The Four Sights… A depiction of the suffering witnessed by the Buddha.

Judgement: the Root of Suffering

Matthias Rose
9 min readOct 1, 2018

It begins with comparison. Comparison seems like a simple enough thing. A tiger is different from a rabbit. A blueberry is tasty; a pokeberry is poison.

In fact, scientists call our brain a comparison device. Neurologically, it is a pattern recognition machine. We match sensory inputs to patterns wired by genetics or experiences into our neural structure. We identify perfect matches (“Oh, there’s my friend Jack!”), similarities (“Gosh, that sure looks like Jack!”), and differences (“If that guy had a smaller nose, he might look like Jack.”)

The never-ending work of the brain is to process sensory data, build internal models of that data, and compare the two.

This seems like it should be a feature, not a bug! Look at how amazing we are. In a crowd of hundreds I can recognize my beloved from fifty feet behind her just by some nuance of the way she walks.

Comparison itself has some serious detrimental effects on human experience (see below), but it is also the foundation of a true poison: judgement.

Cain, by Henri Vidal, in Paris

But first, consider shame. Michael Lewis, in Shame: The Exposed Self, defines shame as “the comparison of the self’s actions with the self’s standards.”

It works this way: in that internal model the brain has constructed, I have an image of how I “should” be, or how I want to be, or how I wish I was. I then compare my observations about myself against that model, and identify the myriad ways I fall short.

Similarly I compare myself to others. My family, friends, peers, and celebrities. Making these comparisons and passing judgement on myself gives rise to new beliefs: that I am insufficient, perhaps broken.

Shame, it is interesting to note, has the etymology of “to cover” (proto-Indo-European: *kam, to Germanic skamte and schamm, to English ‘shame’). Think of the story of Adam and Eve:

Genesis 2:16–17: And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.



Matthias Rose

Guide to vamachara; tantric spirituality & practice; sacred sexuality.