If, in your course, you don’t meet
then continue your course,
There’s no fellowship with fools.
I cringe when I read the last word of this verse. Fool. Fool is a pejorative word. None of its synonyms are nice. Since I want to be a nice person, I can’t imagine saying this word outloud, unless I sneak it in behind someone’s back. Yet, Dhammapada 61 is just the first of sixteen verses from an entire chapter entitled “The Fool.”
If I substitute the word “deluded” for “fool” in this first verse, then I feel less judgmental. “There’s no fellowship with the deluded.” But, since we are all deluded, the verse loses it meaning. Maybe I could say “the seriously deluded”?
How can I dance away from the (inner) accusation that I am being judgmental? I might waffle and say I am discerning, not judging someone as good or bad. Although the dictionary gives a bland definition of judging—to form an opinion—the word usually carries the added moral weight of “bad.” In common usage, judging is almost never good.
Using my discerning eye, I look at my more distant foolish “friends,” the places I spend time. Social media, for instance. If you, like me, sometimes say, “Facebook is a time sink,” then you already feel like you are wasting your time with this “friend.” Sometimes, Facebook can be useful, but after my twelve-year friendship with Facebook, I can truthfully say the “cost” of my time outweighs any benefits I receive.
News. Another addicting habit. Can I listen to the news once a day? Can I spend five minutes reading my local paper and let that be it? A friend, who is an empath, says she has to strictly limit her exposure to the news if she doesn’t want her feelings to be overwhelmed.
Now that we’ve gotten started on our list of “foolish friends,” we can add to our personal list. Mine includes shopping, chocolate, and salty chips.
When it come to people, this verse from the Dhammapada sounds judgmental. Who’s to say who is a fool? Am I judging my friends? Then I feel ashamed to admit: Yes, I am judging my friends. I still love them, but maybe I don’t want to spend that much time with some of them. The toxic friend. The drinking relatives. The neighbors who can’t stop talking about politics—even if their view is the same as mine.
When I say I don’t want to take a walk every day with my toxic friend, part of what I’m saying is that I don’t want my mind to be contaminated by her frequent anger and hostility. We are friends, so I will walk with her once a week. That’s enough. I’d rather take a walk by myself than spend too much time with her.
Since my mother was an alcoholic, I do not particularly like to spend time around drinkers. Yet I am related to several. Many of my “social drinker” friends and relatives don’t stop at the single glass of wine suggested by the American Heart Association—which equals one bottle of wine per week. My friends are of the one bottle per night variety, and sometimes that means one bottle per person per night.
I take the Buddha’s admonition about refraining from intoxicants quite seriously. Any intoxicant is the gateway to breaking the other four precepts—sexual misconduct, unskillful speech, taking something—such as air time—that isn’t freely offered, or harming someone.
My sweetie, who limits himself to 1.5 ounces of whiskey per evening, is much more likely to snap at me after his drink. He doesn’t notice it, even if I point it out to him. I myself prefer clarity of mind. I spend quite a bit of effort trying to mindful. Why would I throw it away on a glass of alcohol?
These relationships with in-toxic-ants are surreptitiously toxic, because, at first, they are fun and can even be intoxicating.
Would I really rather be alone than spending time with a fool? As an introvert, I can easily say Yes. I prefer to spend my time with wise friends. Sometimes that means taking a walk by myself in the woods and noticing the wisdom of Nature. Sitting by myself in meditation. Reading a Dharma book by myself.
I call it JOMO—the joy of missing out.