The Urban Dharma Newsletter - August 7, 2007


In This Issue: Buddhism and Friendship

1. Buddhism / Udana 65-66
2. Friends and Foes in Buddhism
3. Buddhist Concept of Friendship By Sita Arunthavanathan
4. Good Company - Friendship in the Spiritual Community
5. Amazon.com / Book - Buddhism and Friendship by Subhuti with Subhamati


1. Buddhism / Udana 65-66


When you gain a friend, gain him through testing,
and do not trust him hastily.
For there is a friend who is such at his own convenience,
but will not stand by you in your day of trouble.
And there is a friend who changes into an enemy,
and will disclose a quarrel to your disgrace.
And there is a friend who is a table companion,
but will not stand by you in your day of trouble.
In your prosperity he will make himself your equal,
and be bold with your servants;
but if you are brought low he will turn against you,
and will hide himself from your presence.

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
he that has found one has found a treasure.
There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
and no scales can measure his excellence.
A faithful friend is an elixir of life;
and those who fear the Lord will find him.
Whoever fears the Lord directs his friendship aright,
for as he is, so is his neighbor also.

2. Friends and Foes in Buddhism


According to the code conduct prescribed in the Digha Nikaya, a lay disciple should be aware of who is a true friend and who is not, because such an awareness would help him avoid the common pitfall of getting into moral and spiritual trouble. It may also help him to shape his future welfare. The Digha Nikaya identifies four types persons who should be viewed as enemies in the guise of friends. They are:

* A grasping man.
* A smooth spoken man.
* A man who speaks only what you want to hear.
* A man who helps you waste your money.

There are four types who should be looked upon as true friends. They are:

* A man who tries to help you.
* A man who is the same in happiness and sorrow.
* A man who gives good advice.
* A man who is sympathetic.
* Ascetics and Brahmans

Sigalovada Sutta - The Layman's Code of Discipline

(Excerpts from Everyman's Ethics Four Discourses of the Buddha )

Sigala was the son of a Buddhist family residing at Rajagaha. His parents were devout followers of the Buddha, but the son was indifferent to religion. The pious father and mother could not by any means persuade their son to accompany them to visit the Buddha or his disciples and hear the noble Doctrine. The son thought it practically useless to pay visits to the Sangha, as such visits may entail material loss. He was only concerned with material prosperity; to him spiritual progress was to no avail. Constantly he would say to his father: "I will have nothing to do with monks. Paying homage to them would make my back ache, and my knees stiff. I should have to sit on the ground and soil and wear out my clothes. And when, at the conversations with them, after so sitting, one gets to know them, one has to invite them and give them offerings, and so one only loses by it."

Finally as the father was about to die, he called his son to his deathbed, and enquired whether he would at least listen to his parting advice. "Most assuredly, dear father, I shall carry out any order you may be pleased to enjoin on me," he replied. "Well then, dear son, after your morning bath worship the six quarters." The father asked him to do so hoping that one day or other, while the son was so engaged, the Buddha or his disciples would see him, and make it an occasion to preach an appropriate discourse to him. And since deathbed wishes are to be remembered, Sigala carried out his father's wish, not, however, knowing its true significance.

Now it was the custom of the Buddha to rise from his sleep at four o'clock and after experiencing Nibbanic Bliss for an hour to pervade the whole world with his boundless thoughts of loving-kindness. It is at this hour that he surveys the world with his great compassion to find out what fellow being he could be of service on that day. One morning Sigala was caught in the net of the Buddha's compassion; and with his vision the Buddha, seeing that Sigala could be shown a better channel for his acts of worship, decided: "This day will I discourse to Sigala on the layman's Vinaya (code of discipline). That discourse will be of benefit to many folk. There must I go." The Buddha thereon came up to him on his way for alms to Rajagaha; and seeing him engaged in his worship of the six quarters, delivered this great discourse which contains in brief, the whole domestic and social duty of the layman.

Commenting on this Sutta, the Venerable Buddhaghosa says, "Nothing in the duties of a householder is left unmentioned. This Sutta is called the Vinaya of the householder. Hence in one who practices what he has been taught in it, growth is to be looked for, not decay." And Mrs. Rhys Davids adds: "The Buddha's doctrine of love and goodwill between man and man is here set forth in a domestic and social ethics with more comprehensive detail than elsewhere. And truly we may say even now of this Vinaya or code of discipline, so fundamental are the human interests involved, so sane and wide is the wisdom that envisages them, that the utterances are as fresh and practically as binding today and here as they were then at Rajagaha. 'Happy would have been the village or clan on the banks of the Ganges where the people were full of the kindly spirit of fellow-feeling, the noble spirit of justice which breathes through these naive and simple sayings.' Not less happy would be the village, or the family on the banks of the Thames today, of which this could be said."
Those who are foes in the guise of friends

"These four, young householder, should be understood as foes in the guise of friends:

* he who appropriates a friend's possessions,
* he who renders lip-service,
* he who flatters,
* he who brings ruin.

(1) "In four ways, young householder, should one who appropriates be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:

* he appropriates his friend's wealth,
* he gives little and asks much,
* he does his duty out of fear,
* he associates for his own advantage.

(2) "In four ways, young householder, should one who renders lip-service be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:

* he makes friendly profession as regards the past,
* he makes friendly profession as regards the future,
* he tries to gain one's favor by empty words,
* when opportunity for service has arisen, he expresses his inability.

(3) "In four ways, young householder, should one who flatters be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:

* he approves of his friend's evil deeds,
* he disapproves his friend's good deeds,
* he praises him in his presence,
* he speaks ill of him in his absence.

(4) "In four ways, young householder, should one who brings ruin be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:

* he is a companion in indulging in intoxicants that cause infatuation and heedlessness,
* he is a companion in sauntering in streets at unseemly hours,
* he is a companion in frequenting theatrical shows,
* he is a companion in indulging in gambling which causes heedlessness."

Thus spoke the Exalted One. And when the Master had thus spoken, he spoke yet again:

* The friend who appropriates,
* the friend who renders lip-service,
* the friend that flatters,
* the friend who brings ruin, these four as enemies the wise behold, avoid them from afar as paths of peril.

Those who are warm-hearted friends

"These four, young householder, should be understood as warm-hearted friends:

* he who is a helpmate,
* he who is the same in happiness and sorrow,
* he who gives good counsel,
* he who sympathizes.

(1) "In four ways, young householder, should a helpmate be understood as a warm-hearted friend:

* he guards the heedless,
* he protects the wealth of the heedless,
* he becomes a refuge when you are in danger,
* when there are commitments he provides you with double the supply needed.

(2) "In four ways, young householder, should one who is the same in happiness and sorrow be understood as a warm-hearted friend:

* he reveals his secrets,
* he conceals one's own secrets,
* in misfortune he does not forsake one,
* his life even he sacrifices for one's sake.

(3) "In four ways, young householder, should one who gives good counsel be understood as a warm-hearted friend:

* he restrains one from doing evil,
* he encourages one to do good,
* he informs one of what is unknown to oneself,
* he points out the path to heaven.

(4) "In four ways, young householder, should one who sympathizes be understood as a warm-hearted friend:

* he does not rejoice in one's misfortune,
* he rejoices in one's prosperity,
* he restrains others speaking ill of oneself,
* he praises those who speak well of oneself."

Thus spoke the Exalted One. And when the Master had thus spoken, he spoke yet again:

The friend who is a helpmate,
the friend in happiness and woe,
the friend who gives good counsel,
the friend who sympathizes too —
these four as friends the wise behold
and cherish them devotedly
as does a mother her own child.

The wise and virtuous
shine like a blazing fire.
He who acquires his wealth
in harmless ways like to a
bee that honey gathers,6
riches mount up for him
like ant hill's rapid growth.

With wealth acquired this way,
a layman fit for household life,
in portions four divides his wealth:
thus will he friendship win.

One portion for his wants he uses,7
two portions on his business spends,
the fourth for times of need he keeps.

3. Buddhist Concept of Friendship By Sita Arunthavanathan


Some critics have a tendency to label Buddhism as a religion with supra-mundane goals, devoid of the concept of love and friendship for living in this world. But the Tripitaka furnishes us with ample evidence to prove that the Buddha considered living in harmony and friendship without disputes (Samagga Sammodamana avivadamana) an important human relationship based on love. Metta or Loving Kindness envelopes much more than mere love. Etymologically the word Metta means the nature of a friend - (mittassa sabhavo).

In other words, a friendly spirit which is edified, not only on love, but on loving kindness. In modern parlance, the word "love" has rather a cheap connotation, but Metta when taken in its real perspective encapsulates all the noble human feelings a person could shower on another." Metta (loving kindness), Karuna (compassion), Muditha (altruistic joy) and Upeksha (equanimity), which are known as Satara Brahma Vihara or the Four Noble patterns of behaviour form the very sheet anchor of Buddhist friendly, ethical conduct. The spirit of love and friendship promulgated by these, cover a much wider spectrum than mere love, which is supposed to be lacking in Buddhism.

It is mentioned in Samyutta Nikaya that once Ven. Ananda approached the Buddha and remarked that "half of the dispensation is based on friendship, companionship and association with the good." to which the Buddha replied " Ven. Ananda, do not say so. Not half, but man's entire life is established on friendship, companionship and association with the good."

The friendly disposition among the Bhikkus towards each other was so admirable and imitable that King Ajatasattu who was not so well disposed towards Buddhism had remarked according to Samananaphala Sutta of the Digha Nikaya that "the monks lived in unity talking to each other with mutual friendliness ..... mixing with each other like milk and water and seeing each other with pleasing eyes." (Nirodha Ki Dhuta annamannam Piya Cakkhuhi Sampassamana) and had even gone further and said, "How nice it would be if my son Udayabhadda too could possess these friendly qualities."

Again, it occurs in Majjhima Nikaya that once the Buddha questioned Ven. Anuruddha how the Bhikkhus were getting along with each other, and the Venerable replied thus, "Lord, we have diverse bodies but assuredly only one mind." (Na na hi kho pan a bhante kayam ekam ca kho manne cittam).

Two types of friends

As far as the laity is concerned, the Tipitaka abounds with examples to show that the guidance of good friends is very essential for life here and hereafter. The Buddha has described two types of friends, Kalyana Mitta (the good friend) and Papa Mitta (the evil friend). A famous stanza in the Dhammapada says, "Do not keep company with evil friends or those who are mean. Associate with the good and bold friends." (Na bhaje papake mitte-na bhaje purisadhame, bhajetha mitta kalyane-bhajetha purisuttame). All parents should instil into the minds of their children the noble advice conveyed by this stanza. The Buddha has advised us to lead a lonely life in case we cannot find a decent friend. But never keep the company of a fool. (eka cariyam dalham kariya-natthi balo sahayaka). Mahamangala Sutra which enumerates 38 blessings to guide one in life's journey starts with avoiding the company of fools as the first blessing.

Friendship is a force that has no parallel; there is no other single power that can generate good qualities in a person as friendship with the good because, after a certain age children stop emulating their parents and start imitating their friends.

The Buddha's advice regarding friends could be well comprehended by absorbing the contents of the Sigalovada Sutra. Sigala, who had very devout Buddhist parents was indifferent to religion. The Buddha explained inter alia who an evil friend and a good friend are:- A foe in the guise of a friend or a Papa Mitta will appropriate a friend's possessions, render mere lip service, flatter, will give little with the idea of taking much, will associate for his own advantage, tries to gain favor by empty words and when the opportunity arises for action, he will give an excuse and express his inability to render any service. An evil friend also praises and approves his friends bad deeds whlle the good deeds go unnoticed and upraised. He praises the friend in his presence and rebukes him in his absence.

The Buddha has explained further how a foe in the guise of a friend (mitta patirupaka) brings about the ruin of a person in four ways. He is a companion in indulging in intoxicants which gives rise to infatuation and heedlessness. He is a ready companion to frequent the streets at ungodly hours. He is a companion to attend theatrical shows and he is a companion in gambling which causes one's downfall.

Next, the Buddha tells Sigala the four types of friends who could be reckoned as warmhearted and dear. He who is a helpmate, does not change in happiness or sorrow, gives good counsel and sympathizes. Upakaro ca ya mitto-yo ca mitto sukhe dukkhe dtthakkhayi ca yo mitto-ya ca-mittanukampike." A wise person having understood these four kinds of friends, should cherish them and associate with them as a mother tends her only son. (etepi mitte cattaro-Iti vinnaya pandita, sakkaccani payiru paseyya Mata puttamva orasam).

According to Nettippakarana there are seven qualities by which you can judge a friend. He should be pleasant and loveable, respectful, worthy of emulation, willing to engage in useful conversation, willing to tolerate words, engages in profound talk and never exhorts groundlessly. Today, the younger generation have a tendency to shun good advice and show resentment when their faults are pointed out by even parents. A stanza in the Dhammapada spells out a bit of excellent advice. "Someone who points out your mistakes, declare them as weaknesses and condemns them, think of such a person as one showing you a treasure. Associate with wise people of that nature. (midhinam va pavattaram-yam passe vajja dassinam; niggayhavadim medhavi tadisam pabditam bhaje). This shows that a friend need not be always sweet and soft spoken, but could resort to constructive criticism.

How to win Friendship

The Buddha has explained how to win and keep friends. By being generous one can surely win friends (dadam mittani ganthati) and also by being courteous and benevolent. Rajoice in your friend's achievements, praise any commendable acts and strong points. But the Buddha says that if you always keep on talking of your friend's goodness, kindness, greatness and so on, then you are trying to deceive him. In dealing with friends, one's word should be as clean as the actions.

According to the Jataka Pali, striking a friendship is one, maintaining it is another. Buddha has given invaluable advice not only to keep the friendship but also to make the bonds stronger. One should not visit the friends too often or overstay the welcome.

This changes the friend to a foe. If your friend loses something, then you may be under a cloud. Visiting a friend too often invariably leads to gossip, which will involve you in a vortex of trouble. Buddha says that, it is equally bad not to visit your friends at all. You should judge for yourself how often you should visit your friend, how long you should stay and so on. Buddha has pointed out that a friendship deteriorates by asking favours, especially at wrong times. If at all you ask a favour, it should not be unreasonable or of a demanding nature. Asking favours far too often makes you a pest more than a friend.

Buddha has explained that if someone wants to bring about his own ruin or downfall, he could associate with Papa mitta or evil friends who are gamblers, libertines, tripplers, cheats, swindlers or violent thugs. Buddhist Commentarial Tradition defines a friend thus: - "A friend is one whose association leads to spiritual profitability, protects you from evil that may befall you and is inclined towards your welfare."

In this manner, Buddhism points out the basic ingredients to foster a healthy friendship, minimize friction and displeasure, promote good will, and companionship and ultimately bring about one's welfare here, and spiritual progress leading to the realization of the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana.

The foregoing facts show that Buddha's admonition regarding how to chose friends, win them and keep them expounded in the 6th Century before the common era surpasses all books of the twentieth century on this subject and the Buddhist Concept of Friendship remains a vibrant force forever.

4. Good Company - Friendship in the Spiritual Community


Friendship is vital to the spiritual community, argues Subhuti. For peers on the path – as well as teachers or students – can spur and support our growth.

There is an intriguing account of a conversation between the Buddha and his disciple Ananda, whose name appears frequently in the Buddhist scriptures. He was the Buddha's younger cousin, and the two must have known each other since Ananda's boyhood. In the last 25 years of the Buddha's life, Ananda was the Buddha's personal attendant, storing up the Buddha's words so that they could be passed on to later generations. We can also see from these accounts that the Buddha and Ananda were close friends.

At the start of the discourse in question Ananda approaches the Buddha, intent on sharing a thought. Something – perhaps the cumulative affect of day-to-day association with the Buddha – has suddenly made him realise that such 'lovely companionship' is far more crucial to spiritual progress than he had imagined. He enthusiastically declares, 'Lord, this spiritual friendship, spiritual companionship and spiritual intimacy is no less than half of the spiritual life.' 'Say not so, Ananda,' the Buddha replies. 'It is the whole, not the half of the spiritual life.'

Many of those Buddhists who are familiar with this concept of spiritual friendship or kalyana mitrata think of it in terms of a 'teacher-disciple' relationship (or 'vertical' friendship). As a result they pay little attention to a vital dimension of spiritual friendship that could be called 'horizontal' friendship: that is, friendship with one's peers. Those who are fortunate enough to enjoy intimate, day by day contact with their teacher may not feel they are missing anything. Few, however, are so fortunate. My own experience has taught me that a small circle of spiritual peers, enjoying intimate friendship and in close mutual association, can aid one another's progress greatly, provided they also have some contact with more mature friends. The ideal situation is actually to live with spiritual friends, or to work with them, or both.

One could ask for no better example of horizontal friendship than the two close friends who were also the Buddha's most famous disciples: Moggallana and Sariputta. As young men they had gone out into the world together in quest of wisdom. They made a pact that if one of them attained 'the Deathless' he would tell the other. Sariputta met a disciple of the Buddha and heard from him a brief summary of the Buddha's teaching, the inner meaning of which he immediately penetrated in a profound insight.

Sariputta immediately set off to tell his old friend. Moggallana saw instantly that his friend had attained 'the Deathless', and the two became followers of the Buddha. Notwithstanding the common image of the Buddha as solitary and withdrawn, in the East many images depict the Buddha accompanied by his chief disciples Sariputta and Moggallana, with hands raised in respect before them. Such images are, in effect, representations of the Buddha and the Sangha, incorporating the vertical and horizontal axes of spiritual friendship in a single image.

Anyone who has taken up the spiritual life in earnest knows that it isn't easy, and may frequently feel tempted to give up the struggle. We may lose confidence in our ability to meditate. If we have given up worldly opportunities to work for the Dharma, we may find ourselves wistfully thinking that we could easily have more money and more comfort. We may doubt the tradition we are following, or the Dharma itself. Worst of all, we may feel estranged from our fellow practitioners.

Often in such cases, only a trusted friend can bring our spiritual ideal back to life. As well as reviving the flame when it is sputtering, friends can feed it up into a blaze. Mere association with them constantly nourishes that part of us that loves the good. Conversely, if we spend time with people who have no interest in spiritual life, our own feeling for it will fade and our whole spiritual ideal may start to seem unreal.

Our peer friends can help us in refining our ethical awareness. In some regards they will be more sensitive than we are. Through frequent contact with us, they may be much more aware of our ethical blind spots than our mature friends (with whom, in an unfeigned way, we tend to be 'at our best'). Peers can help us to overcome these blind spots, not by pointing accusing fingers, but through benevolence and intimacy. Sometimes we are unable (or unwilling) to recognise that something we have said or done is contrary to our spiritual aims, but a friend can help us to see this, without offending us.

True spiritual friends do not let us off the hook, but at the same time are gentle, sensitive and kindly in their speech, choosing their moment carefully. They try to emulate the sensitivity of the Buddha, who 'knows the time' to say things that are 'true, correct and beneficial' but also 'disagreeable' to the hearer. Friends also help us to eradicate the unwholesome in ourselves by receiving our confessions, and by rejoicing in our merits, reinforcing the good in us. By seeing and loving the best in us, they draw it out more fully, just as rain and sunlight nourish a plant.

Far from being an incidental pleasure in the essentially solitary business of spiritual life, there are passages in the Buddhist scriptures which suggest that friendship between peers belongs not only to the Path but also to the Goal. An example is the moving story of Anuruddha and his friends, found in the Culagosinga Sutta.

Anuruddha, Nandiya and Kimbila are staying together in a quiet forest grove, where the Buddha goes to visit them one evening. He asks whether they get on well with one another. Anuruddha confirms that he and the other two are 'living in concord, with mutual appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes.' The Buddha (who knew that not all his monks got along so cordially together) enquires how they do this. Anuruddha explains that he considers himself fortunate to be living the spiritual life together with such companions as Nandiya and Kimbila. To do so is a 'great gain'.

The way they live together is an expression of metta, that is, of loving kindness or friendliness. Accordingly, he 'maintains' towards the other two a kindly attitude that manifests in kindly deeds, affectionate speech and loving thoughts. In conclusion, he tells the Buddha, 'We are different in body, venerable sir, but one in mind.'

The Buddha expresses pleasure at these words and asks whether they are living 'diligent, ardent and resolute'. In other words, are they striving for spiritual progress? Anuruddha confirms that they are and he describes their shared way of life, which seems to be the natural expression of the spirit of harmony and mutual service that they have already mentioned. His description imparts a sense of how their spiritual practice flows from their friendship, just as much as their friendship flows from their spiritual practice:

'Whichever of us returns first from the village with alms-food prepares the seats, sets out the water for drinking and for washing, and puts the refuse bucket in its place. Whichever of us returns last eats any food left over, if he wishes; otherwise he throws it away where there is no greenery or drops it into water where there is no life. He puts away the seats and the water for drinking and for washing. He puts away the refuse bucket after washing it and he sweeps out the refectory. Whoever notices that the pots of water for drinking, washing or the latrine are low or empty takes care of them. If they are too heavy for him, he calls someone else by a signal of the hand and they move it by joining hands, but because of this we do not break out into speech. But every five days we sit together all night discussing the Dhamma. That is how we abide diligent, ardent and resolute.'

In other words they just silently serve and help each other, each attending to whatever needs to be done for the sake of the others, without pausing to calculate whether the distribution of labour is fair, nor to check up on whether the others are doing their share. They live in constant kindly attentiveness to one another's needs, and their kindness goes beyond mere reciprocity.

Such untallied acts of mutual care are the bricks and mortar of friendship. They avoid unnecessary speech on mundane matters and hence keep silent most days, thus maintaining the thread of their mindfulness. Far from observing perpetual silence, however, they have regular discussions of spiritual matters, and obviously take the view that the opportunity to do so is one of the advantages of living together.

The Buddha expresses approval of these friends' way of life and asks, 'While you abide thus É have you attained any superhuman state, a distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones?' Anuruddha reveals that all three of them are Arahants, all fully Enlightened. Needless to say, the Buddha is delighted by this wonderful news.

The success of the three friends suggests the profundity of the practice of friendship at its fullest development. The three were 'different in body, but one in mind' and so dwelt together in the bliss of Enlightenment. Borrowing a phrase from the great Buddhist poet Shantideva, we could call this 'the exchange of self and other'.

As unenlightened humans, we divide the world into self and not-self, separating what is 'in here' sharply from what is 'out there'. This dichotomy of subject and object is the most fundamental pattern in our feeling and thinking, structuring our perception of everything. Yet Buddhism teaches that this distinction is not given in our experience but something we impose upon it. It is in fact precisely this delusion that is the ultimate cause of our suffering – the ahamkara or 'I maker', the invisible and baneful house builder who incessantly 'raises the roof-tree of deceits' and builds 'the walls of pain.'

Our sense of self and other is a practical necessity. If we didn't learn to organise our world in this way, we would remain stuck in the infantile stage of psychological development. A baby sees no distinction between itself and the world, and only gradually learns to perceive the dividing line. The subject-object dichotomy is therefore something we have all had to hammer out by trial and error in our early lives. Indeed, for many people a more accurate perception of the boundary between self and other is still a big part of their spiritual task.

Nevertheless Buddhism teaches that, having become individuals, we are still far from Reality. We still don't see things as they really are. Spiritual growth, although it may begin by completing and securing a true discrimination of self and other, must go on to transcend it. Until we can do so we remain preoccupied with 'looking after number one'. In the abstract, we know that others are, like us, centres of consciousness, desire and suffering. At a deeper level of our minds, however, they remain 'objects' – aids or hindrances to our private goals.

The spiritual life consists in realising ever more fully that others, too, are subjects, and in living from that realisation. This can be a spiritual practice, something undertaken outside meditation as well as within it, just as systematically as other practices. The method is to adopt the 'self' of another person as our own – that is, to give it equal or even preferential treatment.

Shantideva expressed the idea beautifully in his classic poem the Bodhicaryavatara:

'All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others. For one who fails to exchange his own happiness for the suffering of others, Buddhahood is certainly impossible.'

The capacity to identify with others is thus an attack on our root delusion of selfhood, and an avenue to Enlightenment. Shantideva makes it clear that we must ultimately practise this exchange of self and other in relation to all beings, but we can hardly hope to go straight to that ultimate stage. Common sense suggests that, until we can practise it in relation to a few people – at least one – we have little hope of doing it indiscriminately.

Metta, or loving-kindness, is the basis of the exchange, so it is logical to start with someone for whom we already feel benevolence. Lovers and family members are too close to being extensions of 'self', so the best choice will surely be a close spiritual friend. The warmth and intimacy of friendship provide the perfect springboard for the dive into selflessness. And a friend (unlike someone to whom we are attached by possessive affection) is not an object of needy attachment, so our dive will not unwittingly lead us into a subtler form of selfishness.

We can practise the exchange of self and other with spiritual friends by developing mindfulness of their needs and putting them before our own. Whenever we give up something for the sake of our friends, we take another small step forward on the path of transcending ourselves. We enter more deeply into their subjectivity and let go of our attachment to our own. In Anuruddha's words, 'Why should I not set aside what I wish to do, and do what these venerable ones wish to do?'

Eventually, we will be able to identify not just with friends but with all beings, and not just in flashes, but as our habitual mode of consciousness. In short, friendship can be the path on which we travel from selfishness to selflessness. Here, perhaps, is the deepest meaning of the Buddha's saying that friendship is the whole of the spiritual life. It gives us a context in which to practise selflessness. And since selflessness is the goal of the spiritual life, friendship must be co-extensive with that life.

Spiritual friendship (not just including friendship between peers) is also vital to Buddhism socially or collectively because it creates the Sangha. Membership of a spiritual community consists not in adherence to a list of abstract propositions, but in participation in a common spirit, and this spirit can only be adequately experienced in friendship. One of the benefits of spiritual friendship is the development of the Sangha, with the Aryasangha – the community of the Enlightened – at its summit. It is only through the medium of the Sangha, especially the Aryasangha, that the Dharma (the truths that Buddhism imparts through its teachings) can be perpetuated as a living force over a period of generations.

The great sociologist Max Weber identified a pattern in the development of religious groups that he called the 'routinisation of charisma'. This is the phenomenon whereby the followers of a 'charismatic' religious teacher attempt to perpetuate their cohesion and purpose by codifying a doctrine, formulating rules and founding institutions. This process is probably necessary, yet how often, in the history of religious movements, it seems to contribute to the loss of what was most vital in the founder's vision.

A striking historical example of this phenomenon is the rapid rise and equally rapid ossification of the Franciscan Order within the Catholic Church. The Order, inspired by the leadership and example of Saint Francis himself, grew very swiftly in his lifetime. Not long after his death, however, a serious conflict developed between two wings – the 'spirituals', who wanted to stick to the pure vision of Francis, and the 'conventuals', who wanted to establish the Franciscans on the same lines as the other monastic orders of the time. The conflict finally ended in the triumph of the conventuals and – tragically – the execution of some of the spirituals.

Although Franciscans remain numerous in the Catholic Church to this day, they are divided into many separate orders, for the same tension has been played out again and again since that time. What is more, the bitterness of the original conflict seems to show that Francis failed to transmit his own inspiration fully. The most likely explanation of his failure is that he allowed his order to grow too fast for the successful communication (and therefore the preservation) of his spiritual vision. There was no possibility that his influence – his spiritual friendship, as one might call it – could be transmitted throughout such a rapidly expanding body.

One lesson from this story is that a spiritual community can only expand at the speed at which a circle of friendships can grow. Otherwise it becomes merely an institution. An institution may still be a force for good in the world: it may still be animated here and there, from time to time, with flashes of the original fire, but in itself it is something less than a spiritual community. A mere institution lacks the spiritual community's harmonious unity – its 'oneness in mind' – and its spiritual vitality.

Let me emphasise that I am not saying that 'institutions' as such are the enemy of harmony or vitality. Actually, they are indispensable if a spiritual group wishes to grow beyond a small, private circle, to have a real influence on the world. But institutional growth must be the servant of an expanding network of friends, not a substitute for it.

A test of the spiritual vitality of any spiritual institution is therefore whether there are strong friendships among its members. A clue would be found in the relative importance given to friendship over other kinds of relationship. If, on examining such a group, one saw that even married members put more emphasis on their spiritual friendships than on their family relationships (while not shirking their family duties, of course) it would augur well for the survival of that fellowship as a true spiritual community. One should also, however, consider whether the members not only got on well among themselves, but were also friendly to people beyond their own charmed circle. True friendship is not exclusive; it always includes a willingness to make new friends.

Through the Sangha, the Dharma can live on as something more than a body of texts or an institutional 'shell'. In this way, spiritual friendship, as well as benefiting the individuals who practise it, also benefits future generations. This gives us yet another perspective on the Buddha's statement that friendship is the whole of the spiritual life.

From - www.DharmaLife.com

5. Amazon.com / Book - Buddhism and Friendship by Subhuti with Subhamati


Subhuti with Subhamati
ISBN: 1899579621
224 pages, paperback

An Extract from: Buddhism and Friendship - From Chapter 6

At this point, we can begin to discern a relationship between wisdom and friendship. As we have seen, one of the basic ingredients of any friendship is benevolence — what Buddhism calls metta. It is impossible to imagine how there could be a genuine, deep benevolence except on the basis of those moments in which we step outside ourselves and identify with another person. Metta therefore already has something of the flavour of wisdom in it. Unlike most forms of love, it is a strangely objective emotion, because it is free of appetite or anxious dependence, and therefore is not clouded by subjective concerns. By calling metta objective I am not suggesting it is in any way cool or cerebral: it is as warm and vibrant as any other form of love. But unlike other forms, its nature is to appreciate others for what they are in themselves, rather than as sources of satisfaction of one’s own desires. Metta is therefore an emotion that carries you out of yourself, transporting you beyond self-concern to identification with another human being. Of course, in order to take you very far outside yourself, and for more than a short while, metta needs to have a strength it can find only in sustained spiritual practice.

Perhaps metta on its own — at least if we define it as an emotion, without any thinking aspect — may not break down our delusive belief in the distinction between self and other, but our capacity for metta, if we develop it far enough, stretches and attenuates that belief to the point where it can be ‘seen through’. We should therefore conjoin our efforts to feel metta with an attempt to cultivate wisdom — recognizing that, in a way, these are just two different aspects of the same process. One method of doing so is to adopt the self of another person as one’s own — that is, to give it equal or even preferential treatment. This means making an effort to be mindful of that person in a very sustained and sensitive way: to resonate deeply with their point of view, to identify with their needs and wishes, whether in large matters or small, to give priority to their happiness and well being, even where doing so obliges one to put aside one’s own desires.…

But who should those few, or that one, be? Metta is the basis of the exchange, so it would seem logical to start where one already feels a strong benevolence. It would also seem wise to choose somebody for whom one’s metta is pure — that is, not too mixed with one’s own ‘need-love’. Where our own needs are involved — especially the need to be loved and valued by someone else — it is easy to delude ourselves that we are giving selflessly, when in fact we are not. Before we can effectively practise the exchange of self and other, we need to know the nature of our love. Otherwise the practice could be a plunge into a subtle form of selfishness — one from which we may emerge feeling cheated when the loved one fails to keep his or her part of the bargain. However, if the love is genuinely based on the kalyana, we won’t expect the loved one to do anything in return for our giving up of self. A mature spiritual friendship therefore seems to be the best context in which to practise the exchange of self and other. What does this high-sounding ideal mean in daily life? We can start to practise the exchange of self and other simply by being more and more mindful of the needs of our friends, and putting them before our own. Whenever one makes some kind of sacrifice, or gives up something for the sake of a friend, one takes another small step forward on the path of transcending self: one enters more deeply into the friend’s subjectivity and lets go attachment to one’s own. In Anuruddha’s words, ‘Why should I not set aside what I wish to do, and do what these venerable ones wish to do?’.

Eventually, this practice may lead to the insight that the whole notion of subject and object is just a useful manner of speaking, not a metaphysical fact. Once that insight has arisen, it will tend to spread outwards, leading us to identify not just with present friends, but with all living beings, and not just in flashes but as a habitual mode of consciousness.


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