‘Friends’: Phoebe, the Buddhist Beacon in an Otherwise Rolling Mental Health Crisis
As Jennifer Aniston “broke the Internet” by joining Instagram and getting 1.4 million followers in the first five hours, causing the site to crash, and as millions of fans around the world celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the television series Friends this fall, there’s one thing worth noting:
Not every Buddhist is a fan.
“To many of us, the show was a rolling mental health crisis,” says Boston Lama Surya Das, the founder of the Dzogchen Foundation and author of the new children’s book“The Yeti and the Jolly Lama, (“When the legendary Yeti terrorizes a small Tibetan village, the local lama—a cave-dwelling, meditating hermit—shows us how generosity, patience, and a sense of belonging can turn an Abominable Snowman into an adorable one.”)
According to Das, who is called “The Western Lama” by Tibet’s Dalai Lama, “The Friends are silo-ed city apartment dwellers who don’t travel, relate to what’s outside their area, and seem to have little or no social conscience or ambitions and aspirations. They are often petty and immature, have little or no health consciousness or environmental concerns, don’t seem very creative or talented, and their friendships and loves are all they seem to have.”
They are rarely if ever “in the moment.”
AND JOEY DOESN’T SHARE FOOD.
The Enlightened One
The exception, says Das, might be the loving, kindness-filled Phoebe, typecast as the group’s airhead.
“Phoebe is free and unedited, spontaneous and delightful, goodhearted,” Das says. “Perhaps the best Buddhist term that might apply to her is the famous and controversial ‘crazy wisdom’ that the Buddhist pioneer Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche coined and used to great effect in the ’70s and ’80s.”
According to Das, Phoebe has what Tara Wagner of “The Daily Positive” calls “radical honesty.”
Instead of taking responsibility for other peoples’ emotions and reaction, she was radically honest…
“When faced with a direct uncomfortable question she never sugar-coats things to avoid causing awkwardness or embarrassment,” he says. “Instead of taking responsibility for other peoples’ emotions and reaction, she was radically honest, believing that the truth will set you free, even if it makes people angry.” (“Your collective dating record reads like a who’s who of human crap.”)
And she clearly has great karma, says Das. In ‘The One With the Thumb,’ when Phoebe’s bank gave her $500 and a clock radio by mistake and refused to take it back, she gave the money and clock to a crazy homeless woman, who bought her a can of soda to thank her. “The soda contained a severed thumb, and the soda company gave her $7,000 in compensation,” says Das. “Talk about what goes around, comes around.”
Coincidentally, a friend of Das in France was over-credited 2,000 Francs by her bank in the ’80s when he lived there for eight years in silent contemplation in a Tibetan cloister. She asked the Elder head lama, a Tibetan, and he said: “Keep it, unless they ask for it back. Use it generously for good deeds. You must’ve done something to receive this little boon.”
According to Das, it is hard to quantify karma, but the general principle of sowing what you reap applies: “Who the ‘You’ is and in what decade or lifetime is part of the mysterious equation.”
…it is hard to quantify karma, but the general principle of sowing what you reap applies…
Perhaps Phoebe’s good Karma was in return for the “loving kindness” she showed by acting as surrogate mother for her half-brother and his wife’s triplets, Das says, or for the care she gives to animals, another Buddhist value. One of the most relatable things about Phoebe is her passion for animals. “Not only is she a vegetarian, but she’s also against fur – unless it’s a family heirloom, of course, says Das. “And we are forever indebted to Phoebe for the “Smelly Cat” song.”
As to rest, says the Lama, Phoebe clearly had some major Buddhist beliefs. In “The One With The Cat,” Phoebe found a cat that she believed was the reincarnation of her mom. Reincarnation is not only a major tenet of Buddhism, but of Hinduism and many New Age philosophies as well. “It was nice to get a shout out to the country’s many religions, even if the writers did mean it mockingly,” he says.
Das recalls a recent tweet of composer Lin-Manuel Miranda:
He hopes if the “Friends” ever do reunite, they will strive to be present and “want more.”
Buddhism in Practice
Meanwhile, here’s some helpful Buddhist practices that might help the rest of the gang:
Joey: Could use and start with focusing meditation like Mindfulness of Breathing, a concentrative and mind-quieting meditation practice. Sometimes called Breath Watching, and even using breath counting in zen sitting if needed.
Ross: Buddha Manjusri’s Wisdom mantra chanting (co-meditation with sound and prana), for sharpening discriminating awareness and developing discernment and wise judgment.
Rachel: Equanimity and detachment meditation, observing impermanence and the ephemeral and contingent nature of things
Monica: Loving-kindness benevolence meditation (Metta), wishing well for others and developing empathic compassion for others as just like ourselves in wanting and needing what we do and suffering from ignorance, anxiety, doubt and insecurity.
Chandler: Mindful anger management and The Sacred Pause (consider before you (re)act.)
The “Friends” were played by actors Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer (and with Paul Rudd).
Lama Surya Das is the best-selling author of “Awakening the Buddha Within” and a leading voice in Western Buddhism. The founder of the Dzogchen Center in Cambridge, Mass., his latest book is a children’s book called “The Yeti and the Jolly Lama.” Tibet’s Dalai Lama calls him “the Western Lama.” He is a resident of Cambridge, Mass.