(This article examines the relationship between understanding and judgment in the light of integral psychology)
When one understands, one no longer judges and when one judges it means one doesn’t know.
Our judgments are based on our understanding. Right judgment can come only from true understanding. There are various levels of understanding depending on the level of consciousness in which we live. But most of our judgments are based on surface appearances and not on the deeper or total truth of things. When we come to categorical conclusions based on what we observe at the surface and impressions it evokes in our surface being, then we can’t understand the deeper truth of life. To comprehend this relationship between judgment and understanding we must have some idea of our integral being.
Our Total Self
Our human organism is made of many layers and depths. At the lowest level is our surface being tied to the body with its own very limited consciousness and its narrow thoughts, feelings, sensations, impulses, instincts, reactions, temperament. Behind the surface, at a deeper level is our subliminal being which is vaster, more luminous and intuitive than our surface being, in a more or less direct contact with the universal mind, with a much greater capacity for knowledge, feeling and action.
Behind the subliminal, at the deepest core of our consciousness lies the spiritual centre of our being, called as psychic being in integral yoga, which is the inner source of all our higher aspirations for truth, beauty, harmony and unity. The subliminal and psychic being constitute our inner being and the surface self is our external being. Our inner being holds the net result of our past evolution through many births and contains our deeper truth and our higher potentials – psychological and spiritual. A major difference between our internal and external being is that the former is shaped by inner evolution and the latter is mostly a creature of external environment like education, culture and tradition.
Someone who lives consciously in his inner being and was able to integrate it with his surface self, his internal and external being are in harmony, with the later more or less faithfully expressing the former. But such people are not many. In most of us there is a disparity between the inner and outer being, sometimes bordering on a total contradiction. This is because our inner being is closer, more receptive and in direct contact with our universal and spiritual self and therefore progresses much faster than our surface being. This is the deeper psychological basis of sudden conversion of a “sinner” into a saint like for example in the lives of St. Paul, St. Augustine, Angulima. There is nothing miraculous in these conversions. What happens here is that the person becomes suddenly conscious of his spiritually advanced inner being which comes forward and casts its influence on the degenerate or “sinner” surface self. To understand the total truth of a person, where he is in the evolutionary ladder, we must have the inner vision to see and feel his surface, subliminal and spiritual self all at once in a single glance. Only an accomplished yogi who lives in the spiritual consciousness can do it. But if we come to categorical conclusions and judgments based on the nature of the surface being of a person, then we cannot proceed further in our understanding beyond the surface appearances. If we want to progress in our understanding we must cease from all judgment based on the outer appearance of the surface being.
How We Form Our Judgment
Let us now examine how we form our judgments. We look first at the physical appearance of the person and then observe the nature, character, temperament, behavior, habits and occupation. Based on this observation, we fix labels on the person like he is intellectual, emotional, spiritual, unspiritual, good, bad, tamasic, rajasic or sattwic. Proceeding further, we come to some fixed stereotypal conclusions like “He is an intellectual. These intellectuals can’t feel. They are cold and dry in their hearts” or “He is an artist. These artists are highly emotional and loose in morals”. There may be an element of truth in such judgments but when it is asserted as a fixed stereotype, it becomes an obstacle to a deeper understanding of the person. For example, someone who is intellectual in his surface being may have a great capacity for love and devotion in his inner being. Chaithanya, the great Indian saint, and the founder of a most intensely emotional path of devotion in Indian religion, was a hardcore intellectual before he became a passionate devotee of Krishna. He was a leading scholar and exponent of the school of Logic, Nyaya, engaging in fierce and heated debates with pundits of rival schools of philosophy. But in Chaithanya’s case, his earlier intellectuality was only a minor or secondary trait of his surface being, shaped mainly by environmental influence. In his true or inner being he is not an intellectual but a sublime God-lover, Bhaktha. Similarly, two leading philosophers of ancient India, Ramanuja and Madhwa, founded major philosophical systems, wrote complex and intricate intellectual treatises and argued intensely with pundits of rival schools. But in their inner being they are devotees of God, who preached the path of devotion and surrender to God. Even Sankara, the most profoundly intellectual among Indian philosophers, wrote beautiful devotional poetry like Soundarya lahiri, expressing child-like devotion to the divine Mother.
There are two more factors which falsify our judgment and distort our understanding. First are the likes and dislikes of our surface vital being and the second are the notions of our surface mind. The judgments of my ego are based on likes and dislikes. If I like him he is good. If I don’t like him he is not good. The logic here is very simple. I like him, so he must be good. I don’t like him, so he can’t be good. But the likings and dislikings of my vital ego is not based on the goodness of the person but on physical attraction or vital affinities. My vital ego can’t understand that just because I like a person, he need not necessarily be good and the other one whom I dislike need not necessarily be bad. The person whom I dislike is perhaps a better human being than the one whom I like. When I come to my mind, my judgments are based on some fixed mental and moral notions. If someone conforms to my conceptions of truth and goodness, then I regard him as good, if he doesn’t then he is not good. My mental ego can’t understand that if a person doesn’t conform to my conception of goodness he was probably living according to a higher standard of goodness and wisdom which I have not yet attained.
This happens quite often in the realm of spirituality. I have my own conceptions of spirituality or a spiritual man like for example someone who is simple, humble, serious, ascetic, nonviolent, innocent, serving the poor, forgiving even the enemy who hurts him. When I come across someone like Sri Krishna who defies all traditional conceptions of spirituality… living in royal luxury, always smiling and laughing, not bothering much about the poor, flirting easily with woman, playing politics with expert skill, outmaneuvering a cunning opponent with greater cunningness, preaching to his warrior-disciple to vanquish the enemy and enjoy the prosperous kingdom… I ask how can such a person be spiritual? Similarly when I visit an Ashram with a traditional conception of spirituality and I see this institution pursuing a more integral spirituality with varied activities; with sadhak and sadhikas mingling freely in colorful tee-shirts and jeans and working in laptops, I ask where is spirituality here? Many people including some great men and women associate spirituality with non-violence and they regard all war and violence as unspiritual. A Jain scripture puts Sri Krishna in the darkest hell because he has preached war! A well known American scholar on religion describes Bhagavat Gita as a dishonest scripture because it preaches war in one chapter and in another chapter counsels peace, gentleness, non-violence.
This kind of ignorant judgments come from a narrow conception of spirituality without a broader vision of the dynamic, evolutionary and graded totality of truth and life. A divine incarnate like Sri Krishna, who lived in the highest spiritual consciousness, does not act or behave according to some fixed moral or even spiritual principle. From his divine consciousness he sees the dynamic totality of truth and life and the truth of each situation, event or a person, and from this wider vision proceeds a response or action which does what is needed to be done, for the progress of truth and the long-term well being of each and the all. If a pseudo-guru or charlatan tries to imitate the divine Teacher’s outer behavior without his divine consciousness, he is deceiving himself and has to face the consequences of his deception. But we cannot judge the spiritual stature of someone like Sri Krishna by his outer behavior. Similarly in the first few chapters of Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna preaches a righteous war to a warrior-prince fighting an unrighteous enemy who has usurped his kingdom through deceitful means. In the later chapters on yoga, when the divine Teacher talks about peace, or gentleness, they are not specific to the warrior-prince but in general to a seeker on the path of yoga. So, the accusation of dishonesty comes from the inability of the American scholar to understand the context and the situation.
The Path to True Understanding
So, if we want to progress in our understanding to deeper, higher and a more total vision of life or truth, we have to cease from all judgment based on outer appearance and rise beyond likes and dislikes of our vital and emotional being and liberate our mind from fixed mental and moral notions or dogmas. The first step is a deep humility which comes from a clear perception of the deceptiveness of the outer appearances and the vast vistas of the unknown and invisible that lies behind the known and the visible, or in other words an enlightened humility which comes from a clear comprehension of our ignorance is the first step to a greater understanding.
Our discussions in this article are confined to understanding of human beings. But whatever we have discussed so far applies equally to the understanding of things and events. Behind the things and events which we see with our outer eyes, there are supraphysical, psychological, cosmic and spiritual forces which we cannot see. What we know is only the fringe of a vast unknown. We can understand truly and entirely things or events only when we are able to see with an intuitive inner vision the invisible and unknown forces which shape or drive them. To receive this higher intuition, the following conditions have to be fulfilled:
- As we have mentioned earlier, an enlightened humility which knows that it doesn’t know and as a result ceases from all judgments based on outer appearances.
- Surface mind should remain silent.
- Freedom from self-interest, with an aspiration seeking to know the truth and not for some personal gain or benefit.
- A receptive passivity in the mind which doesn’t try to seize the intuition and mentalise it, but allows it to settle down and do its work of illumination.
This is a discipline which is not easy to put into practice- as it may appear in paper or on the screen. If there is open or hidden ambition or desire or if the mind is too eager, restless or impatient and try to seize the incoming intuition, the higher inspiration may not come or even if it comes, it may get distorted or corrupted by the turbulent mind.