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  Ask the Guide: "Exploring the 'No Socializing' Guideline"
(In Our Practice, Spring 1998)

By Cheri Huber

Question: Recently someone in the Sangha mentioned to me that he was going to start following the "no socializing with members of the Sangha" guide line. After that conversation my mind was reeling and spinning. What is this guideline about? How come I had never known of it before? What a fool I am to have suggested having coffee or dinners with other Sangha members.What must everyone think of me? What about community? What about Sangha members who were my friends first, before we found the practice? What about my boyfriend??! And the biggest one: what other guidelines are there that I don't know about? Where can I get the big book of guidelines so that I can ensure I am being a "good" Zen student?

Answer: The message from the vast majority of our social conditioning is, "Be perfect, so that you can get it right, so that you will be good, so that you will be accepted and loved, so that you will get what you want." Zen practice has nothing to do with social conditioning except that we constantly watch it, see it for what it is, and see through it. Zen practice leads to freedom, not to being a more acceptable, successful, conditioned illusion of separation.

Until you know this, life is like starting on a trip from a place that is not where you thought you were, and heading for a place you believe to be real but, in fact, exists only in your imagination. Being a really good person on the trip will not get you where you want to go. It you are suffering because you are caught in the delusion of an imagined person you think is real, in an imagined place you think is real, going on an imaginary journey you think is real, to an imagined destination you think is real, it will not console you that you are a perfectly socialized human being while caught in that delusion. Any person pursuing the expansive quality of an awareness practice must ask the question, "Do I want to be right/good, or do I want to be free?"

If your answer is that you want to be free, you would do well to face the loss of your illusions of being good. Say good-bye to being right. Toss "knowing" onto the heap while you're at it.

If you want to know, be right, be good, be certain, be "safe," don't torture yourself with your illusion of following a path of freedom.

Guidelines are exactly that. My dictionary gives a definition of, "any guide or indication of a future course of action." We have guidelines to assist us in stepping back from conditioning. When we are able to see conditioning for what it is, we increase our chances of freeing ourselves from the grasp karma has on us. As the karmic grip is loosened, we are able to move in directions that are not programmed. We are able to be in the moment, responding to the moment, rather than to the habitual reactions of a false identity. The Buddha suggested that there are certain areas of conditioned sensations, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that a person wishing to free him/herself from suffering would be well advised to attend to. (Notice that we are not saying here that this person, through this attention will please God, earn a place in heaven, avoid punishment, gain praise or financial success.) There are certain areas that we could say lead to "unconsciousness," but which actually lead us to such a consciousness of conditioning (such a "this is all there is" identification) that we are doomed to reinforce our karmic conditioning. In other words, when I drink alcohol, I increase my chances of "relaxing" into patterns of speech, thought, feeling, and/or behavior that will lead toward rather than away from suffering. (Once again, please be aware that we are not saying a person shouldn't relax into patterns that will lead toward rather than away from suffering.) And, this practice of awareness is for people who have decided they want to end suffering. No rules here. No good/bad, right/wrong. What we are talking about has nothing to do with right/wrong, good/bad. "My head really hurts!" The question is not "what are you doing wrong?" Ah, the head is hurting... Let's pay attention. Let's notice.

So, specifically, why a guideline about not socializing with people with whom we practice? How about paying attention for a while to what happens when people socialize. Better yet, how about looking to see what happens with you when you socialize. You might read our excerpt from "The Way of Transformation", as you consider the issue. In my experience, socializing usually, if not always, supports social conditioning. But don't take my word for it, find out for yourself.

Guidelines usually appear in a person's conscious awareness when the individual is ready for the consideration of that subject. We won't publish a "big book of guidelines" because we would then never be able to get people to realize they are suggestions of places to attend, not rules. Someone recently told me that years ago I compared guidelines to "blot dots" on a highway. It's not wrong to touch a blot dot. Hitting one, or even driving on them doesn't make you a bad person, and hopefully it will call your attention to the fact that you just might be straying out of your lane and into someone else's.

A good image for folks doing spiritual practice.

I find, over and over, that it is not what I do in life that is significant, but what I refrain from doing. So as I pay attention, I look to see if what I do in a given situation leads toward or away from suffering. Do I want to take a chance on remaining ignorant, hoping nothing I do causes harm to someone, or would I like to look into the matter and see what is so?

What about your boyfriend? Again, look to see. This is not a contest. And thank goodness, there are no right answers. Is how you interact with your boyfriend, your friends, leading to or away from suffering? Don't assume you know. Begin to notice, and see.

Other guidelines: Don't assume; pay attention; leave people alone; take responsibility for yourself; don't beat on yourself; be as compassionate as you can possibly be; don't settle for a previous insight; be kinder to yourself than you think you should be; guess that everyone is suffering as much as you are; do your best; always see where you can expand your awareness; don't give up on yourself; never quit; remind yourself that you don't know especially anything about yourself! Anybody have any other particular favorites? I know a recent In Our Practice had a list of guidelines compiled at a Sangha gathering. If you didn't get a copy of those, we can probably find one for you. Thanks for the question. I appreciate this opportunity to explore these issues.


Copyright 2003-2011 Cheri Huber