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Non secular Friendship Is the Path


Every considered one of us, says David Viafora, could be a kalyana mitra, or “religious good friend.” Right here’s how.

“Borderline persona dysfunction,” 2018. Drawing by Moonassi.

At some point, Ananda and the Buddha have been sitting alone on a hill collectively, overlooking the plains of the Ganges. Having served because the Buddha’s attendant for a few years, Ananda typically shared his reflections and insights with him. This afternoon, Ananda spoke. “Pricey Revered Instructor,” Ananda stated. “It appears to me that half of the religious life is sweet friendship, good companionship, good comradeship.” I think about that Ananda stated this with some degree of confidence for praising the deserves of religious friendship. However the Buddha rapidly corrected him: “Not so, Ananda! Not so, Ananda!” Ouch! Most likely Ananda wasn’t anticipating such a stern rebuke. However the Buddha was providing a strong educating. He continued, “That is the complete religious life, Ananda, that’s, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship. When a monk has a very good good friend, a very good companion, a very good comrade, it’s to be anticipated that he’ll develop and domesticate the noble eightfold path.”

A kalyana mitra isn’t just any pal you hang around with. A virtuous good friend is somebody who uplifts your path to the next degree of moral and religious well-being.

A few of early Buddhism’s strongest teachings resulted from when somebody, typically Ananda, caught their neck out solely to be corrected or admonished by the Buddha. On this case, the Buddha skillfully eliminated Ananda’s concept that the sangha and the dharma are separate. One shouldn’t be half of the opposite; the sangha shouldn’t be merely useful in realizing the trail. The sangha is the trail. Non secular friendship is the trail.

The apply of sangha-building could also be thought-about one lengthy story of religious friendship. Sturdy communities depend upon the private relationships between its members, like a quilt that’s woven collectively of varied threads and seams. By strengthening every particular person friendship, we strengthen the complete material. For anybody who needs to construct a cheerful and thriving sangha, the bottom line is rising beloved friendships.

Kalyana Mitra

In Sanskirt, kalyana mitra means “religious good friend.” Kalyana could also be translated as “good, true, virtuous, upright, or helpful,” and mitra is the basis phrase for maitri, which implies kindness. A kalyana mitra isn’t just any pal you hang around with to hit the golf equipment or go bar-hopping. A kalyana mitra is somebody who helps you notice your deeper aspirations, one who uplifts your path to the next degree of moral and religious well-being. As compared, the phrase “friendship” stems from the Outdated English freon, that means “to like,” and freo, that means “free.” So at its roots, friendship means to “love freely.” Thus each phrases level a selfless kindness towards others.

Many individuals, introduced with so many teachings praising the apply of meditation and solitude, suppose Buddhism is a apply for loners. However the Buddha’s encouragements to apply in solitude have been balanced with an ardent emphasis on cultivating worthy friendships. All through his educating profession, the Buddha spoke repeatedly in regards to the pivotal significance of kalyana mitras in an effort to reach one’s apply, stating that there isn’t a different issue so conducive to the arising of the noble eightfold path pretty much as good friendship. “Simply because the daybreak is the forerunner of the dawn, so good friendship is the forerunner for the arising of the noble eightfold path,” the Buddha said. The “Discourse on Happiness,” which extols thirty-two blessings of a cheerful life, begins with “To keep away from silly individuals and to dwell within the firm of sensible folks…, that is the best happiness.”

There is no such thing as a think about the environment so influential to our lives as our closest mates. The Buddha’s emphasis on the profound impression of friendship is equally captured by Joseph Rubano’s poem, “Buddy by Buddy”:

Who’s my mom,
Who my father,
When I’m being created good friend by good friend?
I don’t bear in mind who I used to be with out you.

Whether or not throughout instances of disaster or peace, whether or not on momentous events or very subtly, wherever we dwell, these round us are impacting our life and consciousness at each second.

The Sangha Photo voltaic System

Whereas dwelling at Deer Park Monastery in California, I as soon as overheard a retreatant asking Thay Phap Dung, the abbot and considered one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s most senior dharma lecturers, how one can construct a sangha in his hometown. Phap Dung replied,

Crucial factor is the core friendships you create collectively. That’s all the pieces. You apply every single day by your self, and also you share the fruits of your every day apply with the closest members, those that are the core of your group—you already know who they’re. You supply your freshness, pleasure, and deep listening to them, and assist these friendships to bloom. You may’t faux that form of factor; folks will know whether or not you have got it or not. So construct that core group, and when folks come to your sangha, these friendships will radiate out. Folks will see it, they usually’ll gravitate to that power.

Phap Dung likened the sangha to a photo voltaic system, through which the core friendships are the intense solar on the middle. These core friendships radiate out heat, gentle, and gravitational pull for everybody else to orbit round. Some folks will probably be drawn proper into the solar’s middle, beaming vivid with kindness and affection. Some will orbit very carefully, like Mercury and Venus, whereas others will come much less usually, like Saturn or Neptune. Nonetheless others, like Pluto or Halley’s Comet, might go to your sangha solely as soon as in a protracted whereas. However all of them will really feel the magnetic draw and nourishment of the solar’s energy, heat, and light-weight.

Once I go to sanghas, I pay shut consideration to the standard of their friendships. Do folks take a look at one another with eyes of affection and ease? Do they take a look at one another in any respect? Do they spend time hanging out after gathering instances or at different instances of the week? How do they discuss others when they’re collectively, or extra importantly, when they aren’t collectively? These are just some indicators of how folks specific their depth of connection and concord. What do you observe in your individual group? Are you manifesting the depth of companionship collectively that you just yearn for?

Many sanghas attempt to function many individuals as potential. Our society persistently promotes messages that larger is healthier, extra is superior, and that measurement validates our self-worth. This behavior power of super-sizing can dilute and distract from the sangha’s deeper goal and energy. A sangha’s true energy lies in its depth of religious friendship and concord, slightly than its variety of followers. Friendships that embody security, intimacy, and compassion are what folks in every single place in our ailing world are so hungry for—they’re what we have to heal. There may be nothing fallacious with rising one’s group and sharing the blessings of meditation apply extra extensively. However are the roots of connection dug deep into your sangha’s soil, and the trunk of your togetherness sturdy sufficient, to resist the storms? Deep roots of friendship will nourish the sangha irrespective of how tall and vast your group grows into the long run.

The Artwork of Friendship

I’ve witnessed younger grownup sanghas show a number of the most inventive and complex technique of friendship-building. I’ve frolicked, for instance, with Wake Up London, a younger grownup sangha that masterfully combines apply with the artwork of play, pleasure, and repair. After their Saturday meditation apply downtown, they typically exit for pizza or hand around in St. James Park with tea and snacks among the many timber. A couple of times a 12 months, they set up a music live performance the place all are invited, in addition to inspired, to share music, poems, skits, or any inventive providing. In the course of the pandemic, a big group of mates went tenting on the coast for a number of days, retaining the flames of pleasure and companionship burning vivid even throughout the darkish instances. A lot of them have chosen to share flats collectively, dwelling in mini-sangha homes, sharing all domains of every day life. They spend time collectively not merely to get forward of their apply however as a result of they prefer it!

Kareem and Jasmine, a pair who’ve been practising on this group for a number of years, just lately stated to me with a vivid smile, “Our sangha mates have turn into our greatest mates now!” They often host sangha weekends at their home outdoors town, with time for meditation apply in addition to mountaineering within the woods. They make investments themselves in one another, and it yields excessive returns for his or her group’s happiness.

The tight-knit circles of companionship in Wake Up London have introduced Thich Nhat Hanh’s legacy of socially engaged apply into the streets of London. They’ve organized quite a few sitting and strolling meditation occasions in public areas, in addition to provided their compassionate and collective presence to peaceable protests for environmental and humanitarian causes resembling Extinction Rise up. One in all Wake Up London’s founders, Joe Holtaway, shared, “I consider that our Plum Village–impressed activism has bonded us in motion.”

Having profound exchanges by meditation and dharma sharing circles is essential, but that’s just one dimension of constructing friendship. To see the complete sphere of somebody’s world requires several types of conversations, socially engaged initiatives, and a few good previous hangout time. Particularly after steeping in meditation collectively, the environment is ripe for significant connection and joyful service.

The 4 Sorts of Good Pals

The pandemic has offered many people with ample time, starvation, and encouragement to evaluate the standard of our closest friendships. Occasions of isolation, loneliness, and longing for connection are alternatives to replicate on one’s capability to be a good friend to others. The most secure option to make good mates is to strengthen one’s personal items of friendship. It may be really easy for me responsible or really feel dependent upon different’s willingness to succeed in out. But when I actually need to develop the friendship, then it’s essential for me to look at what I’m providing. I’ve heard Thich Nhat Hanh share with us numerous instances—however particularly when a battle arose within the sangha—“Brotherhood and sisterhood all the time start with oneself.” (Nowadays, we prefer to say, “Siblinghood all the time begins with oneself,” to incorporate these of numerous gender identities.) Shel Silverstein additionally fantastically captures this fact with childlike knowledge:

What number of slices in a bread?
Relies on how skinny you chop it.
How a lot good inside a day?
Relies upon how good you reside ‘em.
How a lot love inside a good friend?
Relies upon how a lot you give ‘em.

How can one domesticate such a spirit of friendship? In his teachings to a younger layman within the Sigalaka Sutra, the Buddha named particular traits of a worthy good friend, traits one can domesticate as a apply. As you’re studying about these 4 varieties of companions, every with 4 esteemed qualities, contemplate which mates in your group embody these virtues. Additionally acknowledge which qualities you see in your self and which of them you are feeling referred to as to additional develop.
First is what the Buddha calls the “useful good friend.” This good friend “protects you when you find yourself careless,” “takes care of your property when you find yourself forgetful,” is a “refuge when you find yourself frightened,” and “when some want arises, she offers you twice the wealth required.” That is fairly a good friend! Have you ever ever given somebody twice what they requested for, or didn’t even ask for? This beneficiant companion helps these round her really feel protected and guarded, essential states of well-being for one’s therapeutic and transformation.

Attempting to broaden can distract from the sangha’s deeper goal. A sangha’s true energy lies in its depth of religious friendship and concord, slightly than its variety of followers.

Second is the “good friend who shares one’s happiness and struggling.” This type of good friend “reveals their secrets and techniques to you” however “guards your secrets and techniques.” They’d “not abandon you when you find yourself in bother”; slightly, “they might even sacrifice their life to your sake.” This good friend appears proper out of a dramatic motion film, the place the heroism of belief and friendship prevail. These devoted companions are a lot wanted in our tumultuous and traumatized world.
Third is the “good friend who factors out what is sweet.” It is a sensible good friend who “discourages you from doing evil or dangerous issues”; as an alternative, he “enjoins you in doing good issues.” He “informs you what you haven’t heard” and “factors out the trail of affection and compassion.” These mates might first seem as saints, serving to us to stroll the upper path of compassion and repair. However in truth, they’re actual folks such as you and me who’re serving to deliver the dharma to life. They could be your mentor, instructor, or any good friend whose moral integrity illumines your path and understanding of virtuous actions.

Final is the “sympathetic good friend.” This beloved good friend “doesn’t rejoice in your misfortune” however slightly “rejoices in your luck.” She “stops those that communicate poorly of you” and “commends those that communicate reward of you.” This good friend embodies belief and empathy whether or not you’re bodily current or not, actually a treasured ally when dwelling in group the place relationship challenges and battle typically happen. Many instances, I’ve witnessed group members talking poorly about others of their absence, unskillfully attempting to alleviate themselves of their anger, resentment, or jealousy. This behavior is likely one of the most pervasive sources of corrosion in a religious group. Thus, having a reliable good friend who doesn’t communicate poorly of others, even amongst others’ criticism, is as useful to a sangha as gold nuggets in your hand.

Pals who embody all sixteen of those qualities are like uncommon gems discovered on distant mountaintops. Should you come throughout one, maintain onto them! Even you probably have only one good friend who embodies considered one of these qualities, that is additionally an amazing blessing. Of the 4 varieties of good mates outlined above, which one do you are feeling most drawn to befriending? And which of some of these mates do you aspire to embody your self?

Second Physique Apply

Just a few a long time in the past at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh invented a sangha-building apply referred to as the “second physique” system. Whether or not you reside in a monastery, reside in a lay group, or apply usually in an area sangha, the second physique apply is likely one of the best and strongest methods to strengthen relationships in your group and assist everybody to really feel extra related to the sangha itself.

A few years in the past, after I was a novice at Plum Village, I turned unwell and wanted to remain in my room for a number of days, other than the remainder of the sangha. I used to be feeling lonely and minimize off from the group, so it was a complete shock and pleasure for me when my second physique delivered scorching oatmeal and fruit to my room. I slept proper by breakfast and woke as much as discover the caring reward on my nightstand. Each meal thereafter, 3 times a day like clockwork, my second physique got here with a bowl of scorching soup, or steamed greens and rice, and most significantly, his caring presence! He typically stayed to eat with me, having fun with the easy meal in silence as if I used to be sitting along with the entire sangha. We stared out of the glass doorways to the plush forest outdoors, content material with one another’s presence with out phrases. Since I used to be alone all day, his presence helped me really feel seen, cared about, and cherished. Although he was the one one coming to go to, he was like an envoy of the entire sangha, serving to me really feel a way of belonging.

All through the pandemic, when so many individuals have felt remoted, and starved for human connection, the second physique apply has helped join each member of our sangha to the entire. On this apply, everybody takes care of themselves first; we look after and attend to ourselves as our personal first physique. Then, those that want to take part are assigned another person as their second physique—an intentional, caring friendship for a time period. Every participant has each somebody whom they’re caring for and somebody who’s caring for them. Thus, the complete sangha is tied collectively in a round chain of intentional friendships.

We strategy this apply with lightness. We’re not attempting to be somebody’s therapist or guru. We’re merely retaining friendships alive and rising the circle of our group. One of many intentions of this apply is to drag us out of our recurring forces of self-interest, busyness, and isolation from others, and gently pull us right into a spirit of extra openness and connection. Specializing in one’s second physique every week extends folks’s consideration outward; it encourages everybody to broaden past their typical and most frequent connections. This apply is highly effective for the entire group, as you don’t want to enhance your relationships with everybody to ensure that friendships to bloom throughout the sangha. When you take care of one particular person, you take care of the entire.

At MorningSun Neighborhood in New Hampshire, we began our second physique apply final summer time, throughout the pandemic. It was superb to see folks given permission and encouragement to have enjoyable with folks with whom they usually didn’t spend time one-on-one. For instance, Joaquin accompanied Mary Beth on a ten-mile bike journey round Lake Warren throughout her typical weekday journey. Candace, who was a second physique towards me, invited me to plant tomato and candy potato seedlings on Saturday afternoons. I handled Fern, my second physique, to some darkish chocolate and tea throughout my lunch break. This stimulated some nice dialog, as Fern shared about her household’s newfound curiosity of taking part in Dungeons and Dragons collectively. With out our second physique apply, I’d have by no means realized (or dreamed) that Fern, our senior dharma instructor and a former nun, enjoys Dungeons and Dragons a lot!

A number of months later, we have been all assigned a special second physique. I requested Aurora, my new second physique, to go for a stroll and have some tea collectively. She wrote again, “No thanks, however how about you go for a run with me?” I groaned, realizing that I used to be paired up with an ultramarathon runner! It had been some time since I’d been operating usually, however that each one modified with my new second physique. She was doing a multi-marathon coaching that month, so I began operating alongside her for so long as I may just a few instances per week. However as an alternative of a chore, operating with Aurora for even a fraction of her epic adventures turned fairly enjoyable. After a number of weeks, I used to be in a position to run together with her for 2 and a half hours in the future—I’d have by no means gotten that sturdy so rapidly with out my second physique. However extra importantly, our friendship turned stronger than ever.

You don’t want to enhance your relationships with everybody to ensure that friendships to bloom throughout the sangha. When you take care of one particular person, you take care of the entire.

Our MorningSun sangha discovered that it’s useful to have a minimal period of time every week or month that everybody agrees to spend with their second physique. We determined that spending about thirty minutes every week, or one hour each two weeks, is cheap. Typically the second physique relationships join very simply, and different instances they don’t actually click on. Relationships are all the time shifting and altering, and one by no means is aware of how spending time with a random particular person within the sangha will probably be. However that’s a part of the enjoyable and edge for development. It is usually useful to have a transparent finish date, so that individuals can discover closure. Figuring out the ending date additionally retains the fact of relationship impermanence alive, in order that the time doesn’t go by with out significant expertise collectively.

It’s as much as every second physique pairing how they want to join. Other than the half-hour weekly dedication, folks might like to supply different types of friendship, resembling bringing contemporary flowers to brighten their day, a card stuffed with real appreciations, or just getting collectively to meditate. Most essential is to be inventive and make this apply your individual. Equally, each sangha can select how one can uniquely implement it based mostly on its wants. It’s a daring experiment in constructing friendships within the coronary heart of your group. Nobody will do it completely, and persons are sure to make errors. However see what it’s possible you’ll find out about others, supply the fruits of your every day apply to at least one one other, and watch the sangha bloom with cross-pollination in entrance of your eyes.

If it was straightforward to succeed on the trail with out the steerage, compassion, and pleasure of fine mates, then kalyana mitras wouldn’t be so treasured. Strolling the trail alone could be a complicated, lonely, and tough journey. Voyaging with poor mates is like crusing throughout the ocean together with your anchor dragging on the ground—irrespective of which course you attempt to go, you’re all the time pulled downward.

Good friendships are like rays of a spring daybreak pouring beams of light and heat onto the frozen forest flooring. Each a part of the forest is delivered to life by its brightness and vitality. The apply of kalyana mitra is studying to breathe new life into each relationship, starting with ourselves after which increasing to our closest relationships and past. Every considered one of us has a kalyana mitra inside, able to step ahead. We will begin by cultivating only one high quality of fine friendship, with one particular person in entrance of us, in a single second. We will even begin proper now.

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