Student: I sent a friend request on Facebook to someone in the Sangha the other day. And I received guidance to look to see if that was in keeping with the Privileged Environment.
Student: I am trying to unpack the “Privileged Environment,” which seems to be a manifesto on “right” relationship in Sangha. I love Sangha. I think they are the coolest people in the world – kind, wise, compassionate, supportive. They are my tribe – they speak my language, share my practice, are interested in what I am interested in, get what I am talking about – I mean who else would know what it means to “reflect” or “get identified!” If I have to define the kind of person I want to be friends with, or be in an intimate relationship with, or work for, it would be someone from the Sangha. And yet these people, the ones I feel most connected to, are the one’s that are off limits in terms of relationship! Why is that?
Teacher: Are you familiar with the Prime Directive?
Student: You mean in Star Trek? Yes. The highest moral obligation of any member of Star Fleet is not to interfere with the natural evolution of an alien species. But what does that have to do with the Privileged Environment?
Teacher: You could say that honoring the integrity of the Privileged Environment is the Prime Directive of this practice. It is the same policy of non-interference in someone’s practice: never be the reason someone is practicing; never be the reason someone stops practicing.
Student: So I date someone in the Sangha. We break up and now I don’t want to participate in practice because I feel constrained that this person who broke my heart is part of the Sangha?
Student: How about coming to practice because I am drawn to the charismatic teacher?
Teacher: Perhaps what you are drawn to is the teacher’s presence – a presence that reflects the teacher’s depth of practice. In other words, it’s the authenticity that shines forth because she is committed to practicing and waking up that we resonate with. But conditioned mind cannot see that. It takes everything personally, so it makes it about the person!
Student: Yes. I know that experience in reverse! I receive guidance that threatens ego and that identity starts to argue to leave practice but blames the teacher, the facilitator or the Guestmaster for being mean to “me.”
Teacher: You see why we practice within the Privileged Environment? We want to make it clear that practice is NOT personal.
Unlike other practice principles that can be pithily and succinctly stated, the Privileged Environment defies simple definition. Perhaps because it is a composite teaching of many principles, we have to practice patiently with it so that it can reveal its myriad facets. Here are some areas for exploration.
The Buddha recognized that the spiritual path can’t be walked alone. This is why he left us with Bodhi, Dharma and Sangha. If we practice by “ourselves,” then we will be guided by the voices of egocentric karmic conditioning self/hate. They are, after all, our most intimate relationship (see Cheri’s latest blog.) So we are invited to walk together with others who are walking this path. But without some guidelines, we might as well walk with ego by our side. The Privileged Environment is the finger pointing to how we “relate” as Sangha and how practicing as Sangha assists us to awaken.
The dictionary defines relationship as a state of connectedness. We are conditioned to believe that we can “achieve” this feeling of fulfillment by finding the perfect person and being in relationship with them. However, experience tells us that conditioned human interaction, even with loved ones, can leave us depleted, frustrated, empty and misunderstood.
“The ego is the veil between humans and the Divine.” Rumi
We cannot see, in the course of daily conditioned interaction, that the feeling of emptiness we seek to fill is the result of deep identification with egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. The veil of ego creates the delusion of being a “self” separate from all that is. When the veil drops, when we are with all that is, we feel complete, fulfilled and satisfied. It is a coup for egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate that it has bamboozled us into believing we are needy in some way and should leave our awareness of belonging to Life to seek wholeness through a process of “something wrong and not enough!”
The container of the Privileged Environment is constructed to mirror life, authenticity, conscious compassionate awareness. Within it is our best opportunity to drop the veil of ego and reclaim our experience of being an integral part of a non-separate whole.
We can’t define the Privileged Environment but we can articulate its components: silence, custody of the eyes, custody of the mind, an inward focus of attention, bells to mark the passage of time, bows for greetings. There is a specific protocol for interaction: communication via notes, refraining from touching, no profanity, facilitated conversation, speaking from experience. There is an explicit invitation to reveal the ego, to put it out there, talk about it, scrutinize it under the microscope, deconstruct it, disown it, and, ultimately, transcend it.
By following the guidelines, we learn to recognize that the vociferous resistance of the ego is not who we are. We learn to trust the practice process as we experience the benefits the structure offers– the sense of intimacy, safety, belonging, connection, ease and compassion. There is an opening to a more authentic way of being. We are introduced to presence, awareness, and intuition. We learn to bring our issues into guidance. We develop a faith in life honoring the deepest wishes of the heart. We recognize that when ego takes over, we can return again and again to the Truth (Bodhi) and the Teachings (Dharma) as the pure frequency of Life that guides us back to harmony with the wisdom of the heart.
Practicing within the Privileged Environment trains us to leave the ego out of the interaction. By offering an alternative to our conditioned ways of interaction, by insisting that practice is the sole reason we come together, the Privileged Environment gives us a chance to explore how life relates to life in the absence of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate.
Honoring the Privileged Environment is saying yes to Life’s “friend” request.
As Sangha, we follow the Prime Directive of this practice and experience its benefits – connection, support, unconditional love. For 48 hours, explore practicing this policy of non-interference in relationships outside the Sangha. How does taking ego out of relationship transform the experience of the interaction? Record and Listen to what arises.
Practical Tip: As you go about your day, notice the various ways in which Life invites friendship and relationship. How do you accept? Record all the ways in which Life has been a friend.