We practice meditation, mindfulness and virtuous action in the hopes we'll attain a happiness and sense of security that is longer lasting and less conditional than what we've experienced so far in life. We're all familiar with the rewards of our world which, in all its bountiful array, lends its rewards only temporarily. As the buddha explained in the eight worldly winds (Lokavipatti Sutta, AN 8):
"Monks, there are eight worldly winds push us about in the world. Which eight? Gain, loss, fame, obscurity, praise, blame, pleasure and pain. These are the eight worldly wind that push us about in world."
The sutta goes on to detail how
—the world can praise our efforts, then suddenly switch to showering us with blame
—the world can provide us with pleasure, then just as quickly strike us with painful events
—the world can give us a moment of fame, then snatch it away, leaving us with obscurity
—the world seems to have much to gain, and just as much to take away (note how fortunes have been won and lost in seemingly safe investments)
Moreover, the pleasures of the world involve taking and holding onto things that certainly aren't ours to claim… as the buddha taught, the world is swept away, there is nothing we own, everything slips away, there is no security, no one is in charge, nothing external can quench our craving for peace of mind and security (see the Ratthapala Sutta).
So, perhaps paradoxically, the goal is for us to experience another form of stress: samvega (dismay) and nibbida (revulsion), the disappointment of being attached to the insufficient pleasures of the world. We've been feeding on, and made ourselves dependent upon, sources for happiness and security—such as the plaudits won in careers, fame, people pleasing and popularity, families, etc—that are conditional and out of our control. As the Buddha said, people can dislike you if you talk too little, too much or just the right amount.
So we need to experience a real dismay and dissatisfaction to pull away from the pull of sensual pleasures--no matter how many times we've wound up dispirited with the results.
We set our sites on finding tranquility that's dependable and within our grasp; we start the arduous task of training the mind, learning how to be with ease amidst the spiraling thoughts, worries, concerns, memories.
Still, in the early stages of practice we bring along the old tendency to involve the world, believing it still has a dominant role in our lasting happiness.
The first misapplication is self-judgement: we haven't found security in the world because we compare unfavorably to other, successful, happy people, and what results is low self-esteem and condemnation; there's something wrong with us. We see how others are happy in their jobs and come to the conclusion that they're doing something right, we're doing something wrong. If we could only learn to be exactly like that happy couple over there on Easy Street well, our struggles will be over.
Of course, such conclusions are driven by external appearances; we can't reach into their minds and see how much stress anyone is experiencing; people can seem perfectly content while being internally agitated and miserable—people are good at masking their true discomfort. Therapist's couches are filled from morning to evening with folks who appear well adapted to the work climate. And self-condemnation does little but make us feel convicted to stay imprisoned in our suffering. For if it's a problem with me, how can I get rid of it?
The second misapplication is that we haven't developed enough acceptance of the world, or learned to fully appreciate the way of things. This was similar to the debate between Jung and Freud: Jung wanted to give people a way beyond simply seeing the causes of their misery, so he brought in all sorts of mysticism into his practice. Freud despaired that at best we'd wind up still neurotic and despairing, as the world would permit nothing more.
The Buddha teaches that our lack of acceptance of the world, our dismay at its allure, is actually a motivator; its what leads us to the spiritual path. Throughout the canon The Buddha was quite capable of expressing dismay at the foibles and dramas of the spiritually unpracticed.
The third misapplication of spirituality is that we've become ego-driven individuals and have lost touch with our innate connectedness to others. Apparently this line of thought argues that our ego, with its inner biographies and narratives obscures our awareness of the true life force within us all. If we could get past our self-centeredness, we would be restored to happiness. I gather this connected energy is conceived as being harmonious, life affirming, a buddha nature. (That The Buddha never mentioned "Buddha Nature" has done little to dispel this assertion.)
Alas, The Buddha taught that when we cling to connections it leads to suffering, that interconnectedness with the world and other people, in and of itself, is stressful. This is what is clearly demonstrated in the Chain of CoDependent Arising (Paticca-Samuppada): making contact (phassa) with the world (lokha) with the goal of finding lasting happiness externally (avijja) leads to stress and suffering (dukkha). While people essentially share the same emotions and thoughts, trying to unite with others for peace and tranquility is not a sustainable endeavor.
The problem with the above misapplications is that they're aimed externally, rather than internally: The Pali Canon establishes that the road to inner peace is paved with a balanced equanimity (uppekha), a state wherein one looks at the flux and flow of inner states from the remove of the body (also established in Yoniso Manasikara), observing without getting pulled away from present awareness and roundedness.
Judging our actions and motivations, seeing that we're not being skillful, is the foundations of karma. But its not driven by a comparison to others, or self-condemnation; rather its driven by investigating what the goals and motivations behind our actions alone really are… We're looking for a sense of how to behave externally, when it starts by asking ourselves whether we're really acting in the best interest of ourselves and others, whether we're living in competitiveness or compassion. If we find our actions are wanting, we change them, but we don't turn it into a view of self.
Developing acceptance and non-duality is useful, but only when it comes from within. for example, awareness and a detached acceptance of what arises within, or sati-sampujhanna, is essential to developing mindfulness.
—we can watch all sorts of stressful body and mind states arise and pass without getting involved or pulled away.
—we can suspend and investigate our normal aversion to what's difficult and attraction to what feels easy.
Experiencing with a detached perspective can give surprising insights: i've seen that there are two kinds of body sensations; the first type is expressive, upward surging, attached to old feelings and traumas that have not been given attention. the second type of sensation is repressive, downward capping, dedicated to censoring and prohibiting the expression of socially awkward impulses. while the first sensation is often located in the belly or shoulders, the second sort (perhaps closely similar in nature to freud's super-ego) is more likely to be found above, in the throat or jaw, as its an inhibitory function.
Finally, it is also worth noting that the buddha did indeed have a non-dual agenda for the mind, in that in the concentrated states we're asked to lower our awareness into the body, experiencing eventually a dissolution of the mind / body separation. another approach is to experience the breath flowing up into the eyes and into the area where we experience consciousness. eventually we can reach a stage described in the Bahiya sutta, where the buddha teaches there is no thing out there or in here or in between, that nothing moves because everything is in awareness.
So, in summary, there are uses for judgment, acceptance and non-duality; they are valuable tools when they're used within the proper domain: focused externally or on self, and they lead us nowhere. Focused on our actions and experiences, and they lead us further on the path to liberation.