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Transforming the judgmental mind

Transforming the judgmental mind

A talk given at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin on July 13, 2007. A few days prior to the talk, the body of a young woman, a University of Wisconsin student, was found in the woods nearby. The murder of the young woman touched those attending the teachings and others in the community.

Handling tragic events with compassion

  • Developing compassion for the victim, family and perpetrators in the context of the first verse of the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation
  • People and their actions are separate things
  • Compassion is good for our own mental health and necessary for Buddhahood
  • Comments on violence in entertainment

Emotional Health: Handling tragic events with compassion (download)

Rejoicing in the good qualities of others

  • Emotional health in light of the second verse of the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation
  • Healthy self-esteem and humility
  • Arrogance as a sign of low self-esteem
  • Training mind to see others’ good qualities
  • Judgmental mind

Emotional Health: Rejoicing in the good qualities of others (download)

Questions and answers

  • Being naïve versus being judgmental
  • Interventions for drug addiction
  • Dealing with judgmental people
  • Avoiding low self-esteem
  • Views on the government and capital punishment
  • Increasing collaboration in the workplace

Emotional Health: Q&A (download)

Part 1: The source of happiness and problems

Seeing ourselves as lowest of all

Whenever I am with others, I will practice seeing myself as the lowest of all, and from the very depths of my heart I will respectfully hold others as supreme.

What red-blooded American would ever think like that? That’s totally against our Constitution. It’s totally against our foreign policy. It’s totally against this administration, isn’t it? I mean, I might get arrested for anti-government rhetoric saying, ”I will practice holding myself as the lowest of all.” They’d probably say “Good, because you are the lowest of all and we are the best of all.”

But there’s a very strong message in this verse, and I have to say that holding ourselves as the lowest of all, this does not mean having low self-esteem. Repeat, this verse is not encouraging us to hate ourselves. It is not encouraging us to have low self-esteem. It’s not encouraging us to give up our self-confidence. In fact, anything but that. What it encourages us to do is to look at other living beings and see their talents, see their beauty, see their inner qualities, and respect their good qualities. We don’t have to respect their negative qualities, but we can respect their good qualities. Whenever we respect good qualities in anybody, we are opening up ourselves to generate those same good qualities. When we respect others, then we respect them.

We don’t have to be number one. We can hold ourselves as the lowest of all in that way. It doesn’t mean we’re groveling in the dirt; it doesn’t mean we look at ourselves as the worst, but it means that we don’t feel that in every situation we should be the most remarkable one that gets everybody’s attention and that gets their way all the time. Again, in our culture we are taught that we should just kind of go out there and, humility, it barely made it into the American version of the dictionary. Humility, you know, what’s that? Because we’re raised to come in and say, “Here I am. This is me and I’m great and I’m wonderful.” When you do your resumé and you go for a job, you write down all sorts of things. Can you do those things? No, it doesn’t matter. Just put them down anyway. When you go in and you are interviewing for your job, “I can do this I can do that. Well, that one I haven’t learned yet but I’m a very quick learner. I have all these computer skills.” What that means is you can type.

Anything else, you go into work the first day and they give you computer stuff and you go, “Huh, what do I do?” We have no problem saying “I can do this, I can do that.” We take out our business card and it is kind of an accordion and it unravels and has all of our titles and all of our activities. When we meet new people, we like to tell them who we are and all our successes and how wonderful we are and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The disadvantage of acting that way, of holding ourselves as the queen that other people love, is generally when we act in an arrogant way. I think arrogance is a sign of low self-esteem. Think about that one a little bit.

Why do we act arrogant? What are the situations that we go in and we’re strutting around, “Here I am.” It’s a situation where we feel a little bit insecure, isn’t it? We take advantage to make ourselves look good because we don’t basically feel that good about ourselves. I think that low self-esteem and arrogance go together. I mean, why else would we need to be arrogant if we don’t have low self-esteem? If we have reasonable self-esteem and we know our good qualities, we also know our bad qualities. Because self-esteem doesn’t mean you just know your good ones. We know where we’re at, we have some confidence in our Buddha nature and our ability to learn and to practice. If we have that basic kind of confidence, then we don’t need to put ourselves up and make a big deal about ourselves and project this huge image to everybody.

His Holiness is one of the people that I see as really practicing that. In so many situations he’s just incredibly humble. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He was in Southern California at that time, and I was attending the event that he was at when the news came that he had received the prize. I was so impressed that when the word came through, he just kind of dismissed it. He walked into the room the next morning, and everybody stands up and we’re all so excited and, oh, applauding and yay, yay, yay and he’s just kind of like nothing. “Sit down, let’s get on with what we’re doing.” And he also didn’t cancel any of his activities. He didn’t cancel all the meetings with the quote “small people” in order to be with the big people on national and international television. He was quite humble about the whole thing. And he was teaching in the States for some time after that. Every place he went people were standing up and applauding and giving a standing ovation and he would just stand there like this and bow to the crowd.

How would most of us act if we were in front of a crowd of a few thousand people applauding us? “Here I am, put me up higher and I’m going to smile at you, and you can keep applauding as long as you want to.” But that’s not the way His Holiness was, and I think that he’s able to be that way because he has actual self-confidence. In my mind, self-confidence and humility go together. A person who has actual self-confidence can be very humble. Our teacher at Deer Park, Geshe Sopa, is also an example of that incredible humility. Today at our long-life puja, it’s so sweet, he said, “Oh, you’re putting me up but it’s like a donkey wearing a tiger’s skin.” Most of us would happily wear the tiger skin and pretend to be a tiger. It’s very sweet that way.

When in the company of others, I can see myself as the lowest of all, and from the very depths of my heart I will respectfully hold others as supreme.

It’s wonderful to practice. It’s very, very wonderful to practice. It involves training our minds to see the good qualities in others. I think that’s a very important training of the mind. When I say training of the mind it means we are consciously training our mind to see others’ good qualities and to see their virtuous actions, and to appreciate those, and to rejoice at their own happiness. This is a direct antidote to the judgmental mind.

Anybody here know the judgmental mind? We know the judgmental mind very well. Just sit anywhere, just go outside by Memorial Union, and sit there and watch everybody who walks by. What’s going on in our mind? Judgmental thoughts about people we don’t even know. That one’s too fat, that one’s too thin, that one’s too short, that one’s too tall, that one walks funny, that one looks arrogant, that one looks sad, that one looks scary, that one looks threatening, that one has an ego problem. Most of our judgmental running commentary is mostly negative thoughts, isn’t it? About people we don’t even know based on what their body looks like. Yet we say that we’re anti-discrimination. We don’t like all those people who are prejudiced. But mostly we are with our little judgmental mind and just judge people right, left and right, left and center. Then we’ve all become our own little miniature psychologists.

Do you do that? We diagnose people when we talk about the people that we work with? “Oh, I have a colleague who is so borderline they drive me crazy. And my husband is acting in the most passive-aggressive manner, and I don’t know what’s wrong with him. And so and so, she’s psychotic, they don’t listen at all, they’re dreaming up their own thing.” I mean we psychoanalyze everybody. I think it’s hilarious. This is our judgmental mind. Does our judgmental mind make us happy? No. One of my teachers, Geshe Ngawang Dhargey, he used to talk about our judgmental mind and how we would get together with close friends and talk badly about other people—just one of our favorite pastimes isn’t it? We get together with somebody else and we go, “Oh, that person over there, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” You talk so badly about all these other people and the conclusion of the conversation is, “ Well, the two of us must be the best people in the whole world.”

In our ordinary life we are training ourselves to see faults in everybody. Then by default we become the best thing the world has ever seen. That just reinforces all of our self-centeredness again, and again, and again. But it doesn’t make us happy does it? The judgmental mind is miserable. It’s really painful when all of our thoughts are just thoughts of denigrating others and complaining about others and berating others and belittling others. This is the screwy way our ego works because we’re trying to do it so that we feel good about ourselves when actually putting others down makes us feel rotten.

The whole practice of training our mind and being able to look at other people and see their good qualities and see their fortune and rejoice in their virtuous actions—it’s a really wonderful mental training to do. It’s one that you can do anywhere, you can do it when you’re standing in line. It’s an excellent practice to do when you’re stuck in traffic. To just sit and think good thoughts about people. It’s really a quite nice practice that makes the mind very happy and gives us a feeling of hope and gives us an awareness of the goodness that there is in the world.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.