Keisuke Yamamoto; Untitled; 2007; Oil, acrylic on canvas; 145.5 x 145.5 cm; Courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery
Keisuke Yamamoto; Untitled; 2007; Oil, acrylic on canvas; 145.5 x 145.5 cm; Courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery

When the Buddha told Ananda that the entirety of the practice lay in having an admirable friend, he wasn’t saying something warm and reassuring about the compassion of others. He was pointing out three uncomfortable truths—about delusion and trust—that call for clear powers of judgment.

The first truth is that you can’t really trust yourself to see through your delusion on your own. When you’re deluded, you don’t know you’re deluded. You need some trustworthy outside help to point it out to you. This is why, when the Buddha advised the Kalamas to know for themselves, one of the things he told them to know for themselves was how wise people would judge their behavior. When he advised his son, Rahula, to examine his own actions as he would his face in a mirror, he said that if Rahula saw that his actions had caused any harm, he should talk it over with a knowledgeable friend on the path. That way he could learn how to be open with others—and himself—about his mistakes and at the same time tap into the knowledge that his friend had gained. He wouldn’t have to keep reinventing the dharma wheel on his own.

So if you really want to become skillful in your thoughts, words, and deeds, you need a trustworthy friend to point out your blind spots. And because those spots are blindest around your unskillful habits, the primary duty of a trustworthy friend is to point out your faults—for only when you see your faults can you correct them; only when you correct them are you benefiting from your friend’s compassion in pointing them out.

Regard him as one who
        points out
        treasure,
the wise one who
seeing your faults
        rebukes you.

Stay with this sort of sage.

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