Wisdom Living

Discernment and humour


The attitude of Discernment and humour corresponds to the six and last paramita called in Sanskrit prajna, usually translated as knowledge, wisdom or intelligence. So why we call it discernment, which is not an ability characteristic only to humans but to all living organisms? Even the most simple ones, like bacteria, can distinguish what they can absorb as nourishment and what not.

The reason is that discernment in the case of humans takes a fundamental role to not only in surviving as it is the case among other life forms but progressing and developing as a society. Its most obvious role is permitting to make decisions based on its intelligence and learned knowledge rather than only on inherited genetic patters.

Discernment was important throughout human history, but now this attitude became crucial. Facing a growing amount of nonintentional and intentional misinformation and confusion, it becomes impossible to make the necessary and often difficult choices for our survival as a species.

Discernment and humour, and other attitudes

In relation to other attitudes, discernment pays different roles but one remains the same: it sprinkles them with a sense of humour, which makes them more effective.  As far the openness is concerned, it helps to restrict the scope of possibilities eliminating views and actions, which,  in the current situation, may become potentially undesirable. For example, while being open to acting compassionately, our good intentions may result in a way that we have not expected nor wanted: we give a drink to an alcoholic because we see his desire and pain. Chogyam Trungpa called such an action “idiot compassion,” which captures its essence. In a more general sense, discernment provides boundaries to spacious quality of openness while humour makes them sharper.

In relation to dignity, discernment plays a role in deciding if our experience or activity is produced by indulgence or perseverance. They may appear similar, but if we allow our innate intelligence, which is one of the key components of discernment, to look at the situation, then the difference becomes clear because indulgence is smeared with some sense of desperation and fear that whatever we do will end, though it may not be obvious — perseverance, on the other hand, is coloured by the joy of energy.  

Concerning patience, discernment assists in making a decision when we should be patient and when we should end, and become more direct. For example,  when we deal with children, patience is, as a rule, necessary, but when we see that they take advantage of that, we see that it is necessary to stop it. The “seeing that” is an act of discernment. However, when necessary, it is the discernment that may “activate” the patience preventing hasty action based on misjudging the situation. For example, when a house plant seems to die, it may be too early to dump it, and we should give it a chance.

Discernment and humour are closely connected with the joy of action but adds to it a sense of humour. It prevets our activity to become a too serious affair. The danger of seriousness eventually spoils the joy. For example, we may see very clearly the terrifying, continual degradation of the ecological state of our planet and become deeply desperate. As a result, we may express exaggerate views, which can be proven to be inaccurate and undermine our credibility.  

A close look at the importance of discernment

The role of the discernment during the history of Homo Sapiens was always significant,  but now it became critically important. One of many qualities of discernment is the ability to look deeper into a phenomenon and distinguish what its essence is and what are only more superficial aspects. This ability to discover the essence permits us to discover the link between cause and its effects. This ability is uniquely human, and throughout the history of humanity was the heart of our progress, but now it also became a matter of our survival. If we refuse to see and address the heart of our current world problems will not be able to stop progressing catastrophy. It is as simple as that.

Here I will provide an example that illustrates it.  By now, every even semi-intelligent person knows that tye overuse fuels producing carbon dioxide is the culprit of the current global warming. And what is a response: we try to replace conventional vehicles with electric ones which seem to be a great idea. However, we carefully ignore that the most current produced electricity is based on burning …fossile fuel, wood and other material producing carbon dioxide. We may say that we address the symptoms but not the source of the disease.

But let us go deeper. It is not rocket science to see that is the overuse of energy unquestionably causes degradation of the environment. What is the key reason of this? Of course,  the production of the colossal amount of totally useless and often dangerous consumer products, military equipment and services. Why do we do it? Because we are systemically indoctrinated that we need them.   Why, because our economy is based on the insane idea of economic growth which needs a continual increase in production.  Why, because it is necessary to make the profit owners, including shareholders of manufacturers, financial systems and entertainment industry. Why, because for more than several thousand years since large private property became part of the social fabric, we are indoctrinated that it is necessary. The change that we experience now is due to the growing scale of both the indoctrination and consumption. Of course, the presented picture is simplified – but simplicity is useful for a condensed demonstration of how we can use the discernment.

Now I will present more subtle and less obvious aspects of utilizing discernment. It was traditionally symbolized by the sword, which cuts to our tendency to become attached to some concept and defend them at any cost. For example,  we often believe that the majority of the phenomena which we observe are images of solid objects. Two thousand years ago, the Mahayanists who powerfully opposed such a view had to use convoluted logic to defeat it. Now, however,  but now it can be shown by, for example, De Broigle and Shrodinger wave models used in physic. Nevertheless, we still cling to the solidity of our beliefs independently if science proves that it is just our illusions.

Discernment is invaluable when used to cut through our clinging to some ideological or spiritual beliefs. It helps to see that we obediently follow what some leaders, gurus or similar characters tell us. On the other end of the spectrum, discernment cuts our tendency to follow the crowd due to fear of being different and alone. It does not mean that it promoted individualism; it promotes our intelligence while individualism is another form of fear.

I could go on providing more areas where discernment saves us into falling into traps produced by continued for thousands of years,  impact and brainwashing produced by stratification, but I hope that it is enough.


All that I said so far sounds very serious, so where in all of that is room for humour?

As I mentioned, the traditional metaphor for prajna was a sword. It symbolizes the ability to use discernment for cutting through fixed concepts of all kinds. However, the sword was a symbol of sharpness two thousand years ago and it was sufficient but now, concepts of our worlds require more precision and sharpness. Our technology offers more precise and sharp tools. For example, if we symbolize the growth of our fixations as face hair, then it is clear that sword would be a clumsy tool to cut them – we need the sharpness of a razor blade. So to finish the metaphor, a sense of humour adds extra sharpness to discernment.

Now, I will define what is meant by the sense of humour because this concept has a great variety of interpretations. It is a realization that any fixed point of view, no matter how important and sophisticated it appears, is nothing more than an elaborate fleeting belief. For example, while treating ourselves very seriously and believing that there is some kind of immutable essence of ourselves, at the same time, we know that this belief is absurd because this “essence”  changes over time. We may also say that the sense of humour is seeing the absurdity of our dualistic logic and accepting innate contradictions of the reality which is discovered already in quantum physics where a particle can be in two different places at the same time.

You may protest, saying that this is too abstract, to philosophical, and ask what about, for example, the problem of the degeneration of our ecological environment, what humorous is in it? My answer is that our belief that by separating the recyclable piece of plastic from the nonrecyclable ones (which I dutifully perform)   will save the planet is humourous because, at the same time,  we see that it is absurd, that such an action just makes us feel better because we do something good. Do not misunderstand it: I do not encourage not sorting our garbage, please do it.

So how so defined humour relates to the attitude of discernment? As I mentioned at the beginning, it makes it sharper by not permitting to become seriously satisfied with our discoveries and, at the same time, promoting the attitude of discernment as such.

It also makes us smile, which inspires us to go on living. Smile is one of the unique and greatest treasures of humanity.

A few final remarks about how to increase the role of discernment and humour in our life

The understanding of the importance of this attitude has to become clear in order to inspire us to look at our life and the world around using our critical intelligence. We must not accept anything because of our misguided intuition, which is formed by an avalanche of misinformation that is covering us. We have to become “investigators” rather than “followers ” and look at everything closely and compare different views. If we do that, our innate ability to see the essence of phenomena will naturally become recovered. Only then we become entitled to make more general statements and act upon them.

Recovery of our innate ability to discern is a tough job because media journalists who supply us with a picture of ourselves and the world, look for “exciting” items for their viewers or readers, and do not care about how factual they are. I will provide a simple example of this attitude. Yesterday, Android supplied me with an article from a site called www.goodnet.org about wonders of Swedish attitude to recycling and reusing. Among others, there was a piece praising their way of burning trash to produce electricity. Unfortunately, the journalist has not realized that this method produces as much carbon dioxide as it would while burning fossil fuel. 

Before finishing, I wish you great success because without regaining and utilizing our discerning wisdom and sharp sense of humour, we have little chance for life based on wisdom.

3 thoughts on “Discernment and humour

  1. Thank you, dear Tomek, It was inspiring. As usually you explain, very practical approach.

  2. Humour : when ego and all its serious works become weaker sens of humour arises spontaneously as space, light and wisdom. Doing resting the mind is cutting through (ego). No humour no enlightened society. The Mukpo monarchy became very serious. It seems it starts with Chögyam Trungpa itself !? What do you think ?

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