Friday, September 5, 2014

Down Judgment Road

I'm becoming a grumpy old man.

At least, the warning signs are there. A new addition to my watch list of troubling tendencies – joining old friends procrastination, avoidance, timidity, gluttony (a.k.a. Sweet Tooth) and sloth.

Because I propounded the old adage, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing,” I had my last cigarette and drink 26 and 16 years ago, respectively.

However, being judgmental is one of those awkward necessities – along with procrastination, avoidance, timidity, gluttony and sloth - that you can’t quite drop cold turkey if you tend to overindulge.

I mean, some things just have to be put off or avoided, caution is often called for, and without eating or sleeping, we wither and die. And judging is a necessary part of rational thought.

So it comes down to practice: our efforts to give energy and direction to our everyday lives to do the ‘right’ thing – as in the right speech, right livelihood, right concentration, etc. of the eightfold path, making our way through the currents of cause and effect in the ocean of form and emptiness, otherwise known as our ordinary lives.

Zen master Yunmen was once asked, “What is the teaching of the Buddha’s entire lifetime?” Yunmen answered, “An appropriate response.”

Eshin Godfrey likened our moment to moment efforts to stay on course to sailing a small boat. Responding to the movements of the wind and tides and waves and currents, adjusting our weight, the pressure on the tiller and the tension in the sails.

Of the possible responses to the specific annoyance of intrusive unhelpful judgmental thoughts, making sure my mouth remains shut is a big one. Refraining from scowling is also big, as is refraining from rolling my eyes (unless it's at my ridiculous penchant for judging...).

Then there is the standard repertoire for dealing with unbidden thoughts in general - acknowledging them, evaluating their immediate usefulness (yes, judging them!), and for the most part, letting them go their merry way without following them.

But many (of my) judgmental thoughts tend to be unkind, and these call for more extreme measures, namely a concentrated blast of kind thoughts at the judgee.

Here's Pema:

The next time you go out in the world, you might try this practice: directing your attention to people—in their cars, on the sidewalk, talking on their cell phones—just wish for them all to be happy and well. Without knowing anything about them, they can become very real, by regarding each of them personally and rejoicing in the comforts and pleasures that come their way. Each of us has this soft spot: a capacity for love and tenderness. But if we don’t encourage it, we can get pretty stubborn about remaining sour.

Here are some related posts:

And here's Sarah:


  1. We notice our judging, we notice our intrusive negative thoughts, we notice ourself judging ourself as well, so without awareness of this its impossible to do anything about it. Maybe there are lots of layers to work through and the more you see it the more you find is there?
    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Because of the harm that some people do to others it's very difficult most of the times not to scowl or judge. I don't want to be a grumpy old woman either so perhaps my best solution is to judge people based on their remarkable possibilities rather than that they settle for so little from themselves... If I am ever on a "high horse" it's because I have very high hopes for what we could be. And I know we could be kinder - To others and ourselves.

    1. A belated thanks for your comment, Bea. I agree. It's hard to distinguish judging because we feel we are on the moral high ground and speaking out to diminish suffering. Just because we may not be skillful enough to not do the first doesn't mean we shouldn't do the second. We may get judged as being a bit unkind in our pursuit of kindness, but I guess it comes with the territory.


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