There is an almost unwritten requirement amongst my good friends that they have to be decent (if not excellent) conversationalists in order to win my devotion and hold my attention for any extended period of time. Last night, after the fireworks celebrating the Fourth, I had the chance to hang out with a group who I definitely consider “good friends,” according to this definition.
The conversation was all over the place, but kept coming back to topics of the spiritual nature. Can man live in perfect balance with the planet? What else is there after this vessel called a body dies? What is the meaning of life.
I found myself walking this group of friends through the Four Noble Truths, and in the course of a back-and-forth, near-debate on the topic with my friend Matthew (who I happen to love, so props to you, Matty!), I practically stumbled into a clarity that I’m not sure I’ve ever had regarding the Truths.
At one point, Matthew laughed out loud when I told him I considered my dogs to be buddhas (little “b” buddhas, if you know what I mean) because they are walking lessons in mindfulness (and I’ll admit, it’s not that often that someone readily tells you that his dog is his spiritual teacher!). Somehow, as we started talking about what lies beyond this existence, I posed a simple question: faced with the choice between life and death, what will every living organism on this planet choose? Even the DNA of non-sentient organisms like plants can make adjustments to preserve the life of the individual member of the species.
This “choice” comes from the most basic and instinctual level — almost literally at the cellular level, if memory from my college physiology classes serves me. We are hard-coded to choose life, the attachment to which, if I may oversimplify Buddha’s teaching, is the source of all our suffering. That’s Noble Truth Two, put about as plainly as one can put it.
I don’t think I found any converts during the conversation, and that certainly wasn’t my intent, but I also didn’t expect to walk away with stronger understanding of my own beliefs. This goes to show that as Buddhists, we can’t keep ourselves isolated on a cushion, but that we have to get out in our world and talk about and explore other people’s paths (or altogether aversion to paths). I’m not threatened by the beliefs of Matthew and my other friends, and in fact, I respect them for being able to share such intimate, personal topics in a conversation with someone who they know struck out on his own spiritual journey some time ago.
That’s the mark of great friends in my book, and I’m lucky to have several of them.
I love you, guys!