Friendship with the Lovely

Butterfly in the lilacs

Continuing on the theme of noble friendship, in the Upaddha Sutta, Half of the Holy Life,  Samyutta Nikāya, 45.2, we read as follows:

“Thus have I heard. On one occasion, the Blessed One was dwelling among the Sakyans in the town of Nāgaraka. Then the Venerable Ānanda went to see the Blessed One.  Having approached the Blessed One, he paid homage to the Blessed One, sat down to one side, and said to him:”

“Venerable sir, this is half of the holy life, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship.”

“Not so, Ānanda! Not so, Ānanda! This is the whole of the holy life, Ānanda, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship. When a monk has a good friend, a good companion, a good comrade, it is to be expected that he will develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path…”

“And how does a monk who has a good friend, a good companion, a good comrade, develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path? Here, Ānanda, he develops right view based on seclusion, dispassion, and cessation, maturing in release. He develops right intention… right speech… right action… right livelihood… right effort… right mindfulness… right concentration, which is based upon seclusion, dispassion, and cessation, maturing in release. It is in this way, Ānanda, that a monk who has a good friend, a good companion, a good comrade, develops and cultivates the Noble Eightfold Path.”

“By the following method too, Ānanda, it may be understood how the whole of the holy life is good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship: by relying upon me as a good friend, Ānanda, beings subject to birth are freed from birth; beings subject to aging are freed from aging; beings subject to death are freed from death; beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. By this method, Ānanda, it may be understood how the whole of the holy life is good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship.

More than two and a half millenia after the Blessed One, we find ourselves – contemporary Theravāda Buddhist nuns – somewhat isolated here in rural Lanark County, Ontario from other ordained women of this tradition.

This year, however, we feel blessed to meet and associate with good friends in the holy life – sisters in the robe committed to the teachings and the fulfillment of the Eightfold Noble Path. In early May, Ayya Santacitta Bhikkhuni, co-abbess of Aloka Vihara in California, came for a brief visit.

five samanasSoon, two more nuns joined us for a longer stay. Pictured above with our resident community are Sayalays Kusalanandi, a 10 precept nun from Germany training with Pa-Auk Sayadaw of Myanmar, and Khemanandi, an American 8 precept nun ordained by Sayadaw U Tejaniya of Myanmar.

Five nuns, seeking the heart of wisdom and compassion, gathered together for a few weeks of communal practice, work, alms rounds in Perth and sharing facilities, requisites and good company.  And we experienced the rare occasion of a larger female monastic presence and the joy of monastic community.

How does one sustain such joy while living in close proximity? Foremost in our minds was how we could best honour each others’ deeper aspiration for the purification of mind. We committed to the ongoing work of nurturing wholesome intentions, resolving to listen well, to speak well, to act well – with forgiveness, compassion, gentleness and kindness.

And, in these ways, we learn to penetrate to the deeper strata of spiritual friendship through our refuge in the Noble Triple Jewels – ever inspired by the clarity of the Buddha’s wisdom:

“In this whole world, I am the supreme spiritual friend of living beings.
Because, it is in dependence upon me, by relying upon me,
that those who are subject to birth, old age, and death
become liberated from birth, old age, and death.”

Indeed, friendship with the lovely – the highest in each of us – stirs us towards that liberation of the heart for which we have gone forth in faith from home to homelessness.

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