There is a wonderful article to be found at http//www.urbandharma.org entitled Friendship in the Spiritual Community. Here the author shares an account of a conversation between Ananda and the Buddha. “Lord”, Ananda declares, “this spiritual friendship, spiritual companionship and spiritual intimacy is no less than half of the spiritual life.” The Buddha replies, “Say not so Ananda. It is the whole, not the half of the spiritual life.”
The idea about the essential nature and importance of friendship really made me pause and reflect. Certainly our spirituality does not exist in a vacuum. Words like love, compassion and forgiveness are not empty ideations but exist in relationship to another, to “I and Thou”. Here is the ‘word’ made manifest. Relationships are the proving ground of our evolving consciousness. I would like to highlight the following points made by the author.
- Many of those Buddhists who are familiar with the concept of spiritual friendship or kalyana mitrata think of it in terms of a ‘teacher-disciple’ relationship (or a ‘vertical’ relationship). 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.
- Notwithstanding the common image of the Buddha as solitary and withdrawn, in the East many images depict the Buddha accompanied by his chief disciples Sariputta and Moggallana, with hands raised in respect before them.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, (spiritual community) incorporating the vertical and horizontal axis of spiritual friendship in a single image.
- 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. (Italics mine.)
Christ imparted the concept of the vertical and horizontal axis of friendship, as well. “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Walking the spiritual path together secures the blessings of the Teacher and the Teaching. In friendship our shortcomings and flaws are only passing shadows, a source of humor and pathos. We are reinforced on our journey by the true bonds of friendship– those formed by our aspirations for transcendence. Here in the living world, we are blest to find friendship and to discover in it a deep well– a profound source and activator of psychological insight and spiritual growth.