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  • Dayna Culwell

Viveka: The Keys to Happiness

Judgment vs. Discernment


“She’s being disrespectful”. “They are so power hungry”. “Careful, that’s my bad foot”. “This food is horrible!” “Our driver was pretty good”. “Our driver was lousy”.


It’s true that judging can be damaging. It’s also true that judging, the automatic labeling of something as “good” or “bad,” is often the result of a shallow understanding of a situation. But there is a difference between judgment and discernment. Discernment asks us to consider the potential consequences of our behavior.


Definition of discernment: the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure; the act of perceiving something


Synonyms of discernment: insight, perception, sageness, wisdom


Example: the discernment to know when someone is a true friend





Viveka: The Key To Happiness

Discernment allows us to see beyond the unconscious, relentless pursuit of temporary bliss, which keeps us on the hamster wheel of samsara. Viveka is considered as the first requirement for the spiritual journey. Viveka is dependent on mindfulness, our ability to discern in each moment’s experience whether our choices will lead to happiness or to suffering. Viveka allows us to look deeply into each situation and make choices according to the truth of the moment. While judgment looks at a situation and labels it good or bad based on our beliefs, Viveka evaluates whether our or another person’s actions lead to lasting happiness or to suffering. Big difference.




Viveka is not name-calling. It is not snark. Viveka is not a petty judgment. Viveka is, in fact, essential to discovering lasting happiness, the happiness that is not dependent on our external circumstances or those things that will necessarily change—which is everything in our experience.

Discernment is the faculty that asks us to consider the Yamas, the foundation of the system of yoga when we are faced with a perplexing choice. If you’ll remember from my earlier blogs, the Yamas are a list of self-restraints that typically represent commitments that affect one’s relations with others and self.


Earlier this year, I almost put myself in deep water with the Yamas concerning a dispute with my neighbor. Their back yard seemed to be filling up with more and more dead tree branches, as well as junky plastic covers for plants, old wheelbarrows, buckets, tools, and well, more junk. Because Austin has had such a dry season, I first approached the BOD, asking that we advise all neighbors to clean up their yards and keep debris at a minimum in order to avoid small cinders catching fire. When that mostly fell on deaf ears, I got up my nerve to approach my neighbor directly. To my surprise, he didn’t yell at me. He said the debris would be picked up in the next few weeks. I was able to let it go for about a month. One day, sure enough, I saw his old pickup full of old branches and debris, headed for the dump. My self-restraint prevented an all out war of words. We are not cozy, but we live in peace.


There is one other very strong message in this topic on judgment and discernment. That relentless pursuit of temporary bliss. Let’s say you did something really fun today. Perhaps you went to lunch with a friend, or you simply enjoyed a heavenly walk in the cool early morning. Generally, these sweet moments keep us going through the rest of the day. What if, as soon as you walk in the door from your activity, you have to find something else to keep the good feelings coming? There’s the hamster-like activity.



Must you immediately find something else to do, to eat, or drink? Or, can you find “Santosha”, contentment, savoring what has passed. Can you now do something more mundane and be content? On a long vacation, do you find that you must have activities planned for every moment of every day? Or, can you enjoy the lulls as much as you can enjoy the exciting activities?


This is Viveka. This is finding the Key to Happiness!





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