Like someone pointing to treasure
Is the wise person
Who sees your faults and points them out.
Associate with such a sage.
Good will come of it, not bad,
If you associate with one such as this.
Let one such as this advise you, instruct you,
And restrain you from rude behavior.
Such a person is pleasing to good people,
But displeasing to the bad.
Dhammapada v. 76-77, translated by Gil Fronsdal
I’ve heard Joseph Goldstein ask the question: What would you rather find waiting for you when you come to the breakfast table in the morning? -a thousand dollars or a friend who knows you with all your flaws?
It’s a bit of a trick question – I’d like to have both, I think. But the friend who sees us clearly has more value. If we collect two or three such friends around us, the support can work miracles. We might consider all of our actions in terms of how these valued friends would see them, and this could be a powerful motivation for bringing our best intentions to the surface.
It seems to me that many of us are reluctant to make ourselves students in the sense of looking up to others.There’s an ego-reaction, a resistance to humility, that can get in the way of seeing where we need to work on ourselves. In fact, the places where we’re the most stuck tend to be the hardest for us to see, and more easily visible to others. These verses ask us to recognize that there are people around us (if we’re lucky) who can point out important lessons in how to live harmlessly and how to become more free from the confinements created by our own clinging.
Of course, we could also be the sort of friend who cares enough for our close ones to help guide them toward more wholesome actions. Perhaps the way to go about it is to find one or two other people who are also committed to becoming more whole in the sense the Buddha pointed out – truthfulness, harmlessness, generosity, etc. With these goals in common, truly noble friendships are possible.
So, it’s not a matter of one person always being the student and the other the teacher. We can support each other in our aspiration towards making our words and actions more wholesome.