In INNER KNOWLEDGE by Frans Stiene4 Comments

The more we try to interpret an experience and clothe it in words, the more we remove ourselves from it. We are left with fixed concepts, and dualistic view concerning the world, so our responses and reactions to daily situations do not flow from a natural state.
—Tarthang Tulku

Why is it so important in our modern world to let go of labeling, distinguishing, and judging? One of the reasons why we have so many conflicts in our world is that we constantly label distinguish, and judge. There is no harmony, no balance, no flow from our natural state, our true identity.

Labeling, distinguishing, and judging is done because we constantly are comparing. Comparing what is good or bad, comparing what is smelly or not, comparing what is hot or cold, comparing, comparing, and comparing. Our constant monkey mind of comparing never seems to stop. This in itself will deplete our energy over time, creating a tired, stressful, closed-minded state.

When we compare we create trouble, and this kind of trouble might end up in not being compassionate to others and even to ourselves. But when you do not observe the thought carefully, you may find yourself labeling or judging the experience. When this happens you will not be contacting the deeper, more subtler levels of the experience, and your awareness will be somewhat superficial.
—Tarthang Tulku

Let’s take a closer look. We might say, the tree I see in my garden is tall. But is it? How do I know it is tall? Because I compare it with something else. Yes, compared to the small bush next to it the tree is indeed tall. But compared to the big mountain behind it the tree is small. So what is the tree, tall or small? Neither! It is just a tree and that is all.

The more we compare, the more we label, distinguish, and judge. But what would happen if we stop all of that? If we see things simply for what they are, what would take place? We would see the tree just as a tree, neither tall, ugly, beautiful, just a tree. We would see a person just for what they are, neither ugly or beautiful; we would see the experience for what it is, neither good or bad. This in turn creates a sense of gratefulness for each experience we encounter.

This kind of seeing without labeling, distinguishing, and judging creates compassion. Most of the time we have limited compassion because instead we choose to use comparisons. We compare, label, distinguish, and judge someone as nice or not nice, someone as ugly or pretty, someone as stinky or pleasant smelling. Thus, even if we want to help someone, we gravitate towards the things we like and not towards the things we dislike.

Thus labeling, distinguishing, and judging creates duality: things we like and do not like. This in turn will create attachments to things we like and we will push away things we do not like. And to take that a step further we now have sown the seed of anger, worry, jealousy etc.

We get worried when the person who we do not like asks for our help; we get angry when the stinky person is asking something from us; we become jealous when someone else is talking to our beautiful friend. As we now start to see, labeling, distinguishing, and judging is a breeding ground for anger, worry, fear and jealousy, just to name a few. Do these traits sound familiar?

This is why any serious spiritual practice is all about letting go of labeling, distinguishing, and judging, because that way we can become compassionate human beings. This in turn will create a compassionate world in which we see equanimity and harmony. Choose compassion over comparison. Choose compassion over categorizing.

For whenever we are involved in categorizing or interpreting, the mind cuts itself of from the experience, causing us to become caught up in and endless progression of thoughts.
—Tarthang Tulku

About the Author
Frans Stiene

Frans Stiene


I love travel, teaching and writing, and have been teaching meditation internationally for over seventeen years. I am passionate about studying Japanese esoteric Buddhist teachings like Shingon, Tendai, and Shugendo, and then teaching them from a less strict viewpoint so that we all can benefit from these wonderful teachings. My main focus is helping people to remember their own true identity, because it is only through remembering this that we can start to create a world full of compassion and wisdom. My website. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.

Photo by Dayron Villaverde, USA

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  1. Frans Stiene Author

    Hi Erik and John,
    Yes indeed in one way there is no dust, no mirror to clean, no mirror, but that is so hard to understand for many. Most of us need to dust the mirror first for a long time to gain that insight. I think it is the rare person who can have this direct insight in its fullest. Most of us need techniques and practices, like dusting. In my teachings I often use the imagery of a lamp and lampshades. If we have many lampshades, attachments, anger, worry, etc…then it looks like it is dark and the light is not on, but if we look correctly we see that the light is always on, always has been and always will be. No need to take the lampshades of if we see directly into the light. But again we can understand this intellectually but the direct experience of this, for many, is to slowly take the lampshades of. I wish we all could straight away realize that there is no mirror to attract any dust at all because then our world would be a peaceful world.
    Great discussion, thank you.

  2. Erik Pema Kunsang

    Allow me to quote some good remarks to this from Facebook:

    John: This is essentially the poem of the candidate who was NOT selected to be the Sixth Patriarch. Erik, its good to give everyone a test drive, but it’s also good to vet and revise.

    Erik: I know that, John, but I fail to see the value of being a nonduality snob. The tradition of Buddhism is one in which insights and methods are combined at all levels for the most pragmatic effect. That way thousand of practitioners have consequently gained the insight that not only the dust but also the mirror are insubstantial and beyond polishing. Too early, f. i. just quoting the Sixth, doesn’t make us necessarily have Huineng’s insight:

    菩提本無樹, Bodhi is originally without any tree;
    明鏡亦非臺。 The bright mirror is also not a stand.
    本來無一物, Originally there is not a single thing —
    何處惹塵埃。 Where could any dust be attracted?
    — Huìnéng (the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism)

  3. Frans Stiene

    Hi Erik,
    I think it can help us during our daily life. So often we get upset because we label. For instance I was at a fair yesterday and wanted a Chai Late, there was a big lineup for drinks and I had to be part of a performance soon. So if I label; it is going way to slow, why is the guy just chatting the customer and not making coffee, he is going way to slow…etc…then I am standing there full of anxiety and worry. Instead I just took it as it was and when I got my Chai I had lots of time left before the performance. When we take things as it is life becomes so much easier. I travel a lot for teaching meditation and often planes are delayed or cancelled so those are good times to practice letting go of labeling. In fact I find it helps me also to soften my jetlag. Because when I label time I get distracted, worried about sleep etc.., if that makes sense.

  4. Erik Pema Kunsang

    Excellent advice for the meditation state. Would you say that labeling and distinguishing is warranted at other times, if yes, when?

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