thoughts into two camps? One camp is that which I am sure is helpful to me and helpful to others" -- so thoughts of mettā, of loving-kindness, thoughts of simplicity, thoughts of concentration, that kind of thing -- "that I can be sure is good. And what if I then make this division and decide to cultivate what's helpful and let go of what's not helpful?" What he didn't say is, "What if I then start judging myself about it?" Okay? [laughter] If he had done that, we probably wouldn't be sitting here today, because it would just be the story of another neurosis. It would just be the story of another person getting upset about themselves. So that potentially was quite a key point in the Buddha's journey, and it was a moment of discernment, of clearly making a difference. You can see, if any of you have been involved in creative or artistic projects that go over a period of time, you know, over hours or days or months or even years, there's a lot of discernment that goes into the process. If you're writing a novel, "Hmm, that passage should maybe go earlier in the book," or "That's not quite ... I shouldn't really say that right now," or "That word doesn't really fit." Or if you're writing a symphony or whatever. A lot of discernment goes in. But once the self gets in there, then the problems start. So discernment in itself is not a problem. It's when the self gets wrapped up in it, my self or another self.

We find ourselves with a lot of judgment, or a little judgment, and then we hear the teachings, and we hear about mindfulness, and we think, "Great, all we need to do is notice this judgment, and I notice it and I notice it over and over." There is some power to that. There is some power to just noticing the habit of judging, over and over. But I don't know if mindfulness alone is enough always. Sometimes we can be mindful, but we're going to have to be mindful for a very, very, very long time, maybe longer than we're alive. [laughs] So mindfulness alone doesn't always have the power. Sometimes with something like the judging mind, you actually have to challenge it in quite direct ways, sometimes. I'd like to go into this a little bit. There are a few ways to challenge it.

One way is, for example, taking this situation here. We are in silence together, and so we see others practising with us, and the mind very quickly, very normal almost for the mind to just start making judgments about another person: "Oh, they are a really good meditator." [laughter] Or, "Yeah, they're not really making it." [laughter] "Not like me." It's natural. Or the way they eat or how much food they take, whatever, anything. Judgment will grab hold of anything, absolutely anything. It has no shame, judgment. It will take hold of anything.

But because of the silence, we actually don't know -- we know very little about what's actually going on with other people. Even if we're in a group together, we only know a little bit about their life. We don't know what has happened to them recently, what their work situation is, or their health. They may have found out something about their health, or a piece of news about something recently. We have no idea what's going on for people right now, in the recent past, or in the distant past. And somehow the judgment just comes in automatically. We need to remind ourselves that we know very little about another person's situation. We can see that here, and it's obvious because of the silence. But we should make it obvious to ourselves in our lives. We should remind ourselves. Oftentimes we meet people and we don't know that much about what's going on for them. So to use the reflective mind and reflect on this, to remind oneself.

[12:16] The Buddha also talked about something, a strategy. He calls it -- it sounds funny even in English -- but 'remaining percipient of the positive qualities.' So what does that mean? It means when there's judgment of another person, we just see that negative thing; that thing that we're judging, we just see it over and over. So the Buddha is saying take your mind, take it off that, and put it onto their positive qualities. Keep it there. Find something that you can appreciate about that person, some goodness or some quality that's lovely, and keep the mind there, keep finding that. So here, you know, if you find it going on, just to reflect: the person is here [on retreat]. That's already saying something. They showed up. They're coming, they're doing the practice through all the difficulties. And we all know what the difficulties are in practice. That is something we can appreciate in another human being. So everyone's keeping the form. Everyone's supporting each other. To keep the mind in touch with what's positive, because when there's judgment of another it becomes obsessed with the negative and it's just seeing the negative over and over. We really have to put it on the positive and keep it there.

Third possibility. To actually get in touch with the pain of the judging mind that I talked about. So just to pay attention, in a moment of judging another person, how do I actually feel? How do I actually feel? And if we just have a little bit of sensitivity and space around it, we go into it a little bit, it doesn't feel very good. There's actually suffering there. We are suffering. And can we then touch our own suffering, that suffering of judging, of the habit of judging, can we touch it with kindness? Here we are in this moment, and we've uncovered some suffering because we are judging another person. Can we then just feel that suffering and meet it with compassion, with kindness? Not even thinking about the other person right then, but just touching that suffering, realizing the suffering involved in judging.

There's another little trick which I'm actually quite fond of. It's from Śāntideva, who is a very famous Indian sage from, I think, the eighth century. This is an adaptation of something he said. If you find yourself judging someone else -- it could be in any situation, but let's take this situation here. If you find yourself judging someone, then imagine a third person, and this person has been living in a hole in the ground in the Burmese jungle for the last forty-five years, meditating twenty-three and a half hours a day. They know how to meditate. [laughter] And they come here and you're judging this other person. They look at you and they think, "Pfff." [laughter] If you imagine this third person, you begin to think -- the absolute pointlessness of judging. You just immediately feel what it is to be judged and how pointless it is for me to judge this other person. You see it can go on forever. There's no limit to it. You can always find a better meditator. [laughter] You can always find someone who's better at something than you. So to use the imagination that way and just see the futility of it, the pointlessness of it.

Another little tactic that I'm quite fond of is, again, to use the imagination, and imagine, okay, this person, whatever it is, I'm judging them -- they're annoying me or whatever. And imagine that I had the power to have everyone exactly how I wanted, everything exactly how I wanted it to be. Everyone and everything. That I actually had that power. Then to actually think: would I really even want to live in that kind of world? [laughter] How sterile, how tight, how small. There's some mystery about the uniqueness. There's a radical diversity, what I think I said the other day, a radical diversity in the universe. Would I really want to make the universe, the mysterious, wonderful universe conform to how my small mind wants it to be? Would that really be ...? At first we think, "Uh, yeah. I'd like that." [laughter] But stay with it for a while and you realize, "Hmm, maybe actually not such a good idea." So even in the things that annoy us, can we find this sense of mystery and beauty? I think I said the other day, the universe is not set up to please me, and in a way, thank goodness it's not. It would be a terrible universe if it was set up to please me. [laughs]

Okay, so those are some of the, in a way, little tricks. But even then, judging is such a strong habit, such a condition of the mind, that even then, sometimes that's not enough. In a way, we need to bring in the big guns, the big armour. And the first one is the mettā, the mettā practice. It can seem, especially at the beginning of mettā practice, not much is really happening here. But the Buddha says, "Drop by drop, the bucket is filled." It's like that with mettā. We have a lifetime habit of judging, and with the mettā practice, we're making a new habit. We're letting go of one habit, of judging ourselves, judging others, and we're in its place putting a new habit, a beautiful habit, a non-judgmental habit. We're reconditioning the mind. The mind is conditioned. That's what the mind is. It is conditions, conditions coming together. And we have a say in that conditioning of the mind. We can take it out of its groove and run it along a happier, better, more beautiful groove. And this reconditioning of the mind, the Buddha put a lot of emphasis on it, putting effort into developing what is beautiful, cultivating what is beautiful, and letting go of what is not so beautiful.

[20:23] Like we said the other day with the mettā practice, to see what we're doing -- we're planting seeds with the mettā practice. It might feel like there's nothing happening, but like the farmer plants the seeds, and the farmer has faith -- he has faith in the seed, and he has faith in nature. He plants a seed, and plants a seed, and plants a seed. That's what happens when we do the phrases with the mettā. And the farmer knows, if I plant enough seeds, nature takes care of the rest and up comes the tree, up comes the crop, the fruit. So mettā, over time, is an extremely powerful practice. It may not feel that way yet, but it's extremely powerful. There is, sometimes in -- maybe not so much recently, but there was -- in the Insight Meditation tradition and some Buddhist traditions, viewing mettā, "It's a baby practice." But I don't think it's a baby practice at all. I think it's a really strong, powerful practice.

So judgment has this self wrapped up in it. We have to be quite gentle with that in the sense that part of the condition of being human, part of the condition of consciousness, very deep conditioning, is to see things in terms of self. So something happens, "I am such-and-such a person. I am like this person. I am a bad person. I am an angry person," or "You are," and to see in terms of I and you. Very deeply conditioned in consciousness, much deeper even than -- we might think, "Oh, it's Western society, it's so competitive and everything." It's actually deeper than the cultural conditioning. It's something that goes with the human condition. And to realize that. It's bound up with the human condition. It's part of ignorance. It's part of the human condition. So to be quite spacious and patient with the existence of judgment, in a way. We can challenge it, but then to judge the fact that there's judging ... oy. [laughter] It's just going to cycle, and it's just misery. So right from the beginning, you have to accept it's human to judge. It's wrapped up in the nature of consciousness, actually. It's so wrapped up that even when we have the best intentions to work on ourselves in ways, to get free, and to see clearly, even with the best intentions the judgment still comes in, and often in maybe a little bit hidden ways.

A little while ago I was teaching somewhere, and a person asked, he was saying something like, "When I meditate, I just feel really stuck. I feel like there's some old conditioning that's stuck there, and I must be really afraid of it moving through." He said, "I'm just really stuck. I can sense there's something old and I'm afraid of it moving through." It was quite interesting spending a little time talking to him, because I sensed something, and when I asked him, "Well, what actually is the experience?", at first he didn't know what I was talking about. He said, "No, I'm stuck, and there's this fear. I know it's something new coming and I'm afraid of the new." Then he finally understood. I said, "No, what's the experience? I mean, do you feel a tightness here, or ...?" He said, "Oh, yeah, I guess there's some sensations of pressure in my chest, and my belly feels a little tight." I said, "Well, can it just be that? Can you just be with the experience and see that the rest of it, 'I am stuck,' 'There is something old coming up and through that I don't know what it is,' and 'I am afraid of opening,' all that is a view? It's a view. And it's an interpretation of what's going on." The actual experience was just some pressure and a little bit of tightness. He said, "Oh." [laughter] And in a way, that freed him up to actually experience what was going on and allow it to move how it is.

In a way, there's a lot of skill in being flexible with one's view of what's going on. So sometimes the most appropriate thing is actually just to go to the simplest possible experience of what's going on. "I feel some tightness. I feel heavy. I feel pressure. Where is it in the body?" Oftentimes that's the most skilful, because we tend to over-complicate, make a story, make an interpretation, and then say, "I am," and we give it this stamp, and we've put ourself in a little cage. Then we're in this cage and ... [laughter] we're stuck there, and we made it. We made it. So oftentimes, it's more skilful to go to just what's the bare experience. Can I just see, "Okay, that's my interpretation. I'll just let that be and see what the experience is"? But sometimes an interpretation is useful. It's useful to say, "Okay, this is actually something coming up from the past, and I do feel afraid." The really mature skill, let's say, the thing that comes with a lot of practice, is feeling free. Sometimes I just go to the basic experience; sometimes I take the view of self; sometimes I have another view. You realize they're all just interpretations. They're all just views. And because you realize they're just views, it's like you have the key to the cage. You can go in there, and you can unlock it and walk out. It's just a tool, a way of looking. We can pick up a view, an interpretation of what's going on, and we can put it down. And that's where a lot of freedom is, picking it up and putting it down.

So I was talking with a good friend a few weeks ago, and she had lived in India for seven years, and spent most of her time in India practising meditation, helping to manage meditation retreats like Sampo is doing. Just really involved in the Dharma -- not all the time, but a lot of it for seven years. At a certain point, she realized that there were some things she felt weren't being addressed by that kind of lifestyle, and she decided to come back to the West and deal with certain things around money and other stuff. Then, having got back to the West -- I think she's been back for a couple of years now -- she felt like where she thought she was in her practice in India -- she felt very free apart from a few little issues; she felt very free and very flowing -- when she came back to the West, after a little time she realized, "Oh. I wasn't quite where I thought I was." Again, though, when we were talking I was -- it touched me, her willingness to be humble and honest. "You know, actually, this is where I am. Let me be honest. Let me be honest about the challenges that I'm facing, how free I really feel." There's something really beautiful about that, the honesty and humility. But still, still interpreting where I am, where I am on this continuum from complete misery to absolute enlightenment or whatever. Where I am. We were talking about it. What if it's just: this is what's going on now? This is the pattern or whatever that's manifesting, and the I was taken out of it, and this defining or measuring of oneself on a scale was actually just dropped. It's like, this is what feels difficult right now, this is a pattern I notice, this is a constriction I notice, or this is a fear I notice. What if the measurement was taken out?

Both these instances were coming from really honest, beautiful willingness and desire to open and to ask questions and to go through. But still, the self will find its way there. It burrows in and sits there and starts to control everything. The Buddha says, like I said this morning, see the feeling in the feeling. See also the dharma in the dharma, meaning see the quality in the quality. If fear is here, it's just fear is here. If anger is here, anger is here. If joy is here, joy is here. Or love is here, love is here. It's not "I am so far along the path," or "I am an angry person or a fearful person." Can it just be seeing the quality in the quality, seeing the fact in the fact?

[31:20] A little while ago also at Gaia House, talking to two retreatants there, they had been there for quite a while and they were beginning to be quite sensitive to what kind of little impulses and thoughts were just arising, going through their mind. It was funny because it happened at the same time for both of them. Beginning to be aware of thoughts of unkindness, little intentions of unkindness, of wanting to hurt, either destroying little animals or destructive towards oneself in some way, and just beginning to be aware of this. And then, so quickly, the self-view comes in: "Oh. Now I've discovered the truth. I'm terrible." [laughter] We say, "This is it. This is what has been revealed to me in meditation." And the self-view comes so quickly and solidifies around what we see there. Then what happens? We begin to fear ourselves. "What else am I going to see?" [laughs] Or we fear our past. Maybe there's something in the past that's lurking there, waiting to come up. This is something I've experienced very strongly many years ago in my practice, so much attunement to what was negative and almost an obsession with it that it felt like, "I think there's a monster inside." It's like there's some evil thing inside and I've got to be really careful. What enormous pain, what enormous pain from that, to feel like we're actually scared of looking inside because we might see our badness or our unworthiness or something, and then we fix this definition of ourselves. Terrible pain people go through with this. And for some people it lasts a lifetime. We can really be stuck in that way of seeing.

So when we become afraid, or if we become afraid, that very fear then builds the whole thing. The very fear starts giving this imaginary monster inside or bad person or whatever, it starts giving it a substance, giving it a sense of solidity. The fear is feeding it. It's building this thing. So can we instead see what I was talking about with these two retreatants -- actually, it's just a thought. It was just a thought that came up. And when they practised a little bit -- and one person just sort of discovered it themselves, and the other person kind of needed a little suggestion -- but it was actually there was just this moment and a thought kind of arises out of nowhere. Can we actually begin to see our thinking process in a different way? Thoughts appear out of nowhere. They just come out of nowhere. They arise and pass. It's so quick. And what is a thought, anyway? There's nothing there. There's nothing there. Can we get this sense that there are thoughts arising out of nowhere and disappearing back into nowhere? Arising and disappearing out of nowhere. If we can begin to see that way, the self has gone out of it. The self-view has gone out or begins to go out of it.

So actually what we come to, what we realize, is that it's not so important whether negative thoughts or horrible thoughts or ugly thoughts arise or not. The fact of their coming up is actually virtually irrelevant. What does matter is the view we have of them. Are we defining ourselves because a thought has arisen out of nowhere and disappeared back into nowhere, and then we make a definition? Whether we do that or not is much more important than the presence of a thought, or the beauty or the ugliness of the thought. How we view them, and also our response to them. Certainly if a thought comes up, "I want to murder someone that I ..." whatever, obviously we don't act on that. So it's clear what a harmful action is, and we refrain from that, we don't do that. And similarly with speech. You might feel like telling a person exactly how much of an idiot they are, but it probably is not the most helpful or wisest thing. So again, there's a discernment about action: what actually is helpful? But the presence of the thought is not a problem. It's not a problem if the view of it is right and if the response is right.

This is a practice, okay? It's not that you suddenly hear this and then, "Right. Okay. Done. Next." It's really a practice, which means it's gradual. It's gradual and it takes time for I think almost everyone I've ever talked to. Also, the thing about it being a practice is like when you practise any skill, you start with the easy things first. Not to wait to try this until, you know, you have murderous thoughts or are completely engulfed in self-hate. "Oh, I need to go shopping for bread" -- that's a thought. Can we see that's just arising out of nowhere and just going back into nowhere? Sometimes the space of the awareness in the meditation gives that more the sense of things just coming out of nowhere and going back into it. There can be a little space around thought. We have practice around thoughts that we don't really care about anyway, and slowly, slowly, we're able to use this reflection on thoughts that are potentially quite harmful, quite difficult. But to practise with the easy stuff first.

When we let go of negative judgments, like "I'm useless. I'm a failure," whatever it is, when we let go of the negative we sometimes think, "Oh, well, then I'll be left with actually I'm fantastic." [laughter] One teacher says you can't chop off the left side of a stick. You have left and right. If you say, "I'm going to get rid of the left because I don't like left. I don't like negative opinions of myself. I only want positive opinions. So I'll chop the left side off," then you're left with a smaller stick, but of course it's got a left and a right. You cannot get rid of left and right. Similar with opinions, judgments of ourself. Actually you have to let go of the whole package. So it's not that we let go of the negative identity; we also let go of the positive. We also let go of the positive. It's quite popular in, say, the New Age movement, using affirmations: "I am a good person. I am beautiful. I am wealthy." That kind of thing. That can be really useful for some people, but it has a real limit, because whenever you feed the positive, you're actually feeding the negative as well. In a hidden way, you're feeding the negative. Whenever there is a positive, whenever there's a right-hand side, there has to be a left-hand side. So the way to freedom is actually to let go of all identifying with any kind of opinion about "how I am," any kind of measurement or defining of how I am. And then there's freedom. We're just not so infatuated with this whole measuring ourselves business.

[40:39] So is it possible to cultivate gradually in meditation, using the mindfulness, using the silence, a sense, an awareness, a way of looking that it's just a thought, just an impulse, just an intention that's come up? It's come up out of nowhere. Sometimes, if there's quite some spaciousness -- this is where the listening can be quite useful, there's a sense of space, and sounds arise out of nowhere and disappear. Thoughts are like that. One teacher uses the image: it's like in the night sky, and fireworks, just appearing in the night sky, very vivid, and then disappearing into the blackness. Can we gradually cultivate that and see a thought is not me, it's not who I am, it's not mine, it's just happening? So that's one possibility for cultivation.

A second possibility is to, in a way, look and see a bit of a bigger picture of a situation. So if I feel in some moment I said something stupid, or I said something that I regret, or I did something that I thought was stupid, or I did something and I feel like I didn't do that very well, can I, instead of making a conclusion about myself, can I see what were all the conditions, the whole array of conditions inner and outer that led to that action or those actions? Maybe I was tired. Maybe there was fear around. Maybe there was a lot of difficult stuff in the environment, the situation. Could be anything. Can I look, instead of in terms of self, in terms of all the conditions that make a moment? Because it's the conditions that make something. If I'm really tired, usually the way I do something suffers a little bit. Not always, but it can suffer. If there's a lot of fear, how that cramps. If there's a lot of pressure from outside that someone else is putting on us, that's feeding -- it's the conditions feeding a moment.

We tend not to see that. Human beings have this habit of seeing everything in terms of self: "No, it didn't work out because I was rubbish, or you were rubbish." Can we see that there's a whole web of conditions? And this can be for something that's been going on for -- not just in a moment, but the way a relationship is, over years. We tend to blame ourselves or blame the other person. Often that happens. Very common when a relationship ends or is difficult not to see all the web of conditions that feed how that happened, what prevented it from working so well. So we see this in ourselves, for ourselves, and we see it in others; when we judge ourselves and when we judge others. And again, this is a practice, because the other habit of judgment is so strong. We really need to practise this. It's really, really, really worthwhile making that shift, really practising seeing in terms of conditions rather than in terms of self. It's so worthwhile. Of course, it still means we have responsibility for our actions; it's not like we can just blame the conditions. Of course we still have responsibility.

Human beings, one of the things that the Buddha said, at a very deep level, human beings, we all have within us three seeds, three seeds that are not so helpful: the seed of greed; the seed of aversion, of anger, of hatred; and the seed of misunderstanding, of delusion, of ignorance. And that is the human condition. That's part of what goes into being human. It's not the whole story, but it's part of what goes into being human. And just to see that. So again, instead of seeing self, you see this is part of the human condition. They were like this because those seeds were acting. That's all. It just takes a moment of reflection to think, "Actually, I've done something pretty similar," or maybe if I haven't been that extreme, if I've never murdered anyone, "I have acted out of anger. I have acted even out of hatred in my life." Just to see that I've done that too. Sometimes life has a way of showing us. So we judge someone for something and we feel like this, and then a little time goes by and we do exactly the same thing.

What I really want to say is that it can feel like the habit of judgment is so deep and so almost unstoppable, but I can tell you that it's absolutely possible that it ends, that it really, really ends. And it can be, and it's totally possible, that huge chunks, huge pieces, the majority even of the mountain of judgment just crumbles -- sometimes suddenly, really quite suddenly, in the space of a few weeks even, just goes. Or it might happen in a much more gradual way. Or both, both at different times. But it's absolutely possible, and it's possible for everyone in this room. This is a possibility for human beings, to really move beyond judgment, really, really, really. Not just a theory. Really. I remember, for me -- in fact, if I say, this I feel happened, is happening, in two ways. In the sudden way, sometimes just crumbling. And other parts, quite interesting, maybe a sudden shift or whatever, but the habit remained, the habit of those kind of thoughts. So something would happen and the thought would still come up, "Oh, you idiot, Rob." But it was coming up completely free of any charge, just like empty words. No power, no energy to it, no meaning. It was just the force of habit of judgment was so strong in the mind, in the brain, that it was still coming up, but it had lost all its power. Completely lost its power. And then, over time, even those thoughts just stopped. They had been sucked dry and they just stopped coming. They just don't arise. It's like we don't believe them. We don't believe them. There's no movement to believe them.

[48:47] So I made the distinction between judgment and discernment. Judgment is when it's all about self or other, and discernment is more about seeing just what's helpful and what's not. Actually, at really deep levels of practice, even the discernment -- one goes beyond even the discernment. So I want to read you something. It's from the Third Zen Patriarch. It's quite well-known and sort of much-loved. It's from a very long poem. Just the first four little parts of it. It's called Faith in Mind, Verses on Faith in Mind. It's one of these things that you can revisit it over and over, and it's very beautiful, and really worth reading. You can revisit over and over, and discover levels of meaning over time, or at different stages of one's journey. I'll just read it. It says:

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind. When the deep nature of things is not understood, the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail. The Way is perfect, like vast space. Nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess. Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject that we do not see the true nature of things.[1]

I find that very beautiful and very moving. Sometimes it's like, even if we don't understand, to me there's something quite -- we hear the shout or the whisper of truth there. Like I said -- I just want to finish up, not going to go into too much detail -- there are levels that we can understand this. What it's pointing to is even letting go of discernment, even the choice between love and anger, between calmness and agitation, between concentration and distraction, between mindfulness and non-mindfulness. Even letting go of that kind of -- what we know is good. What we call non-duality, not making a polarity out of things. Now, like I said, there are many levels at which this can be understood, and many ways one can go into this. But sometimes there can be a sense that the mindfulness is there, the awareness is there, and everything is arising and passing, arising and passing in awareness -- thoughts, body sensations, emotions, judgments, whatever it is. Everything arises in the space of awareness and disappears, and the awareness remains like space, like vast space in which everything happens. This is why the listening can be very useful, to begin to get a sense of this.

Sometimes it goes even deeper, and things themselves seem to be the same substance as awareness. But from the point of view of awareness, everything's the same. It's all the same. It's just stuff happening in this big space, just arising and passing. Now, that's not an ultimate view. It's not the ultimate truth. It's still a view. But can be extremely skilful if we begin to get, gradually in practice, a sense of that, begin to get a sense of that. There's a tremendous amount of freedom there. Tremendous amount of freedom. And with it comes a very deep freedom from judgment and the judging mind.

I think I'll actually stop there for this evening. Shall we have a minute or two of quiet together?

  1. Cf. Mu Soeng, Trust in Mind: The Rebellion of Chinese Zen (Boston: Wisdom, 2004), 133--6. ↩︎

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry