Sunday, January 1, 2012

Are you missing the point of Buddhism?

The point of Buddhism is friendship.

That might sound trite, and it might conflict with the emphasis we think we have been taught. Isn't the point liberation, to be liberated from the bonds of greed, hate and delusion? Or, depending on one's perspective, to liberate all beings? Yes, you might say that. But in practice and in truth, it boils down to a deep, all-pervading friendliness.

The idea is portrayed in the movie Dersu Uzala, where a Mongolian guide on a Siberian expedition repeatedly and confusingly talks about the many "men" who come and go in the forest. Eventually it becomes clear he often means animals. He does what he can to take care of these "men," even if he never sees them directly. What wanders up, what presents itself, even what presents itself subtly, Dersu Uzala treats with friendship. He takes care.

Many people, even those well-versed in Buddhism, appear to miss that point. One look at how Buddhism is discussed on the Internet reveals a continuing drama of hardened ideology, confrontation, personalized comments, recriminations. Some of the "Buddhism" perpetrated on these sites is embarrassingly far, far from the Buddhadhamma. Some moderators unfortunately contribute to this spreading and pernicious misapplication of the teachings. "He is no friend who, anticipating conflict, is always alert in looking out for weaknesses." But it truly is this simple: If it is not friendly-minded, it is not Dhamma.

The Buddha taught: "Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life." ("Upaddha Sutta: Half (of the Holy Life)" (SN 45.2), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 1 July 2010, . Retrieved on 3 January 2012.)

The message in that sutta is much deeper than merely to associate with others who are admirable. When we stop for a moment and consider the anatta, impersonal nature of reality, we can appreciate that Dersu Uzala had it right: Men -- people -- are all around us, and how we treat them is a reflection of the kamma we are working with, a reflection like in a mirror. Our thoughts are our companions. Our feelings are our companions. Our sensations are our companions. And so on. They are the "people" who populate this field of experience, and we make of it what we do.

We can ask ourselves whether these companions themselves are admirable. If we do so, however, we have to be careful, because it can be easy to answer, no, and to fall back on the habit pattern of aversion. Alternatively, we can ask ourselves whether that friendship is admirable, whether that companionship is admirable. If we do so, then it is about the relationship. And then we have a greater opportunity to grow. What relationship do you have with these thoughts, feelings, sensations, mental constructions, and all of the companions who happen to wander up? Is it admirable? Can you meet them with equanimity, allow them to be, and not attack or reject?

Equanimity is not a state of apathy, of not caring. Equanimity is engaged, aware, open, ready. One might assume that equanimity is neither friendly nor unfriendly, but that is not the case. Equanimity is friendly-minded, at its core. And so must be awareness.

Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie involves meeting whatever arises with awareness and equanimity, understanding its not-self nature, understanding its changing nature, and then maybe we will smile. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.