Not Judging

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Kierkegaard says “when you judge me you negate me.” This is equally true when we judge ourselves! Even though we may not realize it we judge ourselves all of the time, one way or another, and so in doing this (in evaluating ourselves as being this, that or the other) we unfailingly negate ourselves.

 

This isn’t to say that we only negate ourselves when we judge ourselves in a negative way – any sort of a judgement, whether it is favourable or unfavourable, glowing or condemning, commendatory or pejorative, is a negation. It doesn’t matter what sort of an evaluation we slap on ourselves, it’s a negation just the same.

 

The reason for this is that all judgements are (of course) definitions and it is the defining that negates us, not the value we ascribe to the definition. When we define ourselves we put ourselves in a box, we make it impossible that we could be anything other than what we have just defined ourselves as being. This is inherent in the very nature of defining – defining traps us and there is no such thing as a ‘good’ trap! When we define ourselves we take away our own freedom – we take away the freedom we had to be what we were before we defined ourselves as being ‘this, that or the other’. This is a freedom we didn’t even realize we had!

 

The thing about a definition is that it makes the object of the definition certain – when we define something we are therefore converting uncertainty into certainty. We are reducing the inherent uncertainty of what we are defining to zero. It tends to sound rather strange to say this since we don’t usually see why everything should be ‘inherently uncertain’. We don’t necessarily go around seeing the world as being inherently or intrinsically uncertain, even though it is. And yet it ought to be abundantly clear that the world is uncertain – uncertainty is (we could say) the essential element in life. This is what Heraclitus meant when he said that “All is flux”. In life, everything is changing, nothing is fixed, nothing is set in stone. Even stone isn’t set in stone, and if this isn’t uncertainty then what is?

 

We could also try to explain the inherent uncertainty in life by saying that everything is influenced by everything else. There are no sealed compartments in the universe – everything is part of the one whole. If there do seem to be compartment then this is purely because compartmentalization is how the thinking mind works. Our mind works on the basis of rigid boundaries – nature doesn’t! As Ken Wilbur puts it,

THE ULTIMATE METAPHYSICAL SECRET, if we dare state it so simply, is that there are no boundaries in the universe. Boundaries are illusions, products not of reality but of the way we map and edit reality. And while it is fine to map out the territory, it is fatal to confuse the two.

What the absence of any hard-and-fast boundaries in reality means is that – as we have said – nothing is sealed off from anything else. Nothing exists alone. No man is an island. This is the ‘ecological principle’ – no one thing can be considered or studied without taking everything else into account. Actually, if everything is connected to everything else then there are no distinct ‘things’ so to put a lot of effort into studying distinct things (as we very much tend to in Western culture) is a nonsense. It creates confusion and ‘counter-productivity’ by the lorry-load. We place huge emphasis on the exhaustive definition of the specific ‘isolated element’ (the ‘particular thing’) but since everything is connected to everything the isolated element or particular thing doesn’t actually exist!

 

From the ecological point of view we can say that everything is a part of the overall network, such that a change in one element in the network will inevitably have a bearing on everything else since nothing stays ‘contained’ in just the one portion or region of the network. It follows from this principle that we can’t be ‘certain’ about any one element in the network – we can’t know everything about one particular element because this would entail knowing everything about everything that influences that element, and this is a pretty big ask. We would then have to know ‘everything about everything’, and how are we going to manage this? All ‘things’ are inherently uncertain, therefore, because all things are inescapably interrelated to all other things. Each node in the network vibrates in tune with all other nodes, in tune with the web itself, and so how can we treat any one thing, any one element as if it had some sort of an existence outside of this web of mutual relations? This is a total impossibility, and yet at the same time this is the only we way we can get to be ‘certain’ about anything…

 

The ‘inherent uncertainty’ that we’re talking about isn’t some kind of peripheral property that might conceivably be eliminated (or at least reduced) – inherent uncertainty can only be eliminated at the price of making what we’re being certain about unreal! Intrinsic uncertainty isn’t an error in the system (which is how the rational mind sees it) – it is an irreducible property of the whole. Each little element in the network is uncertain because it partakes in the overall ‘uncertainty’ of everything. Or to put this another way – every ‘part’ of the whole is irreducibly uncertain because there are no parts, because it isn’t a part at all, because it’s really the whole in disguise!

 

We may of course ask why the whole has to be irreducibly uncertain – why in other words can’t we just get a ‘theory of everything’ and then that ‘theory of everything’ will make everything certain. This is the classic rational question. But the thing about this question that seems to elude us is that there can’t be anything outside of the whole, since if there was something outside it then it clearly wouldn’t be ‘the whole’. And if we can’t get outside the whole – which we need to if we are to slot everything into a framework, into a TOE – then we can’t make everything certain. If we say – in an attempt to escape this logical glitch – that there can be a framework outside the of the whole which we can use to make the whole certain then we have a situation where the framework is inside itself (i.e. it’s like saying that the set M is a member of itself) and this is a Russellian paradox. If the all-determining framework is inside the whole as well as outside and this all-determining framework is being used to provide definite information, definite statements about the whole to make it certain, then the framework is being use to provide information about itself and this a tautological regression. A thing cannot define itself because any invisible assumptions that are in that thing cannot be highlighted by that same thing! And ‘things’ always contain invisible assumptions – that’s what makes them things in the first place!

 

Stuff is only ‘certain’ because we have slotted it into a taken-for-granted framework of seeing things, and when we do slot it into the framework what happens is that we automatically take the element that we are focussing on out of the relationship that it has with the whole, out of the dynamic interplay of influences which is ‘everything’. We abstract the element from the interrelationships that make it what it actually and so what we end up with something that is no longer what it started off as. It’s now just a function of our way of looking at things! What we’re doing when we make something certain therefore is that we are denying that element for what it actually is by implicitly claiming that it is ‘only what we think it is’. We are negating the actual reality of what we are making certain of, in other words – by fitting the element under consideration into the over-arching framework that is the rational mind (and by doing this implicitly denying that there ever could be such a thing as ‘something that is not accounted for by our all-determining framework’) we are negating reality itself…

 

The thing that we are judging or labelling is infinitely more than we take it to be with our judging and labelling, and so really we are committing a type of violence here, loathe though we may be to admit! The ‘index of uncertainty’ that we have handily eliminated with our mental categorizations is the difference between what the reality we are labelling really is, and what we say it is, and this turns out to be the most important ‘difference’ there ever could be! This difference means everything – it means the difference between reality itself and some bloodless simulation of it, the difference between the menu and the actual meal itself. If we were to somehow imagine that this difference is not so very important as all that, all we would need to do to correct this viewpoint would be to try to live by eating nothing but menus for a month! There is no sustenance in categorizations, no nutritional value in formal descriptions or definitions…

 

We won’t physically starve to be sure but we will starve nonetheless in a less tangible way – by living in the Mind Created Virtual Reality in place of the original we will be starved of the actual feel of reality, the actual taste or flavour of reality. We will be starved of the healing grace that comes with unconditioned reality, and which comes from nowhere else. When we succeed in eliminating the inherent uncertainty of the world this might seem very neat and tidy from one point of view (from the ‘book-keeper type’ point of view of the rational conceptual mind, that is) but the unintended side-effect of achieving this neatness is that we have put ourselves in the wholly tautological (or ‘self-referential’) situation of being the ‘Mind-Created Self’ living in the ‘Mind-Created Virtual Reality’ and when it comes down to brass tacks this isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs! It’s not at all what it’s cracked up to be in the publicity brochures, so to speak…

 

Only the intrinsically uncertain (i.e. the unsimulated) is real – everything else is a mere surface-level impression, everything else is simply a ‘two-dimensional label’, an ‘empty formula’ that we take to be an exhaustive description of whatever it is we are labelling, whatever it is we are describing. Unquantifiable substance is converted into dry definitions, into ‘facts and figures’. So what we’re basically saying here in this discussion is that this is what the thinking mind does all the time! The everyday thinking mind can’t not do this – this is the only thing it can do. The mind judges, just as a sweeping brush sweeps, just as a toaster toasts stuff, just as a cement-mixer mixes cement. Categorizing (or ‘judging’) is all that the everyday mind does, and what’s more, when it runs away with itself in the way that it is so prone to doing it can’t turn itself off!

 

Within its proper remit, this function of the everyday thinking mind is not problematic. Far from being ‘problematic’, it is crucially useful to us. The thinking mind has a job to do and it performs this job superlatively well. The ‘problem’ starts when the instrument which is the thinking mind ‘takes over’ and starts applying itself willy-nilly to all aspects of our life, to every aspect of our life. Once it does this then there’s no turning back and the thinking mind will just keep on a running in the background as a kind of permanent feature. It’s like a radio or television that never gets turned off, and we just get used to it running away as it does in the background the whole time (we get uncomfortable when it doesn’t). What happens when the thinking mind runs all the time in the background is that all the ‘intrinsic uncertainty’ in life gets eliminated, it gets ‘done away with’. The inherent uncertainty of life gets eradicated (like an error or mistake that we don’t want messing up our nice, neat picture of things) and all we have left is a bunch of dogmatic descriptions, a bunch of literal definitions, a bunch of labels, a bunch of dry old empty formulae…

 

Life gets chewed up by the runaway machine of the thinking mind and we don’t know the difference because we have – in the process of being chewed up – forgotten any other way that things could be. It now seems normal to us for everything to be this way. And not only that, the uncertainty factor, the ‘error factor’ (which as we have said is actually nothing other than life itself) has become the enemy, has become ‘the thing to be gotten rid of’. Thought is great for mechanical stuff therefore but the thing is that when it takes over it treats everything as if it were mechanical, including ourselves. Thought ‘re-writes’ us in its own mechanical language (or ‘code’) and we never notice the difference, we never notice the transition. So we end up as a result of this unnoticed transition living in a world that is actually a tremendously ‘downgraded’ version of the original, a tremendously ‘over-simplified’ version of the original. And at the same time as living in a tremendously downgraded version of reality, we live as tremendously downgraded versions of ourselves, and so no one ever gets suspicious about the fact that something very dodgy has just taken place. As Jean Baudrillard says, the Perfect Crime (or the Perfect Murder) has been committed – it is perfect because there are no witnesses, because no one has reported anything to the police!

 

Just to recap the central point there: with regard to the world around us, what happens when the rational mind takes over is – as we have said – that we miss out on the essential uncertainty of everything and it is that uncertainty (the lack of exhaustive definition) that gives life its flavour, its beauty, its poetry. The logical-conceptual mind doesn’t like uncertainty – more than that, it can’t function with uncertainty, it can’t tolerate uncertainty, it can’t abide uncertainty. This mind likes to sweep everything up in neat, orderly piles. It can’t help being like this – it is the rational mind’s nature to order everything, just as it is a sweeping brush’s nature to sweep! But when it does this it takes the mystery out of everything, the magic out of everything, the unique flavour (or ‘suchness’) out of everything. The rational mind scoffs at mystery and magic – it sees stuff like this as sentimental, woolly-minded, ‘airy-fairy’, etc. It sees this kind of stuff as just plain silly. It wants to get rid of this kind of thing and make everything neat and tidy and orderly. The only problem with this however is that this sort of a ‘sanitized world’ just isn’t worth living in – there’s nothing of substance in it, nothing of interest in it. This isn’t life at all – it’s a bloodless simulation of life…

 

The rational mind has no wings. It will not believe in anything other than its own dull literalisms. As Sri Guru Granth Sahib says,

For that which we cannot see, feel, smell, touch, or understand, we do not believe. For this, we are merely fools walking on the grounds of great potential with no comprehension of what is.

 

The everyday categorical mind has its ‘dark’ side therefore. It has a tendency in it that will – when unchecked – produce a world for us that really isn’t fit to live in, a kind of grey, flavourless world; a dull, repetitive, routine sort of a world. It produces a world that is a tasteless copy of the real thing, an ersatz world, a counterfeit world. This is one half of the story. The other side of the story is that this labelling, judging, analyzing mind does the same thing to us. It transforms us (or degrades us) into colourless ersatz versions of ourselves, bland generic versions of ourselves. In Kierkegaard’s language, it negates us. It negates our true nature, and provides us with something else instead – something that isn’t our nature… The categorical mind negates us because it turns us into mere categories! It turns us into mere concepts, into nothing more than ‘mental constructs’. How can the thinking mind do anything other than this? How can it not do this? Just as the sweeping brush sweeps and the toaster toasts, the thinking mind judges and judges and judges. And when it’s done with this, it does some more judging, just for good measure…

 

So all we need to do – if we want to come back to ourselves, if we want to live in a world that hasn’t had all the mystery, magic and poetry swept out of it, is to stop judging! All we need to do is to leave stuff as it already is, no tidying, no organizing everything into neat orderly piles, no conceptualizing, no analyzing, no more non-stop thinking…

 

What could be simpler than this? We don’t have to do anything, we just have to ‘stop doing what we always do’ – stop the judging, the evaluating, the commentating, and all of that. In one way therefore this is astonishingly simple – as we have said, all we have to do is to be sensitive to what is actually already there, which essentially means not aggressing reality, not trying to control or rewrite reality, not automatically (and compulsively) trying to make stuff be what we think it ought to be…

 

On one hand this is the simplest anything could ever be, but on the other hand things aren’t quite so easy as all that. To be simple in this way actually constitutes a challenge that is far greater than we could imagine. We’d never know just how much of a challenge ‘not doing what we usually do’ is unless we tried it. What makes it so hard is the fact that we are almost completely identified with the thinking mind – which is another way of saying that we automatically believe just about everything it tells us!

 

Just as we are almost completely identified with the thinking mind, we are similarly almost totally identified with the Mind-Created Self – it is the same phenomenon looked at from a different angle. And the thing about the Mind-Created Self is that it has no choice other than to be aggressive. It has no other options open to it. All the Mind-Created Self (i.e. the Defined Self) can do is be aggressive – that is its inescapable nature.

 

So the first step in ‘not judging’ is simply notice this – to notice that the Defined Self can’t help judging. We notice this without blaming the Defined Self for being what it is, without judging it for being what it can’t help being…

 

 

 

 

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