There is a wonderful story told of two monks who had renounced the world and taken vows of celibacy and simplicity. One monk was older and the other was relatively young. They were wandering in the forest one day and came upon a rushing river. On the edge of the river stood a beautiful young woman. Her face was marked by anxiety as she explained to the two monks that she needed to get across but it was rushing too fast and she was afraid. She humbly requested the monks if one of them would be good enough to carry her across. The older monk immediately picked her up gallantly and carried her to the other side while the younger monk walked by his side. Upon reaching the other shore, the monk placed the woman safely on the ground, and they bid her farewell.
One week later the two monks were sitting under a tree for their morning meditation when the younger monk suddenly exclaimed, “Okay, I’ve been keeping this inside me for the last week but I cannot do so anymore. I cannot believe the way you picked up that young, beautiful woman and carried her body so close to yours. After taking vows of celibacy before God, after promising to forsake the touch of a woman, how could you wrap your arms around her body and carry her tightly in your arms? I have had such respect, even reverence for you for so many years, and now I feel so betrayed. You are not a true monk! You are not a true celibate. I must find another companion with whom I can tread a path of purity.”
The elder monk listened with a faint smile growing across his face. “My brother,” he said when the younger monk had finished his tirade, “I carried that young woman in my arms for approximately two minutes and left her by the side of the river, after setting her down safely. She has not been with me since. You, on the other hand, have carried her in your heart for the last week. You have slept with her, eaten with her, breathed with her and even meditated with her because you cannot get her out of your mind. She is living permanently in your heart. It is your own heart you must seek to purify, not the actions of your traveling companions.”
How many precious minutes of each day do we waste by judging others? Too many, I think. We barely even realize how much we do it. We analyze and judge each other’s actions, words, and even each other’s articles of clothing or choice of perfume. We assume, naturally, that if we were in their shoes we would do nearly everything better. But, like in the case of the two monks, it is really our own hearts which need to improve, not the actions of another.
This constant judging and condemning of others pollutes our own hearts, wastes our precious time, creates boundaries and barriers between us, and steals our peace. We are so busy rehashing everything other people did during the day, of which we did not approve, that we cannot fall asleep at night.
Our constant judging of others is not only detrimental to our interpersonal relationships but it also wrecks havoc on our own mental health. The more we become focused on others and their perceived faults, the farther we stray from our own path. To judge others makes us feel superior, confident, worthy. We value ourselves in comparison to others. Therefore, to put others down makes us feel higher in comparison. However, this is not the way to succeed in any arena of life.
We may feel temporarily good when we put others down. Our egos get a natural “high” when we criticize and condemn the other. Yet, we are actually sinking lower and lower in our own quest for true peace.