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A Buddhist Perspective on Judgement and Salvation

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Each month us liberal-minded inter-faithers, do-gooder types, come together to discuss and evaluate the essays that we present for you to read. This is done through the generosity of our Christian friends, the Church of England, who have set up this group. At the end of each meeting we pick a title, which has been agreed to be so-called liberal. This time Judgement and Salvation was chosen, and my mind is getting tired of Christian themes. What about Buddhist themes? What about our Humanist friends? (Actually, one monk told me the other day they are all going to hell). Shouldn’t we be discussing secular themes as well? Such is the world of judgement. How does it make you feel? Just notice that right now ... What do you feel when you read or hear ‘your mum’s a fool’ and ‘you are an idiot’, ‘your mother is amazing’, ‘you are intelligent and wise’?

Notice the effect, the way we can mentally roller-coast. Such is the way of the mind and the way we are educated to divide things up and criticise. Concepts, thinking and critical reasoning are useful in themselves, it’s just not all that the mind can do. When we limit ourselves to this way of thinking, then the outcome can only be judgement. Either we judge ourselves or we judge somebody else. In Buddhism I put this under miccha-ditthi or wrong view. Central to an understanding of the Buddha’s teaching is the effect of ditthi or views, and to realize what perfect view is.

Don’t judge - accept

Perfect view is non-judgemental: it sees things as they are. This is my opinion. This can easily come across as some sort of bland, boring, numbed-out type of thinking. A non-judgemental attitude allows us to accept what we are thinking and not to believe or trust it necessarily. Views are conditional – they depend so much on context – on what is going on around them. We can judge a knife as a potential weapon to kill or a tool that can be used to save lives. So while judgement goes on, awareness allows us to observe them and while judgement changes, awareness of them does not. Just notice now, if I ask you to bring to mind your foot, how your attention moves to your foot and the feeling of your foot.

Freedom

Buddhist practices allow us to analyse judgement, to see how it arises, how it leads to more actions, followed by yet more judgement. Generally it starts with ignorance or lack of awareness of our thought patterns, feelings, body sensations, movements, postures, and so on. Judgement arises through our social and cultural conditioning; if we are not given time or the skills to practise awareness, we adopt views without ever considering if they are true, real or useful. Organisations (secular or religious) that encourage freedom to enquire and investigate avoid the pitfalls of judgemental attitudes and narrow-mindedness; there is no freedom in merely reinforcing social and cultural conditioning.

So how can we find salvation? Again, awareness is the tool. By noticing the way things are and using moral precepts to provide a safe framework to explore it – we can then start to see how we are operating. Our mind calms down and wisdom, discernment, and knowing arise. The subject/object dualism in our way of thinking starts to collapse and judgements fade away, leaving a more harmonious/relational way of seeing the world.

Salvation is when things cease

Nibbana, or freedom from attachments or ultimate freedom, is the term Buddhists might use for salvation. It’s not dependent on somebody else offering to do the work for you, but about developing kindness towards oneself. It is a way of staying open to receiving the goodness that is inherent in the world and in oneself. Salvation in Buddhism is when things cease. When judgements arise there is suffering. But when that clinging to judgement ceases, the suffering ends. The conditions for suffering are removed; we stop feeding the judgement. A very good practice to help with dissolving judgement is forgiveness and the ability to give something of oneself to the situation, thus freeing some energy to reflect, contemplate and discern how to act with wisdom rather than acting on blind, conditioned reaction.

One of the sayings of the Buddha is try this practice out for oneself, to test it experimentally. So if this doesn’t sound ‘do-able’ because you think you can’t live without being judgemental, just notice that this also is another judgement. In western culture we are full of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’, ‘musts’ and ‘must nots’, this is ‘right’ that is ‘wrong’. There is a place for judgement and for making plans but where we get caught is in being attached to the results. Judgements or expectations do not meet the way things actually are. From a Buddhist perspective we can plan, but if our plans don’t work out that’s fine; we learn how to stay present and respond to the situation. From a practical perspective, Buddhists certainly do make judgements (in fact I’ve never met a more critical bunch of people in my life!). Being non-judgemental can be just another ideal, another mental concept until we really understand (stand under) or realise this truth for ourselves.

Salvation can be moment-to-moment and it can be a life-shattering experience where you are never the same again and judgements cease to be a way of seeing the world. Awareness helps you to realise this all-encompassing point, unity, non-division, non-conceptual, non-thinking, beyond-language way of being, and then you have found the salvation, you have returned, merged with the source from which you come. The question, which comes first, the chicken or the egg, is just a nice thought.

So if you were not judged and did not judge others what would you do? Or what would you be?

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