I have been experiencing greater calm lately, yet at some moments I seem to judge others, as in public places or in general. I understand this as contempt, though I don't really believe it; I don't believe I am better or that people are worthy of contempt, but the thoughts arise anyways and I try to just observe them with equanimity. Often, I experience quite a few of these thoughts, and this impedes my calmness.

What is the best manner to deal with contempt, or just comparing oneself with others in general?

  1. Does metta help, and what kind?
  2. Should I watch the thoughts with equanimity or alter them?
  3. Is there some other meditative technique that would help?

Thank you


3 Answers 3


May I suggest a book: Only don't know by Zen Master Seung Sah. It is not directly related to your problem, but I think its title provides an answer to your problem.

The way I deal with these sort of judgmental thoughts, is by "not knowing". 99% of these judgements are based on our superficial assumptions about these people's lives, based on a few signs we can observe. If you think about it that way, it becomes clear that we construct an idea of these people in our heads, and then we judge that idea! We think we are superior or inferior than an idea we ourselves constructed. Isn't that funny?

In Buddhism, one of the key elements of applying Dharma in practice is becoming good friends with ambiguity. Normally we are used to clarity and the confidence that comes from clarity but in Buddhism we recognize that this clarity is illusory. In fact we know very little about the world, may be 5%, and the rest we infer ourselves. From this inference, which most of the time is not very accurate and sometimes outright wrong, come all kinds of problems. So one of the essential skills in Buddhism is remaining open, unconclusive, ambiguous with regards to people and the world. This is known as "beginner's mind", and is what's referred by Zen Master Seung Sah as "only don't know".

Thanissaro Bhikkhu at some point gave a very good talk (I listened to it in recording, it must be available online but I can't find it at the moment) on Ego and Egolessness. The gist of his message was that, basically, Ego is a giant overgeneralization that we make, a horrific simplification about ourselves. We create this caricature of who we are, and then struggle to fit that with (again) a caricature of the world that we likewise created. Instead, the Buddhist approach is to be free from generalizations, free from the caricatures. 99% of our judgemental thoughts come from these sort of generalizations or caricatures - of either ourselves or others.

So the main technique to overcome these thoughts of contempt and social comparison, whether in your favor or not, is to learn to challenge your own assumptions and generalizations. Perhaps talk to some people and try to really understand their personal world. It may not be the happiest world but in my experience it is almost always a world that has its own logic, its own sense of goodness, honesty, pride. It will usually have some samsaric elements to be sure: attachments, Ego, side-taking, karmic tangles - but within that setting there is always a sentient being that is doing their best to be good. The definition of "good" may be skewed in their system of coordinates, due to traumas and all kinds of karmic situations, and their level of skill and motivation may vary - but they always want something good and try to achieve that within their limits.

When you stop creating caricatures of people, and try to see the world through their eyes - nothing but compassion arises.


Instead of judging others or looking down at them in contempt, you can use this opportunity to cultivate the brahmavihara of compassion (karuna).

Why are they the way they are? For e.g. if your grandmother who has senile dementia lashes out at you in anger or doesn't behave like normal people do, would you be judgemental or contemptuous against her? No. You would be compassionate towards her, because you understand that she has senile dementia.

Similarly, you can generate compassion by trying to understand that other people are suffering and there may be genuine underlying reasons for their suffering and condition. It could be their life situation (e.g. poverty or undergoing divorce) or even mental states (e.g. ignorance, or clouded by anger or other negative emotions).

By tending to your own renunciation, you may be feeling more calm, but by cultivating compassion, you can create the balance needed in dealing with others. Renunciation and equanimity is how you deal with your own suffering. Meanwhile, compassion is how you deal with others' suffering.

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote in "The Balanced Way":

Like a bird in flight borne by its two wings, the practice of Dhamma is sustained by two contrasting qualities whose balanced development is essential to straight and steady progress. These two qualities are renunciation and compassion. As a doctrine of renunciation the Dhamma points out that the path to liberation is a personal course of training that centers on the gradual control and mastery of desire, the root cause of suffering. As a teaching of compassion the Dhamma bids us to avoid harming others, to act for their welfare, and to help realize the Buddha's own great resolve to offer the world the way to the Deathless.

Considered in isolation, renunciation and compassion have inverse logics that at times seem to point us in opposite directions. The one steers us to greater solitude aimed at personal purification, the other to increased involvement with others issuing in beneficent action. Yet, despite their differences, renunciation and compassion nurture each other in dynamic interplay throughout the practice of the path, from its elementary steps of moral discipline to its culmination in liberating wisdom. The synthesis of the two, their balanced fusion, is expressed most perfectly in the figure of the Fully Enlightened One, who is at once the embodiment of complete renunciation and of all-embracing compassion.

Both renunciation and compassion share a common root in the encounter with suffering. The one represents our response to suffering confronted in our own individual experience, the other our response to suffering witnessed in the lives of others. Our spontaneous reactions, however, are only the seeds of these higher qualities, not their substance. To acquire the capacity to sustain our practice of Dhamma, renunciation and compassion must be methodically cultivated, and this requires an ongoing process of reflection which transmutes our initial stirrings into full-fledged spiritual virtues.


Metta or mudita (sympathetic joy) might help but wisdom is of paramount importance.

In short?

• Reflect on the shortness of life

• Reflect on kamma (long term consequences what condemnation will give you)

• Reflect that they too will eventually lose family, friends and material possessions

• Reflect that they are subject to aging sickness and death

Long answer?

There are these five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained. Which five?

"'I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.' This is the first fact that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.

"'I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.' ...

"'I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.' ...

"'I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.' ...

"'I am the owner of my actions,[1] heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.' ...

"These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.

AN 5.57 https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.057.than.html

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