Friday, June 12, 2015

Thou Shalt Not Judge Others

by Jon Dunnemann

Judging Others Lk. 6.3738, 4142  
1   Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2   For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Mk. 4.24 3   And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4   Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5   Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. 
6   Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.  

     On the day of June 18th 2013, a couple from Tent City located in Lakewood, NJ visited our hospital Emergency Department. They came to my attention upon being discharged and because they were in need of transportation and lacked the financial means to secure a taxi and return to Tent City.

     In a circumstance like this, the hospital may choose to issue the patient a cab voucher which can be used to obtain transportation with our predesignated cab services. In this instance, that is what transpired. Owing to inclement weather conditions that morning, it was difficult to procure cab services for the couple. Upon doing so, I was informed that there would be a twenty minute wait time and after completing the call I passed this information along to the individuals. 

     After well beyond the stated wait time, the couple asked me to call the cab service again to find out what the cause for delay might be and when they could expect to be picked up. I must confess, that my initial thought was "what difference does it make" you two are being provided with free transportation?" The alternative likely would have been for them to walk home. 

     The problem with this thought process however is that its completely judgmental. Because it assumes that it if someone is indigent that somehow it would be fair for them not to receive the same service expectation as that of a cash paying client.

     In your opinion, does this reflect a "right understanding?" Most good-hearted people would probably say no, it does not. And of course, they would be correct.

Right Understanding 

     "According to Buddhism there are two sorts of understanding: a conventional, relative understanding which is intellectual in nature and an ultimate 'penetrating' understanding which sees things in their true nature, devoid of the notional labelling we provide. Right understanding is the understanding of things as they really are. This direct perception is only possible when the mind is free from all impurities and is fully developed through meditation. Right understanding is also known as the 'limb of ascertainment'."

     Let's look at the readings in Theravada Buddhism using the following simile to possibly gain further insight on this subject:

     Alagaddupama Sutta: The Water-Snake Simile translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Translator's Introduction

     This is a discourse about clinging to views (ditthi). Its central message is conveyed in two similes, among the most famous in the Canon: the simile of the water-snake and the simile of the raft. Taken together, these similes focus on the skill needed to grasp right view properly as a means of leading to the cessation of suffering, rather than an object of clinging, and then letting it go when it has done its job.

     The first section of the discourse, leading up to the simile of the water-snake, focuses on the danger of misapprehending the Dhamma in general, and particularly the teachings on sensuality. The discourse doesn't explain how the offending monk, Arittha, formulated his misapprehension of the Dhamma, but the Commentary suggests a plausible scenario:

     "Here the monk... having gone into seclusion, reasons as follows: 'There are people living the household life, enjoying the five pleasures of the senses, who are stream-winners, once-returners, and non-returners. As for monks, they see pleasurable forms cognizable via the eye, hear... smell... taste... feel (pleasurable) tactile sensations cognizable via the body. They use soft carpets and clothing. All this is proper. Then why shouldn't the sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel of a woman be proper? They too are proper!' Thus... comparing a mustard seed with Mount Sineru, he gives rise to the pernicious viewpoint, 'Why did the Blessed One — binding the ocean, as it were, with great effort — formulate the first parajika training rule (against sexual intercourse)? There is nothing wrong with that act."

     Regardless of how Arittha actually arrived at his position, the Commentary's suggestion makes an important point: that just because an idea can be logically inferred from the Dhamma does not mean that the idea is valid or useful. The Buddha himself makes the same point in AN 2.25:

     "Monks, these two slander the Tathagata. Which two? He who explains a discourse whose meaning needs to be inferred as one whose meaning has already been fully drawn out. And he who explains a discourse whose meaning has already been fully drawn out as one whose meaning needs to be inferred..."

     One needs to carefully consider that "there are, indeed many more ways of "grasping wrongly" than of grasping rightly; hence the strong emphasis laid on examining wisely the true meaning and purpose of the Dhamma (the truth taught by the Buddha, is uncovered gradually through sustained practice. The Buddha made clear many times that Awakening does not occur like a bolt out of the blue to the untrained and unprepared mind. Rather, it culminates a long journey of many stages). And there should be frequent re-examination -- lest we forget."

     Having established this point, the discourse illustrates it with the simile of the water-snake, which in turn is an introduction to the simile of the raft. It is important to underline the connection between these two similes, for it is often missed. Many a casual reader has concluded from the simile of the raft simply that the Dhamma is to be let go. In fact, one major Mahayana text — the Diamond Sutra — interprets the raft simile as meaning that one has to let go of the raft in order to cross the river. However, the simile of the water-snake makes the point that the Dhamma has to be grasped; the trick lies in grasping it properly. When this point is then applied to the raft simile, the implication is clear: One has to hold onto the raft properly in order to cross the river. Only when one has reached the safety of the further shore can one let go.

     Taken together, these two similes set the stage for the remainder of the discourse, which focuses on the teaching of not-self. This is one of the most easily misapprehended teachings in the Canon largely because it is possible to draw the wrong inferences from it.

     Two mistaken inferences are particularly relevant here. The first concerns the range of the not-self teaching. Some have argued that, because the Buddha usually limits his teachings on not-self to the five aggregates — form, feeling, perceptions, fabrications, and consciousness — he leaves open the possibility that something else may be regarded as self. Or, as the argument is often phrased, he denies the limited, temporal self as a means of pointing to one's identity with the larger, unlimited, cosmic self. However, in this discourse the Buddha explicitly phrases the not-self teaching in such a way as to refute any notion of cosmic self. Instead of centering his discussion of not-self on the five aggregates, he focuses on the first four aggregates plus two other possible objects of self-identification, both more explicitly cosmic in their range: (1) all that can be seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, pondered by the intellect; and (2) the cosmos as a whole, eternal and unchanging. In fact, the Buddha holds this last view up to particular ridicule, as the teaching of a fool, for two reasons that are developed at different points in this discourse: (1) If the cosmos were "me," then it must also be "mine," which is obviously not the case. (2) There is nothing in the experience of the cosmos that fits the bill of being eternal, unchanging, or that deserves to be clung to as "me" or "mine."

     The second mistaken inference is that, given the thoroughness with which the Buddha teaches not-self, one should draw the inference that there is no self. This inference is treated less explicitly in this discourse, although it is touched upon briefly in terms of what the Buddha teaches here and how he teaches.

     In terms of what: He explicitly states he cannot envision a doctrine of self that, if clung to, would not lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair. He does not list all the possible doctrines of self included under this statement, but MN 2 provides at least a partial list:

     I have a self... I have no self... It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self... It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self... It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self... or... This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will endure as long as eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.

     Thus the view "I have no self" is just as much a doctrine of self as the view "I have a self." Because the act of clinging involves what the Buddha calls "I-making" — the creation of a sense of self — if one were to cling to the view that there is no self, one would be creating a very subtle sense of self around that view (see AN 4.24). But, as he says, the Dhamma is taught for "the elimination of all view-positions, determinations, biases, inclinations, & obsessions; for the stilling of all fabrications; for the relinquishing of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding."

     Thus it is important to focus on how the Dhamma is taught: Even in his most thoroughgoing teachings about not-self, the Buddha never recommends replacing the assumption that there is a self with the assumption that there is no self. Instead, he only goes so far as to point out the drawbacks of various ways of conceiving the self and then to recommend dropping them. For example, in his standard series of questions building on the logic of the inconstancy and stress of the aggregates, he does not say that because the aggregates are inconstant and stressful there is no self. He simply asks, When they are inconstant and stressful, is it proper to assume that they are "me, my self, what I am?" Now, because the sense of self is a product of "I-making," this question seeks to do nothing more than to induce disenchantment and dispassion for that process of I-making, so as to put a stop to it. Once that is accomplished, the teaching has fulfilled its purpose in putting an end to suffering and stress. That's the safety of the further shore. As the Buddha says in this discourse, "Both formerly and now, monks, I declare only stress and the cessation of stress." As he also says here, when views of self are finally dropped, one is free from agitation; and as MN 140 points out, when one is truly unagitated one is unbound. The raft has reached the shore, and one can leave it there — free to go where one likes, in a way that cannot be traced."

     After some reflection, I was able to see that the view which I held of the couple at the hospital was not only biased but that it had induced a degree of agitation in me which at its root stemmed from an offensive display of judgement, superiority or self-importance. This insight has opened the door and liberated me from the suffering that is associated with this common character flaw and negative personality trait that often feeds our ego but tends to weaken our 'highest' or 'true nature' or 'spirit'.