I had lunch with a good friend of mine I haven’t seen in a year earlier today. He has had a lot of challenges over the last few years, but since I last saw him, he described his life as having changed quite a bit. He said he quit smoking, and stuck with it, as well as lost weight and did martial arts regularly now. The key, he said, was finding a good group of people to be around, and that gave him the necessary support to stay with it.
Interestingly, I also talked with a co-worker yesterday who has been vegetarian for years, and never had meat since. I mentioned I had tried and failed regularly, and he said that for him it was actually easy because all his friends were vegetarian.
Between yesterday’s conversation, and today’s lunch, this reminded me of the famous Upaddha Sutta (SN. 45.2) in the Pali Canon. I’ve mentioned this sutra before, but I think that it bears retelling. In this sutra, the Buddha argues that the entirety of the holy life, as a Buddhist, and as a monk, is to surround yourself with good, like-minded friends:
“…Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, and comrades, he can be expected to develop and pursue the noble eightfold path.
Whether you are quitting smoking, alcohol, losing weight or trying to follow the Buddhist path, it’s so much easier when you are surrounding by people whom you can learn good qualities from. The “stick-it-out” approach really just doesn’t work. We are social creatures, and if we spend too much time around people with negative habits, we’ll be inclined to pick up those habits, but if we socialize with people with positive habits, they’ll just naturally rub off on us.
After recently talking in person with my friend Kyoushin from the UK, he stated that in the Higashi Hongwanji branch of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism there is a lot of emphasis on the compassion and wisdom of Amida Buddha through people we meet, whereas the Nishi Hongwanji branch (found here in the US), focuses on direct experience with Amida Buddha. It’s not that one is right and the other is wrong, just a question of emphasis. I think the Higashi Hongwanji folks are right in that if you really want to see the compassion of the Buddha at work, just look around and see how friends and loved ones support your, even if they’re not consciously doing it.
There is good basis to this in Buddhism, since we have no independent-nature in this existence; we are not separate from anyone around us. This is what is called emptiness (empty of an independent self), anattā (no-self) or independent co-arising. Because we have no independent nature as separate from others and our environment, what people do around us has a direct bearing on who we are and our nature. So naturally, if the people around us follow wholesome habits and lifestyle, our nature will change accordingly. In other words, we’re a product of our environment. So put yourself in a wholesome environment, not a negative one.
Good luck and may the Force be with you! 😉