Associates (Mangala Sutta 2)

Not associating with fools,
Associating with the wise,
Honoring those worthy of honor;
This is the greatest blessing.

I couldn’t leave this foundational gem of a verse without some further reflection. It’s easy enough to say “associate with wise people, not with fools”, but how can this be arranged in an ordinary life?

We start with our families or households. Usually there is some mix of love and not-very-lovely interactions. Whether you live with a partner, children, roommates, or even just pets, there will probably be times when you’d rather be alone. The first reflection is whether your living situation is mostly supportive of generosity, kindness and compassion, or whether fear, anger or even abuse dominates. If it’s the latter, you might want to think about changing where you live. If it’s the former, great! If you live alone, it’s up to you to maintain a home life that supports the best in you.

In this context, it is also good to consider whether you are (at least sometimes) what others would recognize as wise. Are you considerate of others’ needs and requests? Do you demonstrate with your behavior how you’d like to be treated? For example, do you clean up after yourself? Do you think about what’s needed at the household level and make an effort to contribute? Are you a peaceful influence or a comfort to others close to you? Do those nearest to you trust you to do what you say you will? Do you recognize and encourage others’ strengths and support their (worthy) goals, as best you can? These are not small details; they are the essentials of everyday interactions.

Next you might think about your work, school, volunteer or other activities. Are you brought into contact with people who bring out your virtues, who make you feel like doing the right thing? Or is something else going on? Are you encouraged to cut corners, speak roughly, push yourself to the head of the line in some way? Peoples’ situations here are varied, but give some thought to whether you are regularly brought into “association with the wise” by your daily activities outside the home.

Then there are your friends and peers, those you choose to socialize (or hang out) with. How would you characterize these interactions? Some of us have a wide range of friends, including good and not-so-good influences. I look for people who share my good qualities and not my bad ones. I try to stay connected to (most) extended family members in a positive way.

It does happen, not infrequently, that there are wise people we’d like to associate with who are not available to us. Part of a healthy response would be to make efforts to become a wiser person oneself, which in turn attracts others with similar qualities. Some of this development can be done around specific activities. For example, my husband and I support a local Buddhist monastery, and this brings us into contact not only with monks (and sometimes nuns) but also others who share our positive goals. Other ideas: working at an animal shelter, taking yoga classes, doing literacy training, or participating in certain sports organizations, etc. Singing in various choirs is one of my favorite ways to meet wonderful people.

I invite you to ruminate on these ideas. Next up: honoring those worthy of honor.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
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