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An Admirable Sangha – Upaddha Sutta
For a complete understanding of this sutta in the over-arching context of the Buddha’s Dhamma, please read the linked suttas. ([x])
The Upaddha Sutta shows the profound wisdom and skillful compassion of an awakened human being’s clear and direct instruction to simply follow what he taught without adaptation, accommodation or embellishment. He teaches those seeking understanding through his Dhamma to be mindful of the wisdom and singular importance of associating with those that have actually developed his Dhamma.
The Upaddha Sutta provides guidance on this underlying theme running throughout the Buddha’s Dhamma. Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and chief attendant, is confused about the importance of wise associations and friendships as a Dhamma practitioner. The Buddha teaches Ananda that fidelity to the Buddha’s Dhamma is the guiding framework for associations and friendships within Dhamma practice.
The Buddha describes the results of associating himself with contradictory self-referential views ignorant of Four Noble Truths in the Nagara Sutta. It was not until he was able to recognize and abandon these internal associations to wrong views that he was able to “Rightly Self-Awaken.” 
Through his own “Rightly Self-Awakening” Siddartha Gotama, now a Buddha, developed a profound understanding of the conditions that all manner of confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory experiences originated in and were dependent on for continuation. This commonly misunderstood and misapplied teaching is known as Dependent Origination. 
The Paticca-Samupaddha Sutta is the primary sutta on Dependent origination. The Paticca-Samupaddha Sutta provides the foundational context for the Buddha’s entire Dhamma. It is continued ignorance of this foundational teaching, arising from an aversion to the Buddha’s actual Dhamma, that results in a subtle craving for and clinging to “new” or novel ideas and an ever-changing contradictory, and confusing modern Buddhism. 
This need to provide “novel insight” to thirsty practitioners provides continued distraction from developing the specific insight into Thee Marks Of Existence framed by Four Noble Truths as taught by the Buddha. [4,5]
The Buddha was free of self-identification and the ego-driven need to be recognized as a renowned “spiritual” leader. He knew that the number of followers he may have did not legitimize his Dhamma. He understood that the well-defined focus of his Dhamma would not appeal to everyone. The Buddha taught to those with “just a little dust in their eyes.” His only concern with teaching his Dhamma was to be clear, consistent, accessible, and, most importantly, highly effective. 
Through his own noble search for understanding, he encountered many different and ineffective “spiritual” practices. Rather than becoming distracted from his goal by associating with these many different practices, he remained committed within himself to discovering a path that directly develops insight and understanding of the human condition, and a calm mind free of greed, aversion, and deluded thinking.
Upon his awakening, having united his mind with his body, Siddartha had an intricate knowledge of the singular importance of useful and refined mindfulness. He knew that what is held in mind internally is reflected in external associations.
The Buddha understood that what is held in mind will describe and determine one’s Dhamma practice, and ongoing life experience. A mind distracted from the insatiable need towards continual self-identification will constantly crave for new and novel ideological spiritual philosophies and ever-evolving “dharmas.”.
The Buddha understood, through his own noble search,  that grasping after and clinging onto any and every ideological conceptual philosophy or ritualistic practice was the result of a mind lacking clear direction and concentration.
Much of the modern mindfulness and “insight” practices teach that mindfulness is to be constantly aware of ever-changing phenomena. This is a subtle form of clinging-awareness that dismisses the refined mindfulness taught by an awakened human being. Rather than teach mindfulness as a practice of simply engaging in clinging-awareness of fleeting common events, the refined mindfulness that the Buddha teaches resolves the subtle conceit arising in a mind ignorant of Four Noble Truths. 
It is recognizing and abandoning the suffering that follows this subtle conceit – I-making – within a distracting and ever-changing environment that is the essence of the refined mindfulness taught by the Buddha. 
Mindfulness as the Buddha teaches mindfulness is to be mindful of each factor of the Eightfold Path. This refined mindfulness is the Heartwood Of The Dhamma. This refined mindfulness brings great freedom from entanglements with others who inadvertently or intentionally are practicing contradictory and distracting dharmas. This refined mindfulness provides gentle and continuous guidance towards awakening. 
Associating with this refined mindfulness, and those that are themselves associated with this refined mindfulness is what the Buddha is teaching Ananda, and all Dhamma practitioners.
During Siddartha Gotama’s noble search for understanding, he recognized and avoided unskillful “dharmas” and associations that would have otherwise distracted him from developing the profound wisdom rooted in understanding Four Noble Truths. 
Choosing wise associations to support Dhamma practice is as important today as it was 2,600 years ago. Choosing wise associations to support Dhamma practice is perhaps more difficult today, given the extent of the many contradictory popular modern “dharmas. 
What the Buddha is teaching Ananda is that merely associating with other “Buddhists” does not establish an authentic, skillful, effective, or complete Dhamma practice. Unskillful association is a somewhat subtle form of continued I-making. Self-identification with social groups is common and widespread resulting in a confusing melting-pot of conceptual views and ideas often contradictory and often dismissive of the Buddha’s Dhamma.
Given legitimacy by common agreement, pleasant distraction, and ongoing avoidance of an awakened human being’s actual teachings, the modern social “sangha” now establishes and continually reinforces an ever-changing view of what Buddhist practice is, or should be – a modern “Buddhism By Common Agreement.”
The Buddha cautioned against Buddhism By Common Agreement 2,600 years ago, yet the subtle but powerful strategies a mind rooted in ignorance will cling to in order to continue ignoring ignorance persists and is commonly encouraged. 
The need for this type of ever-evolving “Buddhism By Common Agreement” is the direct result of avoiding key aspects of the Buddha’s Dhamma:
- There is little or no engagement with, or development of, the Noble Eightfold Path as taught by the Buddha.
- There is little or no proper development of Right Mindfulness as taught in the Magga-Vibhanga Sutta, the Satipatthana Sutta, or the Anapanasati Sutta (and many other suttas). [8,9,10]
- There is little or no proper understanding of Right Meditation engaged with for the sole purpose of developing ever-deepening levels of meditative absorption – Jhana. 
- There is little or no skillful insight into the Three Defilements of greed, aversion, and ongoing deluded thinking rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
The common compulsion to adapt, accommodate, or embellish an awakened human being’s Dhamma is the most debilitating result of continued greed and aversion. The sad irony of Buddhism By Common Agreement is that the Three Deferments that are to be recognized and abandoned by an authentic Dhamma practice are ignored and encouraged through false dharmas. 
A self-referential ego personality, rooted in ignorance, will always crave for more. A Buddha’s Dhamma does not satisfy a mind still seeking self-identification within a Buddhist practice. Modern Buddhist practice is no more immune from this compulsion than the original Sangha.
Rather than becoming consumed by a “Buddhist” practice that always distracts to more views, more ideas, more special rituals, more conceptual applications, more contradictory “meditation” techniques, and more contradictory “mindfulness” practices, the Buddha’s Dhamma establishes a calm and peaceful mind through developing profound Right View resulting from wise and skillful restraint. 
We are all so fortunate to be a part of the well-focused and admirable Sangha that has developed at Cross River Meditation Center and joined by those online. Thank You
References below to “a well-integrated life” are typically presented in most translations as “a holy life.” I make this contextual distinction to avoid presenting the Buddha’s teaching as religion and emphasize the root meaning of holy in this context as “complete” and well-integrated with the Buddha’s Dhamma. This is remaining consistent with an awakened human being’s Dhamma as the Buddha never sought to establish himself as humanity’s savior nor did he want his Dhamma portrayed as yet another salvific religion. This clarification lies at the heart of this sutta and the singular importance of maintaining authenticity and fidelity to his Dhamma
My comments below are in italics.
Samyutta Nikaya 45.2
On one occasion the Buddha was staying with the Sakyans in Sakkara. Venerable Ananda had a question for his teacher. He approached the Buddha, bowed, and sat to one side. “Is it true that having admirable people as friends, companions, and colleagues is half of the well-integrated life.”
“Don’t ever say that. Ananda! Having admirable people as friends, companions, and colleagues is the whole of the well-integrated life. The practitioner of my Dhamma who has admirable people as friends, companions, and colleagues, can now be expected to avoid distraction (arising from unskillful associations) and pursue and fully develop the Noble Eightfold Path.
“Listen carefully, Ananda, and I will tell you precisely how a practitioner of my Dhamma who has admirable people as friends, companions, and colleagues avoids distraction and pursues and fully develops the Noble Eightfold Path.
“This Dhamma practitioner develops Right View that is dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation that results in relinquishment. They (also) develop Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation all dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation that results in relinquishment. [1,11]
“This is how a practitioner of my Dhamma who has admirable people as friends, companions, and colleagues avoids distraction and pursues and fully develops the Noble Eightfold Path.
“It is (only) through fidelity to my Dhamma that one may know that having admirable people as friends, companions, and colleagues is actually the whole of a well-integrated life.
“It is (first) in dependence on me as an admirable friend that those being subject to birth gain release from being subject to birth, that those being subject to aging gain release from being subject to aging, that those being subject to sickness gain release from being subject to sickness, that those being subject to death gain release from being subject to death.
“It is in dependence on me as an admirable friend that those being subject to sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair have gained release from sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair.
“From those that have gained release in this manner, from dependence on me, can one know how having admirable people as friends, companions, and colleagues is actually the whole of a well-integrated life.”
The phrase “dependence on me as an admirable friend” is reminding Ananda that an admirable friend is defined by their understanding and fidelity to his Dhamma.
This sutta continues to express the profound wisdom and skillful compassion of an awakened human being’s clear, and direct instruction to simply follow what he taught. In this way, any Dhamma practitioner will avoid the ongoing distraction and disappointment of continued ignorance following unskillful associations. In this way, any Dhamma practitioner will avoid contributing to other’s continued ignorance encouraging Buddhism By Common Agreement.
End Of Sutta
- Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening
- Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
- Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
- Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
- Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
- The Noble Search For The Noble Path
- Anatta-Lakkhana Sutta – The Not-Self Characteristic
- Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
- Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness
- Anapanasati Sutta
- Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas
- Kalama Sutta
- Teaching An Authentic Dhamma
- Wisdom Of Restraint
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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.
Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.
I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.
Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.