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IN THE COMPANY OF THE VIRTUOUS

 

While residing at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to Venerable Channa.

 

Channa was the attendant who accompanied Prince Siddhartha when he renounced the world and left the palace on horseback. When the prince attained Buddhahood, Channa also became a monk. As a monk, he was very arrogant and overbearing because of his close connection with the Buddha. Channa used to say, “I came along with my master when he left the palace for the forest. At that time, I was the only companion of my master and there was no one else. But now, Sariputta and Moggallana are saying, ‘We are the chief disciples’ and are strutting about the place.”

When the Buddha sent for him and admonished him for his behaviour, he kept silent but continued to abuse and taunt the two chief disciples. Thus the Buddha sent for him and admonished him three times; still, he did not change. And again, the Buddha sent for Channa and said, “Channa, these two noble monks are good friends to you; you should associate with them and be on good terms with them.”

In spite of repeated admonitions and advice given by the Buddha, Channa did as he pleased and continued to scold and abuse the monks. The Buddha, knowing this, said that Channa would not change during the Buddha’s lifetime but after his demise (Parinirvana) Channa would surely change.

 
 

On the eve of his parinirvana, the Buddha called Venerable Ananda, his closest disciple to his bedside and instructed him to impose the brahma-punishment (Brahmadanoa) to Channa; i.e., for the monks to simply ignore him and to have nothing to do with him.

After the parinirvana of the Buddha, Channa learning about the punishment from monks, felt a deep and bitter remorse for having done wrong and he fainted three times. Then he owned up his guilt to the monks and asked for pardon. From that moment, he changed his ways and outlook. He also obeyed their instructions in his meditation practice and soon attained arahatship (that is, the condition of the noble one who has attained the last stage
of the path).

The Meaning of the Story – True Friendship

This story highlights the invaluable significance of good friendship. Sharing quality time with someone creates a bond. In any relationship, these factors often give rise to people identifying themselves as special in regard to each other.

When the Buddha renounced his royal heritage, only Venerable Channa left with him, and he remained with the Buddha until the Buddha attained Nirvana. Thereby, he shared an important stage in the Buddha’s life, and also spent substantial time with him.

 

Relying solely on this association with the Buddha, Venerable Channa developed a misguided notion of an elitist self-importance. He made no attempt to earn his status through self-effort.

The Buddha rebuked Venerable Channa three times for his improper behavior towards the two chief disciples. Then, the Buddha counseled him to forge a friendship with them, because they offered him genuine friendship.

He had, however, become imprisoned in his own ego-centric self-aggrandizement and ignored the Buddha. He had lost sight of the goals of self-transformation, and self-realization, which the Buddha’s teachings were imparting.

He continued his stubborn defiance to the very end of the Buddha’s earthly sojourn. Still, the compassionate Buddha left behind pertinent instructions, which ensured his spiritual progress and liberation.

 

For his dharmic progress, his repentance, and deference to the chief disciples, was definitely crucial. However, the friendship of the chief disciples, was of paramount importance.

The Buddha described friendship, in the Sigalovada Sutta. He pointed out 8 definitions of friendship, highlighting 4 bad types and 4 good types.

 

Those who are bad friends:

1) Are eager to benefit from you.

2) Only pay lip service and do not follow their words with commensurate actions.

3) Approve both your good and bad actions.

4) Influence you towards harmful habits, like drinking alcohol.

Also, the Buddha mentioned friends, who only seek you out for self-gratification, personal gain and selfish motives. Such friends are manipulative and temporary. They quickly absent themselves, when their needs are not met.

 

Baba illustrates this point beautifully, with the following analogy:

“When a pond is full of water in the rainy season, there are a million frogs in it; but when the water runs dry, the frogs jump out of it. In the same way, when one has power and wealth, people gather around him in this world but as soon as he falls upon evil days and adversity stares him in the face, all his best friends leave him.”

 Genuine friendships are not based on status, wealth, elitist association, or self-serving needs.

According to the Buddha, good friends:

1) Help in times of need.

2) Are prepared to even forfeit their lives.

3) Protect you from evil.

4) Rejoice in your success, and honor those who praise you.

The Buddha’s definition of friendship is centered around spiritual advancement. Genuine friends lead you towards spiritual and dharmic progress. They always dissuade you from wrong and harmful actions. Good friendships are based on selfless love, and incorporate human values.

When we are able to understand these definitions of good friendship and translate that into genuine expression, in all our interactions, in every relationship, then, the divine spark ignites in ourselves and others.

“It is essential to suffuse all our actions with Dharma. That Dharma should be dedicated to the Divine. When this happens, life becomes sanctified,” Swami says.

Realistically, friendship with everyone, may not be possible, but it is certainly possible, and essential, to befriend God, who resides in every heart. We are then inviting God into our life. God, who ultimately, is our only true friend.

References: Dammapada Chapter 6 verse 3
and Sathya Sai Speaks 21 - 8

- Heart2Heart Team


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Vol 5 Issue 06 - JUNE 2007
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