Grateful for Pillars and Lanterns

“Yoga or union is the cessation of the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel “Who am I?”  Sri Bramananda Saraswati’s translation for Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

From “Uji” by Dogen

An ancient buddha said:

For the time being stand on top of the highest peak.
For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean.
For the time being three heads and eight arms.
For the time being an eight- or sixteen-foot body.
For the time being a staff or whisk.
For the time being a pillar or lantern.
For the time being the sons of Zhang and Li.
For the time being the earth and sky.

For the time being a pillar or lantern.

camping-lanterns-main_feI was driving through one of the snow storms that blazed through New York last winter.  After just having been in a minor snow swerve accident, I then had to drive a further 8 hours (normally 4 hours) home because conditions were so intense. Many insights and lessons came out of that experience.  One was to realize just how important it is to have someone in your life who is a pillar and lantern. Both to lean on, be supported by, and gather strength from. As well as someone who brightens, cheers, and gently guides you forward.  This person was my eyes when I needed, last minute route change navigator, nerve soother, and perhaps most importantly – was willing to “shake it off” in the middle of a rest stop food court so that I could release enough stress to keep going.  There were a few stares.

“Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.
Help someone’s soul heal.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd.”

The importance of friendship – the pillar and lantern kind – is rooted in the dharma practice:

Ananda said to the Blessed One, “This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”

“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.

“And how does a monk who has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, develop & pursue the noble eightfold path?

Upaddha Sutta

group talkBuddha goes on to give reasons why this is so. One of the first reasons is the quality of conversation you will hear. Obviously not every one of your conversations will be about the path, we all need to debrief on the Walking Dead.  Yet conversation between friends is one of Buddha’s main recommendations for practice. In a small satsang that meets monthly, after we chant, and before we eat, the host introduces a question that everyone will answer. Sometimes it’s spurred by a poem, sometimes by an important dharma point someone is struggling with, sometimes it’s one of those questions that you contemplate but don’t often find a place for it to land in regular conversation.  Having someone (or a community of comrades) to dig in on those topics with is important to the path.

If you don’t have a community in place – look around, start one. It only takes one other person. Food is a great addition. Maybe start with meditating together.

full-heartThe next time you’re on the mat – think of someone who is a pillar and lantern for you, think of a specific person and examples of them being this in your life. Then let your intention for practice to be really grateful that day. Not dedicating the practice to them, or sending them energy, just being really really grateful for a friend. Let them sit right in your heart as you practice. And well up with him or her, without needing to do anything with it, but be filled, supported, brightened.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb