How to Judge a Person’s Character

(Anguttara Nikāya 4.192)


by Nyanaponika Thera & Bhikkhu Bodhi

Four facts about a person, O monks, can be known from four circumstances. What are these four?

By living together with a person his virtue can be known, and this too only after a long time, not casually; by close attention, not without attention; by one who is wise, not by one who is stupid.

By having dealings with a person his integrity can be known, and this too only after a long time, not casually; by close attention, not without attention; by one who is wise, not by one who is stupid.

In misfortune a person’s fortitude can be known, and this too only after a long time, not casually; by close attention, not without attention; by one who is wise, not by one who is stupid.

By conversation a person’s wisdom can be known, and this too only after a long time, not casually; by close attention, not without attention; by one who is wise, not by one who is stupid.

(1) It was said: “By living together with a person, his virtue can be known.” On account of what was this said?

Living together with a person, one comes to know him thus: “For a long time the actions of this fellow have shown weaknesses, defects, taints and blemishes as to his morals; and he was morally inconsistent in his actions and conduct. This fellow is an immoral person; he is not virtuous.”

In another case, when living together with a person, one comes to know him thus: “For a long time the actions of this fellow have shown no weaknesses, defects, taints, or blemishes as to his morals; and he is morally consistent in his actions and conduct. This fellow is virtuous; he is not an immoral person.”

It was on account of this that it was said: “By living together with a person, his virtue can be known.”

(2) Further it was said: “By having dealings with a person, his integrity can be known.” On account of what was this said?

Having dealings with a person, one comes to know him thus: “This fellow behaves in one way if he has to do with one person and in different ways with two, three, or more persons. [144] His earlier behaviour deviates from his later behaviour. The behaviour of this fellow is dishonest; he is not of honest behaviour.”

In another case, when dealing with a person, one comes to know him thus: “In the same way as he behaves towards one, he behaves towards two, three, or more people. His earlier behaviour does not deviate from his later behaviour. The behaviour of this fellow is honest; he is not a dishonest man.”

It was on account of this that it was said: “By having dealings with a person, his integrity can be known.”

(3) Further it was said: “In misfortune a person’s fortitude can be known.” On account of what was this said?

There is a person afflicted with the loss of relatives, wealth or health, but he does not reflect thus: “Of such nature is life in this world, of such nature is the uptake of individual existence, that the eight worldly conditions keep the world turning around, and the world turns around these eight worldly conditions, namely: gain and loss, fame and disrepute, praise and blame, pleasure and pain.” [145] Not considering this, he is grieved and worried, he laments and beats his breast, and is deeply perturbed when afflicted with loss of relatives, wealth or health.

In another case, a person when afflicted with the loss of relatives, wealth or health, reflects thus: “Of such nature is life in this world … and the world turns around these eight worldly conditions, namely: gain and loss, fame and disrepute, praise and blame, pleasure and pain.” Considering this, he neither grieves nor worries, nor does he lament or beat his breast, nor is he perturbed when afflicted with the loss of relatives, wealth, or health.

It was on account of this that it was said: “In misfortune a person’s fortitude can be known.”

(4) Further it was said: “By conversation a person’s wisdom can be known.” On account of what was this said?

When conversing with a person, one comes to know: “Judging from the way this fellow examines, formulates and brings up a problem, [146] he is a stupid person, not a wise one. And why? He does not utter words that are profound, calming, sublime, beyond ordinary reasoning, subtle, intelligible to the wise. When he speaks of the Dhamma, he is not able to explain its meaning, be it briefly or in detail. He is a stupid person, not a wise one.”

Just as if, monks, a man with good sight, standing on the bank of a pond, were to see a small fish emerging and would think: “Judging from its emergence, [147] from the ripples caused by it and from its speed, this is a small fish, not a big one”—similarly, when conversing with a person, one comes to know: “This is a stupid person, not a wise one.”

In another case, when conversing with a person, one comes to know: “Judging from the way this fellow examines, formulates, and brings up a problem, he is a wise person, not a stupid one. He utters words that are profound, calming, sublime, beyond ordinary reasoning, subtle, intelligible to the wise. When he speaks of the Dhamma, he is able to explain its meaning, be it briefly or in detail. He is a wise person, not a stupid one.”

Just as if, monks, a man with good sight, standing on the bank of a pond, were to see a big fish emerging and would think: “Judging from its emergence, from the ripples caused by it and from its speed, this is not a small fish but a big one”—similarly, when conversing with a person, one comes to know: “He is a wise person, not a stupid one.”

It was on account of this that it was said: “By conversation a person’s wisdom can be known.”

These, monks, are the four facts about a person that can be known from the above four circumstances.

(4:192)

 

Source:  http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh155-p.html#S68

Related topic: Don't judge others! 

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