From Judgement to Discernment

The definition of judgement based on Cambridge Dictionary is “a decision or opinion about someone or something that you form after thinking carefully”. It automatically suggests an assumption that not necessarily is true as thought and the mind is what decides or shapes the opinion or decision based on what information it has available, or not.

The past months I felt emotionally and mentally overwhelmed by the intensity of judgement that is being processed and expressed from people towards other people. A personal experience of constantly being judged by someone who I trusted with my friendship has motivated me to shape and share my thoughts and lessons from this experience after I decided to liberate myself from the behavior of this person. My intention to understand the process of judging guided me to gather the insights that I share in this article.

I’ve heard people many times saying that judgement is important in order to evaluate things and in order to know where you are at. The understanding of this is important for our evolution, but this point of view - that judgement is a tool to navigate through one’s journey by making choices - appears to be incomplete or fault or corrupted in many ways. Knowing that our highest purpose is to experience wholeness, how can we make thoughts that create separation or say words that divide, from the moment we all need and seek connection with Self and others?

From the moment we begin to judge something we immediately separate ourselves from that. And from the moment we begin to describe an evaluation based on our point of view, it is not only inaccurate but it is also unnecessary, because in our attempt to observe, assume and evaluate through only one perspective we are already into a process of separating ourselves from what we are evaluating. Also the endeavor to express this viewpoint verbally, the choice of words as an act to describe it, are ways to create further limitations to the communication and the expression of what actually is reality. There is no way to judge without being or feeling separate from the other, because only by creating separation we can see the other as not part of ourselves.

Usually what makes us judge something and therefore feel disconnected from is an unresolved wound, it is our inability to integrate that fragmented aspect of ourselves within the Self, whether this is reflected in our experience or in the presence of others. When we place ourselves in the viewpoint of knowing who someone else is we are failing to grasp the whole truth and all of its layers, that is beyond our mental knowing. Truth cannot be understood, seen or explained through our human minds and language. Both of them hold only part of the truth. Especially when judgement comes from a place of hurt and not from a place of love, it can never be accurate, because love does not need to make any judgement.

How judgment works

Physical experience always comes in polarities. Good or Bad, Right or Wrong, Easy or Difficult, Hot or Cold, Beautiful or Ugly, Fun or Boring. In our attempt to understand our experiences we judge, this appears to be normal and many times necessary especially when we need to choose between things or when we need to communicate something or when we are contemplating on our preferences and setting our boundaries. For example choosing to have a hot over a cold shower in the winter is done upon judgement. Another example would be the choices we make regarding timing. We judge whether this is the right or the wrong timing to make the laundry, meet a friend, go to sleep, etc. All these judgements are essential and this kind of judgement can truly contribute to our choices, but what happens when we judge other people? Because as soon as we describe someone or something about them we immediately label or judge. So where is the limit of how much or in which extend do we judge? What are we allowed do judge when it comes to other people?

Having an honest conversation with a person before going into assumptions or judgmental interpretations is key. Questioning before we shape evaluations and before coming into judgment is also key. By making the effort to understand one’s behavior or anything that is observed will literally save you from feeding your trauma and/or going into projecting.

Every day we are surrounded by judgments that come from many sources, we are exposed to different means of judgement. So many systems that are holding a big amount of our everyday reality, such as schools, families, church, society, politics, cultures, groups and circles are strongly attached to categorizing and comparing. Judgment, labeling, stereotyping, and segregating can lead to polarization of people, of societies, of countries, of communities by dividing what needs to be whole. There is a strong need from systems to impose control and apply hierarchy in so many ways and in so many aspects of the lives of people that it seems impossible to be free from judgement.

From a spiritual perspective, accepting difference, seeing similarity, and embracing equality is essential. As I have mentioned above, judgment creates polarization and this is something that many spiritual lineages, and also religions, want to avoid. They talk about giving what you have to others and supporting fellow humans who are in need. But how do we make choices? How do we set our boundaries? How do we understand or know who are our friends and how do we distinguish one thing from another?

Even though we might choose to be less judgmental we may easily swing to the opposite side. When we have no other way to determine what’s proper for us, standards disintegrate. When we need to understand what resonates or not with us, we unavoidably practice judgement. It is obvious that some people do certain things better than others in the way we collectively understand them and measure them in this physical reality. Not everyone can be a great artist. Even if we can all enjoy creating art, some of us have been shown bigger inclination and talent than others, and this is what can guide someone to become an artist. Some swimmers are faster than others, and even if all of us can swim if we want, this is a sign that one can choose to be an athlete. Comparing comes from judgement, and it’s a measuring tool we apply in order to make choices. The problem is that comparing the performance of a person in relation to another can fit only in specific paradigms and systems that do not allow the wholeness of truth to be experienced. It does not offer any opportunity for unity or expansion.

Another obstacle of accepting everyone and everything they do is that we may tolerate beyond of what we are capable of. If we accept everyone regardless of their behavior this will cause suppression of our own boundaries and needs: hurtful behavior, vandalism, undisciplined manners, actions against another, violence and many more. On the other hand some people may become unmotivated without some comparison of what’s good work and what’s not. One may fear of losing control that comes from the absence of making distinctions and comparisons as this is what keeps them into their status. But again this is a mentality of comparison, a mentality of contraction as it only moves us when there is something to loose. It does not come from our ability to know how capable we are and how expansive we can be.

So how can we move beyond the judgement paradigm?

Yoga philosophy proposes the use of Viveka, which means discernment.

About discernment and how we can practice it

According to Koneru Ramakrishna Rao and Paranjpe, viveka can be explained as the

“Sense of discrimination; wisdom; discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the self and the non-self, between the permanent and the impermanent; discriminative inquiry; right intuitive discrimination; ever present discrimination between the transient and the permanent.”

The meaning of discrimination here makes a clear distinction between what is true and what is not. It does not involve a subjective reality or impression and therefore it needs a great cultivation of one’s own perception in order to acknowledge between fake and real.

Discernment is about making clear and informed distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, what is true and what is not true. It is about seeing beyond what appears on the surface. It is about filtering, sorting, sifting and seeing deeper with a purposeful intention and good will to know the truth and serve the truth for self and others. Discernment neither involve any kind of criticism or accusing nor it creates separation or negativity as it never comes from a wounded place. Discernment is fundamentally about seeking insight and understanding, it is never about judging. It is about being flexible rather than being fixed or dogmatically insisting in one opinion or a specific viewpoint as life itself is ever changing.

What we always neglect is the inner state you are in when you judge, what you feel deep within that people pick-up on when they feel judged by you. That inner process has nothing to do with them but only you. It is about you. Their presence is your trigger and the judgement is the outcome.

So every time you are about to judge someone use discernment instead. Turn inwards and first of all check what is that within you that needs to be seen or healed. Then try to understand why you need to judge someone else. You can ask these questions to your self in order to help yourself choose discernment over judgment:

  1. Do my thoughts, feelings and words come from a place of peace, love and compassion or do they derive from a past trauma?

  2. I’m I genuinely willing to understand the other person or do I become self-centered and overwhelmed from my own internal processes and triggers?

  3. Do my opinion for this person comes from a place of judgement, anger, insecurity or accusation or is it the truth about them?

  4. I’m I neutral enough and capable to see the truth about them and therefore apply discernment over judgement?

The difference between judgement and discernment

Remember that the original meanings of the words “judgement” and “discernment” are very close. Judgement, however, implies something more definitive in the way it tends to be used. It implies a final or fixate impression into it, although any assumption we may have reached, we can never completely know or claim that is the only truth. And this is an important point because firstly it allows the possibility for further investigation, understanding and expansion, and secondly it forms the way you view something, which can totally change the way you relate yourself to it.

Therefore a judgement should never be expressed to someone, because it has this intention to fixate something that cannot be fixated. When we verbally describe our judgement towards someone or even to ourselves, we make a statement that seems to be final. Because no judgement can be made before questioning, listening and discussing the matter in order to gain understanding first before going into any kind of final conclusions and therefore judgement. And no judgement should be a fixed point because everything in life fluctuates and by fixing yourself onto something it only holds you away from a bigger truth that everything flows and changes.

When we are open enough and when we are willing enough to make deep conversations we deepen our relationship with our self and others as we open ourselves to more perspectives, to more possibilities and to more parts of the whole truth. In this way we help each other expand.

It needs authenticity, vulnerability and truthfulness to be able to share our thoughts, emotions and questions. It takes guts to connect and therefore expose ourselves instead of disconnecting from one another by judging someone or something based on personal truths.

The differences between discernment and judgement

We need to understand that the practice of discernment works not only in favor of the other, but also in favor for ourselves.

In order to understand fully whether you apply judgement or discernment you need to first of all ask yourself: How often do I use judgement over discernment?

While understanding even deeper the differences between judgement and discernment several aspects are being observed regarding one’s behavior.

Judgment implies comparison and sometimes the need to impose power and control over something or somebody else. When we judge we usually perceive ourselves as better than somebody else, as if we have the power over another the moment we judge them. But if we truly understand what is behind the need to judge we will actually see that it implies weakness and not strength.

As I have already mentioned above judgment comes from a reactive place, a wound or trauma. It is unconscious. Judgment has a sense of finality, because we judge something that happens at that specific moment as if we see it as the only event happening, without considering what might have generated that behavior and how this behavior was developed. If we understand this enough then we will know if we judge or not.

How many times did we judge our friends’ behavior or even them personally, only to come later to the point to understand that they had a reason to act in that specific way? There is a tendency to judge before listening to the other person or asking them regarding their experience or feelings. Making this connection is crucial in order to move from judgement to discernment.

Discernment is a more conscious approach. It’s the cognitive ability of a person to distinguish what resonates with them and what does not without the need to judge. Viveka, the Sanskrit word for discernment, is about seeing things as they are. Insight is seeing into something, from our inner self, not from outer rigid standards, opinions, viewpoints or social pressures. When we use Viveka, we are tapping into something much deeper than our filters. We are using the ability to perceive clearly.

Practicing Viveka is not easy due to the several layers that have been formed as illusions in our perception throughout the years from traumatic experiences, everyday life impressions, religion, culture, society, family norms and many more. This is another way to recognize whether you can practice discernment or not and therefore go into understanding your own filters first.

In order to move from judgement to discernment we need to first understand what we observe and to look at it in a different way than how we used to. This will bring clarity into our process of understanding the self and others. Therefore Viveka comes from understanding both ourselves and others, from the compassion we feel for those who suffer themselves or cause us pain, and from the confidence in our own abilities and humbleness in the presence and greatness of the vast universe.

Viveka gives us clear perception and the ability to make good choices without having to be better or worse than anyone else. This is the more practical aspect of discernment – what helps us in day to day life to determine good choices and right actions. Yet there is a more esoteric, deeper aspect of Viveka that Patanjali speaks of in the Yoga Sutras. In Chapter II, verse 26, he states: “The means of attaining cessation [of the fluctuations of the mind] is the unceasing vision of discernment”.

Ultimately, in order to quiet the mind we need to discern between what is real and what is unreal. The outer distinctions – right and wrong, pleasant and unpleasant – are what we attribute to things, but they aren’t their true nature. The inner essence of all things, according to many spiritual traditions of the world, is spirit itself.

For deepening our spiritual awareness, this more esoteric aspect of discernment becomes vital. If we wish to go beyond the mind’s tendency to assume, analyze and judge, we need to consider seeing beyond all those mental fluctuations and chattering. Judgment doesn’t serve us in going deeper into the Self or reaching out to others for a deeper connection, but discernment can.

It is clear that the definition of judgement, as it appears in the dictionary and in the way it is used in life, indicates the involvement of mental thinking and therefore a limited way of seeing reality. Therefore judgement not only according to its definition, but also according to how is understood and applied in everyday life, in justice and in education, appears to be a limited tool for seeing and choosing truth.

To conclude, Viveka or discernment, brings clarity and true perception, whereas judgment describes the illusions of the mind. When we judge we believe ourselves as better or worse than others, and therefore we can never see each other as equal, which is a catalyst of experiencing true inner peace and connection with Self and others. When we discern we develop the ability to look beyond the surface or beyond a current behavior because we choose to see the divine essence found within all.

Heart to Heart,


©  Christina Georgiou

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