A note on friends and the roles they play

Namaste all!
Last week was Friendship week, which I came to know thanks to some messages I saw in the Facebook. Then on tuesday morning, in the morning class I gave a talk on the subject, about which I have been requested, or rather, ordered by some students to write. So let me try that, to the best that I can remember.

The class started with me asking this direct question, ‘Who is a friend’?
‘The ones we go out and eat with’. Michelle said.
‘Friends are people who stand by you when you need them’ somebody else said.
Parul then said that friends are special instruments who guide us or help us along in our journey.
All of the above written are answers highlighting different aspects of friendship.
In a scriptural sense, I then talked about an episode narrated in the epic Mahabharata, where Bhishma, one of the central patriarchal figures of the family gave a talk to prince Yudhishtara on how to rule his kingdom. Among the many topics covered in that amazing talk on leadership, Bhishma also talked about friendship. He categorized different types of friends which the prince should discern. They being
common friends, the kind of friends with whom we share some common likes and dislikes, can share jokes, can have dinner together etc (kind of what Michelle said).
contrived, dubious friends- referring to those people who make friends with those personalities purely because it is uplifting to their social esteem, or socially more advantageous, to be known as a friend of say, that movie star, that sports star, the prince/ princess, etc.
dangerous frinds- those whom you find an ease to converse with, who seem to be very sincere when they ask you personal questions, and when they say they will never reveal what you say, but who later will reveal all of that in the most distorted way, creating lot of damage.
spiritual friends- a special and rare category of people, termed dharmatma. Meaning those who uphold the dharma. These are friends whose qualities of dharma we try to automatically emulate, not the way they dress, or such things, but their commitment to dharma; which makes us more compassionate, more connected and more evolved human beings. Now, dharma means many things, and just for simplicity we can say it stands for righteousness, moral responsibilities etc. For eg, anyone who moves around with Waikuan, Susan Kee etc will atleast start to think about composting, about minimizing plastic usage etc. Whenever we visit Lenghee or Laypeng, we feel so inspired by their absolute commitment to recycling. They and many among you are really holding up that dharma, the responsibility of each and everyone who is living on earth. In fact all of you have inspired me and sandhya in some way. Christina’s love for plants. Madeline standing up for abused children. Julin helping Burmese refugee children. And so on and on. Now, your friends, when they move around with you, a part of them will automatically wish to emulate these wonderful qualities of dharma in you. And you also might get inspired by qualities in them.
Now, if we look over from Mahabharata to Yoga sutras, we find Patanjali telling that if you want to stabilize the mind (manasa sthithi nibandhana), the first quality you should develop is your capacity of maitri, which is from the root mitr, meaning friend. Only after cultivating the attitude of friendliness can we ever aspire to develop other qualities such as compassion, goodwill, equanimity etc.
Other great ones also speaks in the same language. For eg, once a close disciple of the Buddha, Ananta, had some difficulties in the path. He must have been supported during this time by his friends. Later, Ananta told Buddha that he understands now that friendship accounts for 50% of success in ones spiritual journey. To this Buddha said, ‘not 50 %, but success in the earlier days of practice is entirely dependent on friendship’.
Another incident which highlights the importance Buddha gave to friendship is revealed in his talk to another student, Magiya. Magiya went for a solitary retreat, despite Buddha saying that he was not ready to do so. But nevertheless Magiya still went. But soon, though sitting in the solitude of a beautiful mangrove, Magiya started to get overpowered by sensual thoughts, and he found his meditation practice really struggling. He rushed back to Buddha and asked why he could not continue his retreat despite being motivated and having clear intention. Buddha answered that one has to have five favourable conditions before one goes for solitary retreat. Of this the first and most important condition is having good spiritual friends. The second is having enough knowledge of Buddhas teachings so that he can have meaningful discussions with his spiritual friends. And so on. (meaning I dont remember the next three conditions).

I think this is what I mainly spoke about on tuesday’s class.
Then went about telling the students who were present in the class, and now to all of you, the fact that even Bhishma said that friends of the category of dharmatma is rare to have.
However, all of you Manasa student-friends are people belonging to this tribe- the ones who are sharing the dharma which every living person should uphold, which is, to be awake for life, to be awake to each moment,.to be present for the body, for the breath, for the mind, to really be alive to life as it unfolds moment by moment.
And along with improvement in your practice along the years, I see that many of you have blossomed to become good yoga friends. In fact when some people ask me whether they get anything free for paying the registration fee etc, I sometimes tell them that they will get something free if they stay for some time, which are good friends.
So, all of you kind of satisfy the first requirement told by Buddha, that is having good fellow spiritual friends, or atleast those who are trying.
But the next point is the key, that is, talking about the teachings, about that which was taught or discussed in the classes. After class do we do that? Or, have we transformed our spiritual dharmatma friends to the level of common friends by talking only about yoga clothes, websites, other workshops to attend, which teacher to hunt, politics, restaruants, movies etc?. Buddha clearly laid the idea to his students to talk about his teachings among each other, as such talks within the cocoon of friendship will foster their understanding.
Then, taking the friendship day as an opportunity, and at the risk of sounding a bit egoistic, I went on to tell the students present that what I am teaching is my humble effort in passing on what patanjali and others have taught; which I do so in the way that these teaching have blossomed in my consciousness after many many years of almost continous contemplation and looking at the world, into movments, into moments, into words, into body, breath as well as this ego, (which some people think is a bit high), as well as the mind, its tricks, its stories and so on.
And then I requested all regular and commited students to do just this, to talk about the teachings, to talk about the concept spoken in the class, and not keep on saying, ‘ I didnt understand a word he said’. Instead you can just be open and talk among yourselves, as well as with me or Sandhya.
Talking and discussing is important. As well as exercising the right of a yogi friend in admonishing other yogi friends. So, you see your friend constantly talking about the body, about the deficiency of body, then you have the right to advise them. Ok, first say Omm to silence them and to remind them of yoga, and then say, ‘dont be so critical of body.. body is not at fault, in fact even your desire to shape up the body is not at fault; but your clinging to this desire, clinging to see the result of the desire, this is not good. You have a healthy body now, everything is impermanent. Enjoy the health, the presence of a functioning body. Don’t just see it like a thing which has to be dressed up’ etc.
So, coming to today, what was discussed yesterday? The 6 part inhale and exhale?? What is that? How about that part where you heard something like, the 6 part breath linked to the 6 stages of life?? Then what about elemental awareness of breath??
Now I dont want to be the party pooper.. you can definitely talk about all the fun things too.. but after you finished the yogi talk first..
Looking forward to join in one of your upcoming group talks, bye for now..