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.