Siddhartha Guatama lived more than 2,500 years ago. One thing we tend to forget about him and great beings like him is that he was a man. Just a man. He had friends, a wife, at least one son that I know of, haters, the need to eat and sleep and defecate. He was bound by the same natural laws as the rest of us. During the many years he traveled across India, teaching and begging for food on a daily basis (he would have it no other way!), he was constantly attended by his close friend and cousin, Ananda. Ananda was his main man, his ace boon coon, his day one homie. He was also said to have the gift of photographic memory; everything the Buddha said, Ananda remembered. Noah Levine says, “when we quote the Buddha we’re really quoting Ananda” because he would remember what was said and then pass it on after the Buddha had died. Anyway, Ananda was chewing on the mountain of information his cousin had taught over the years and one day had an epiphany. He rushed to Siddhartha’s side:
“Sid, cuz, I figured it out. Ha. You a wild boy, you aint even tell nobody this part…”
“What is it that you’ve figured out Ananda?”
“Ah ok ok, check it out. This whole spiritual life that you’ve been teaching: meditating, four noble truths, eight fold path, the three jewels, blah blah blah, you know what I’m talking about…AT LEAST HALF of the spiritual life is about Spiritual Friendship!”
I kind of feel like The Buddha could have let Ananda have this one, but alas he was in a very good teaching mood.
“Not so Ananda, not so!”
Now Ananda was confused. He was sure he remembered everything his cousin had said correctly, he knew he put the puzzle pieces together without flaw. How could he be saying “not so?”
Buddha continued, “Not so Ananda. Spiritual friendship is the WHOLE of the spiritual life!”
In most Buddhist/Zen stories, the questioner becomes instantly enlightened after the master sets him straight on something. But poor Ananda would not be enlightened for quite some time, not until after Buddha died. (I just wanted to throw that in there because I always felt sorry for Ananda about that since everybody around him was getting enlightened and he was Sid’s ‘down like four flat tires’ homie and he got nothin but really that’s a different story for a different Tuesday)
Buddha and Ananda’s story reminds me of one of the main reasons Katy and I started Creating Space. It is difficult to practice in a vacuum, and since we are a couple of irreligious heathens, no church will have us. It is important to have a spiritual community in which to practice with, to lean on, to share your gifts, and to test your insights. I was reminded of this story on Sunday when the group was talking about what direction to go and how we can be better companions to one another on this path.
How about you? Do you have a community on which you can rely? How important is spiritual friendship to you?