Sangha: Beautiful Friendship

Full of trust you left home
And soon learned to walk the Path –
Making yourself a friend to everyone
And making everyone a friend.
– from “Mitta ~ Friend” by Matty Weingast,
The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns*

Insight Dialogue teacher Jan Surrey points out that, in a “life in the Dharma,” there are three important areas of development underway simultaneously at all times. These three aspects of the Buddha’s teachings, in which we are always engaging, transform us as living, changing beings interacting with others in this world. These areas of development are not designed to isolate us, but instead, they allow us to be more at home in the world, ideally to act more ethically and wisely––to be more awake. The aim of the teachings is to liberate us from the forces of habit which are so prevalent in the predictive mental processes of human beings.

When you make the mind your friend, you will know what trust really is.

These are the three areas of work which Jan Surrey refers to in this process of transformation:

1) Through formal mindfulness and compassion practices, we develop a contemplative, alert, and kind mind, which, over time, gains enough stability to support a clear, balanced mental presence flowing gradually and naturally into our daily life.

2) We learn about the ideas that the Buddha taught as presented in the texts and in varieties of commentaries. Some teachers’ voices, from ancient to contemporary, ring true for us in our own life experiences. They make sense, and again, with the help of the mindfulness established in formal practice, this knowledge can support us with greater understanding and bring the clarity of intention to our daily lives.

3) Finally, there is this third explicitly relational area of development. Through interacting with and exploring relationships with fellow practitioners, and through having conversations about the teachings and the integration of our meditation practices and study into our interface with the world, we strengthen our confidence. In opening our hearts and minds, we ourselves grow larger, more spacious. As we experience the calm, composed, steady and joyful presence of our minds
becoming more accessible to us in relationships with sangha friends, so too we begin to feel a strength flowing into our daily lives, into our relationships with family, friends, acquaintances, and into our attitude towards the collective––the world. Perhaps we notice a greater flexibility and fluidity as we lean in the direction of humbleness and gratitude, as well as that of
empowerment and agency. We change. We are not so cowed by the paradoxes, the cognitive dissonances, the presence of dukkha, pain and confusion. We are finding a place of “peace in samsara,” “a refuge that we don’t have to leave.”

When the whole world is your friend, fear will find no place to call home.

Now, as we approach the end of the year together once again, I notice in my being and in the world the powerful play of light and dark. The contrast between these two polarities and their startling interdependence are nakedly apparent, and I remember a little gatha from the Christian tradition by Madeline L’Engle:

This is the irrational season––when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason––there would have been no room for the child.

In this and in so many moments, I feel extremely grateful to all of you––all of us, who are co- creating the wonderful surprise of our Valley Insight Meditation Society community. Together we make these three essential areas of Dharma Life development real in our lives. Together we make possible the birth of peace and joy and light in the world within and beyond us––again and again. Perhaps this is what the Buddha meant when he told his dear friend Ananda that noble friendship, beautiful friendship, is the whole of the spiritual life.

So I am saying thank you, always––and wishing you well now as the year turns. May all beings be at ease, whatever living beings there may be, omitting none.

I have followed the path of friendship to its end,
And I can say with absolute certainty,
It will lead you home.

** Except for the verse from Madeline L’Engle, all the quoted lines in the essay are from the poem “Mitta ~ Friend” by Matty Weingast, The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns

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