One day, Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, comes back from a day of meditating. I imagine he’s been out in the forest with one of the senior monks, perhaps Sariputta or Mogallana, and they’ve had some inspiring conversations.
Back at the monastery, Ananda greets the Buddha and says, “This is half the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”
The Buddha reproves Ananda. “Don’t say that Ananda. Don’t say that. Noble friends and noble conversations are all of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, she can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.”
This clear teaching points me toward developing relationships with my spiritual friends. I feel very grateful to my Dharma friends who keep me on the high road, even when i’m tempted to go low.
But what about my “ignoble” friends? I love people who don’t know anything about the eightfold noble path and aren’t interested in it.
I asked Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia this question. “I love my ignoble friends” She responded, “Then be a noble friend to them.”
Reading this verse from the Dhammapada, I imagine the ascetic Buddha walking down a dusty road. A farmer falls in beside him and chatters on about his sons and his crops. Perhaps on another day, a villager talks about the politics of the village he lives on. Or maybe a young man is in love and tells the Buddha how beautiful the girl is. Oh, if only his parents would agree; if only her parents could afford the dowry.
That’s when I’d want to extract myself as gracefully as possible and ask, “Which way are you going? Oh, I’m taking the other turn at the crossroads.”
Then I imagine another scenario as the Buddha happens to meet up with Sariputta. “Which way are you going, friend? Let’s walk together.”
I start my day by spending Zoom time with my noble friends—my meditation friends. At six, I meditate for an hour on Skype with Elizabeth, who I met at a five-day retreat with Culadasa in September 2017. That retreat offered a bi-weekly study group as a follow-up, and one Sunday afternoon, Elizabeth asked, “Does anyone here want to meditate for an hour in the morning?” I jumped at the opportunity.
In his book The Mind Illuminated, Culadasa recommends meditating for at least an hour a day; I knew I was unlikely to follow through on that intention all by myself, so I am grateful for the spiritual companionship. After an hour of meditation, we chat about our practice for a few minutes. I am inspired by Elizabeth’s steady progress.
Thanks to Zoom, I can hop over to the 7 a.m. meditation at Vermont Insight Meditation Center. Though I am always five or ten minutes late, the timekeeper lets me into the silent Zoom room. Afterwards, I stick around to chat and catch up on any local Dharma news.
My neighborhood meditation group meets at 8 a.m. as it has for the past 24 years. It’s a big enough group that there are always at least two of us; in Zoom times, there may be five of us; if we meet in person, there may be eight. After catching up on neighborhood news and reading a page of a Dharma book, we sit for twenty minutes. We close with chanting the refuges and reciting the precepts.
By 9 in the morning, I’ve spent between two and three hours meditating with my Dharma friends, my noble friends. These are the friends who always encourage me to take the high road, even when I’m feeling low.
Following in the Buddha’s footsteps, I spend as much time as possible with my wise, spiritual friends.
Every time I think a thought, the self refreshes itself like a website refreshing itself when I hit the Refresh button. When thoughts peter out to occasional wisps, the self drifts off into scattered clouds, and the spacious, clear blue sky can be seen.
Thoughts are often self-referential, which is to say, i’m often talking to myself about myself, not unlike James Joyce’s character, Mr. Duffy, who lived a short distance from his body.
Outdoors, in the garden is a good place for thoughts to drift away. Suddenly, there’s just a body walking on a path to the vegetable garden. Hmmm. I wonder who she is. A coalescing of very familiar habits, including mental habits. Continue reading →
On Monday, Bill went to the dermatologist to have skin cancer removed from his bald head. On Wednesday, he went to a neck specialist because he can barely turn his head. On Friday, he had knee surgery for a torn meniscus, and, by the way, the surgeon removed a one-centimeter sized floating piece of cartilage.
That’s three doctor appointments in one week. One definition of old age is when you have a doctor’s appointment every week. Bill had three in one week. The neck specialist diagnosed the problem with Bill’s neck as O.L.D. His neck is old. Arthritis plus the vertebrae and discs are worn thin. Nothing to do but go to physical therapy. Continue reading →
From the foldings of its robe, the Ghost of Christmas Present brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
‘Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.’ exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Wheregraceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. Nochange, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, hasmonsters half so horrible and dread.
‘Spirit. are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more.
‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down uponthem. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy,for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye.Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.’ Continue reading →
A year ago, i wrote 10 blog posts about Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which i see year after year for its Buddhist teachings. Now i have yet another insight into this old chestnut of a story.
The Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge his own death, and this is his transformative moment. We may have several insights in our meditation practice, but only a very few of them lead to a transformation of our personality. Continue reading →
What is a ghost anyway? A disembodied spirit; a vague, shadowy or evanescent form. Once in a while we might say, “He’s a ghost of his former self,” meaning the resemblance remains, but the body seems to be thinning out.
In The Foam Sutta, the Buddha says, “Form is like a glob of foam.” What??? Is my body no more substantive than dishwater or a bubble bath? Continue reading →
When we practice loving-kindness, we first infuse ourselves with kindness and friendliness. Then we think of dear friends and relatives and pervade our minds with more benevolence. Next, we consider neutral people–those people we see in our daily lives, whose names we may not know–the grocery store clerk, the bank teller, the post office clerk. But what if we had no neutral people? Continue reading →