A beautiful reading

On Monday we had a meditation evening on Sangha Night, led by Padmachitta, with readings on friendship from the Buddhist tradition and also a couple of Swedish poems (by Karin Boye and Hjalmar Gullberg, from the end of ’Förklädd Gud’ in the latter case). The first reading was from A guide to the Buddhist Path, by Sangharakshita
(photo by Dhammarati), which struck me as very to the point and a beautiful Dharma Teaching. Here it is:


’Now the Exalted One saw that brother lying where he had fallen in his own excrements, and seeing him he went towards him, came to him, and said: `Brother, what ails you?’ `I have dysentery, Lord.’ `But is there anyone taking care of you, brother?’ `No, Lord.’ `Why is it, brother, that the brethren do not take care of you?’ `I am useless to the brethren, Lord: therefore the brethren do not care for me.’

The main point of this section is contained in the sick monk’s last reply to the Buddha: `I am useless to the brethren, Lord: therefore the brethren do not care for me.’ This is a very shocking statement. It implies, sadly, that people are interested in you only so long as you are useful to them. It implies that they see you not as a person, but as a thing. (This distinction between treating a person as a person and treating a person as a thing was given currency in Western thought by the philosopher Kant.)

To treat a person as a thing is to treat him unethically. This is how the other monks were treating the sick monk. He was not useful to them, therefore they were not interested in him. He was left lying there in his own excrements. No one took care of him. There was no kindness between the sick monk and the other monks. There was no ordinary human friendship. Neither was there any sympathy, or sensitivity, or awareness. There could not be, because these are qualities you can experience only in relation to a person you actually see as a person. The other monks did not see the sick monk as a person. To them he was like an old worn-out broom or a broken pot. He was useless to them, so they did not care for him.

I need hardly remind you that we ourselves often behave like this. We often consider people primarily in terms of their usefulness. We do this even within the spiritual community. Sometimes we are more interested in someone’s talents and capacities (as a bricklayer or accountant or lecturer) than in what someone is in themselves. If you are treated in this way, when you are no longer able or willing to employ your talents you may have the disappointing and disillusioning experience that nobody wants to know you. Nobody wants to be `friends’ any more.

We must learn therefore to see persons as persons. There must be kindness between us. There must be spiritual friendship (Kalyana Mitrata). There must be sympathy, sensitivity, and awareness.

There are two principal aspects to persons treating each other as persons. These are communication and taking delight. These two are of the essence of friendship (friendship is what develops when two people start treating each other as persons).

Even in the case of ordinary friendship there is the great benefit and blessing of being able to share all our thoughts and feelings with another human being. It has been said that self-disclosure, the making of oneself known to another human being (being known by them and knowing that you are known by them), is essential to human health and happiness. If you are shut up in yourself without any possibility of communication with another person you don’t stay healthy or happy long. In the case of spiritual friendship, we share our experience of the Dharma itself. We share our enthusiasm, our inspiration, and our understanding. We even share our mistakes. Communication then takes the form of confession.

The aspect of taking delight means that we not only see a person as a person, but we also like what we see. We take delight in what we see, just as with a beautiful painting or poem, except that here the painting or poem is alive, which makes it very exciting and stimulating indeed. Here we see, we like, we love, a person entirely for his own sake. This too happens in ordinary friendship to some extent and in spiritual friendship to a far greater extent. The primary meaning of kalyanais `beautiful’, and in spiritual friendship we take delight in the spiritual beauty of our friend; we rejoice in his or her merits. Thus communication and taking delight are of the essence of friendship.

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