I was sitting next to my meditation teacher at the San Francisco Zen Center one cold and rainy Monday night. His classes were often not that crowded, which was one reason I went to them. I would go to his meditations and talks once or twice a week to practice and study formal Zazen meditation. Everything was silent and calm. I could hear the rain coming down outside. And then he farted. Some people laughed. I noticed a feeling of revulsion and disgust arise in me for a moment, but then I let it go.
Often during his meditations, the teacher would yell out, “Watch your judgments!” “Watch your judgments!” Other times he would do things with the intention of creating strong judgments in us. He would make annoying noises by tapping the wood floor with various objects. He would yell out various things like, “Watch the breath!” or “Watch your mind!” He would even say things like, “Isn’t this boring?”
Some people found his teaching style too offensive and/or bothersome. Sometimes during his talks he would talk about offensive things. He swore a lot and he would sometimes drink whiskey during his classes. He continually pointed out that the more a person attached to judgments, the crazier they became. His teaching style was based in provoking strong judgments in his students, so that we could learn to not be as attached to all the judgments that came into our minds.
I found his teaching style helpful in dealing with my own judgmental mind. I also found him to be very entertaining, poetic and authentic in a world where people often hide behind masks.
The definition of mindfulness that I like is, “The awareness that arises, when we pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” By non-judgmentally, what is meant is not that we do not judge. The brain is a judging machine and judges all the time. To not judge is almost impossible for humans. By non-judgment what is meant is that we are aware of when we are judging. This makes a huge difference because when we are aware that we are judging we are not as defined by our judgments.
Why would we not want to be defined by our judgments? Because like my meditation teacher said, judgments make us crazy. Most of the judgments that we attach to during the day are negative and distorted perceptions of reality. When we judge we are only causing ourselves to become negative people. We end up separating ourselves from things and people as they are, and this often leads to a very unhappy, fearful and rigidified way of living.
When we can be aware of our judgments, but not be as defined or rigidified by them, we have a greater opportunity to live a freer, more mindful life because we are better able experience and accept things as they are.
What my meditation teacher meant by crazy, was living a life that was not able to be aware of and accepting of what is (this is similar to the idea of suffering, which is also the inability to accept reality as it is).
Whether it was him farting, yelling things out during meditations, drinking booze, talking about his love life or making annoying sounds during meditation- my meditation teacher’s instructions on learning how to watch judgments, rather than be defined by them, has been one of the most important teachings and practices I have come across in my life.
And I suppose I am a little less crazy as a result.