Monday, November 15, 2010

Follow the Rules

“Just follow the rules.” It’s that simple.

So perfect freedom is in—is under some rules. If there are no rules, there is no freedom. As long as you have rules you have freedom. Without being aware of the rules to try to obtain freedom means nothing. –Suzuki Roshi

There is no freedom without the law.
Ancient Greek teaching Cecile B. DeMille put into the mouth of Moses on Mount Sinai

The first rule of Buddhism is follow the rules. The more profoundly we understand that rule, the less of anything else there is to know. The more stringently we follow that rule, the more clearly we see. The more we realize that rule, the more liberated we become.

There are implicit and explicit rules. Following them reduces our anxiety and clears the path for us. Implicit rules arise from conditions, are specific to the moment and ideally should be followed without thinking. Explicit rules are formally or informally codified. The challenge of explicit rules is that they are speculative rather than experiential, rigid rather than arising from current conditions. Nonetheless, they are rules and our obligation is to follow them.

Implicit rules look like this: When the alarm rings, the rule is to get up. When I take off my jacket, the rule is to hang it in the closet. If I use a credit card, the rule is that I be able to pay the balance when the bill arrives. If we want to rid ourselves of the constant anxiety we feel, we get up when it is time to get up–no snooze alarm and angst over arising, we need to put things away after we have used them–the way we taught our children to do, and we need to be financially responsible–we don’t need to spend more than we have.]

Explicit rules look like this: I don’t kill, steal, lie, abuse others or do drugs. I drive within the speed limit; I don’t fudge on my taxes; and I follow the company policies at work. [I follow the precepts and the laws and the policies and procedures.]

Our obligation as practitioners, an obligation that we see arising from meditation, is to learn ways to live in peace and harmony–with ourselves, our families, our friends, with all sentient beings, the planet and universe. Rules are what allows us to meet that obligation.

Rules restrain our minds, they give us order. They reduce our suffering and allow us to walk the path more stably and effectively. When that happens, our defilements and attachments lessen and we become more content, more confident and more peaceful, especially in the face of difficulties. Following the rules restrains our desires for sense stimulation and sense objects. As that craving and clinging for the things we see, hear, taste, touch, feel and think diminishes, we become calmer and more patient. Without rules, we would live in the constant dukkha of chaos.

Meditation helps us to see the rules clearly, contemplation and study help us to clarify the rules, and observing that we are calmer and happier when we follow the rules gives us faith to continue, especially when we disagree with a rule.

There can be no freedom without rules. Question is, why don’t we just follow the rules?


  1. Some art rules by one of my favorite artists:

  2. Carl, you talked about this briefly last month during your Monday evening class in Kankakee. One thing I have learned over the years is that sometimes lessons take time to sink in.

    When I was driving to work the very next morning, I was driving a little too fast, as I often do. I came over a hill and there was a police car watching traffic. I said a few things under my breath, something along the line of "darn it". He didn't pull out right away, so I told myself that I was lucky and got away with it.

    Just a little farther down the road, I was waiting at a stop light. Guess who pulled up right next to me? Of course, it was the same police officer. I glanced over at him and saw that he was looking at me. Even worse, he followed me as I turned off the main road onto a side road. He stayed right behind me for a mile before turning on his lights. I said a few more choice words along the line of "darn it" again.

    I turned off the road into a driveway, which happened to be my workplace. I saw the police car make a U-turn and follow a car going in the other direction.

    It wasn't until some time later, while I was meditating, that I remembered what you had said. I finally realized what you meant. If I had followed the rules, I wouldn't have had that stressful drive to work. My life can be much simpler and less stressful when I follow the rules. After I belatedly came to that conclusion, I found that you had written about it here.