While mindfulness of teachings learnt is meritorious, mindfulness of our teachers is also meritorious.
During a chat on the precious support of spiritual friends, a friend remarked that the Buddha once taught thus in the Upaḍḍha Sutta – ‘Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk [or layperson] has admirable people as friends, companions and comrades, [s]he can be expected to develop and pursue the Noble Eightfold Path [of Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration for liberation].’
If only with the above part read, it would seem that the Buddha was referring only to human spiritual friends. However, the Buddha further taught that, ‘It is in dependence on me as an admirable friend that beings subject to birth have gained release from birth, that beings subject to aging have gained release from aging, that beings subject to death have gained release from death, that beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair have gained release from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair.’
In other words, the Buddha stated himself to be an ultimate spiritual friend of all sentient beings, who can be dependently relied upon, for transcending birth, ageing, [sickness] and death, with their associated forms of pain and suffering. I thus remarked, ‘Thus, may more be mindful of the Buddha directly, with him as our supreme spiritual friend, from whom the Dharma and Saṅgha (as the other two aspects of the Triple Gem, with the Buddhas, whom all Buddhists take refuge in) become available to us for connection.’
In the Dīghajāṇu Sutta, the Buddha also taught that to have admirable friendship is to spend quality time with those who are more virtuous than us, so as to discuss, to learn the Dharma from them, and to emulate their virtues. Truly virtuous human spiritual friends, in their Dharma discussions, would (re)connect us ‘back’ to the Buddha as the ultimate spiritual friend. This is especially crucial when severely sick and possibly dying. While human spiritual friends are virtuous, the Buddha(s) have immeasurable meritorious virtues, with the power to protect and guide!
While mindfulness of our virtues is powerful, mindfulness of the most virtuous is most powerful.
What is the Whole of the Holy Life?