Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dhamma And Friendship

The Buddha  spoke about friendship more than any other human relationship and he identified several types of friends and the levels  or  intensities of friendship associated with them. Most commonly he spoke of ordinary  friends, what we  would  call acquaintances, chums or mates  (mitta, sakha and sambhatta), people we like, we get on well with, socialize with  but with whom  our connection  is not  deep. The basis of much ordinary friendships is  reciprocity, shared interests and benefits.  Then there are  loving friends, called by the Buddha heart friends or  bosom friends (mitta  sahada),  or sometimes true friends (sahaya   or samdittha), those of whom we can say we really love. We describe such a friend as being our “soul mate” and others might comment that we “get along together famously”.  Typically, we have only two or three such friends, they are usually the same gender as ourselves, and our connection with them not uncommonly last a lifetime. Such friends may not see each other for years,  then meet again and  resume their relationship  as if they only saw each other last week. Anurudha told the Buddha that the loving companionship between he and his friends meant that they were  “different in body but one in mind” (kaya ekam ca pana manna cittam, M.III,156). In an interesting parallel to this Aristotle defined loving friendship as “two souls in one body.”
In the famous Sigalovada Sutta the Buddha  enumerated what he  considered the  virtues of a loving friend. These include giving more of anything you ask them for, reassuring you when you are frightened, being constant through thick and thin, rejoicing in your successes, looking after you when you are off your guard, discouraging you from doing wrong  and encouraging you to do good, confiding in you and keeping the  confidences you share. A loving friend might, should the need  arise, even risk his or her life for you (D.III,187). The Jatakas says of a loving friend; “A ordinary friend will go seven steps for you, a loving friend (sahaya) will go twelve. If he does so  for a fortnight or a month he  is  family, more than that and he is your second self.” What is here translated as  ‘second self’ is  attasamo  which literally means ‘the same as oneself’, Ja.I,365). These virtues imply kindness, unstinting generosity, loyalty, sympathetic joy and absolute openness and trust. One will, the Buddha said; “cherish and nurture such a friend as a mother does the child of her own breast” (D.III,188).
When two people’s loving friendship includes a significant spiritual element they become what the Buddha called  kalyana mitta and their  relationship is called kalyana mittata. A kalyana mitta is the ideal friend and  kalyana mittata is the supreme human relationship. Kalyana literally means ‘beautiful’ or ‘lovely’ although the Buddha was not referring to physical attractiveness but inner beauty, the beauty of  integrity, kind-heartedness,  virtue and love of the Dhamma.  “If someone is jealous, selfish or dishonest, they are unattractive despite any eloquence or good features they might have. But the person  who is purged of such things and free from them, it is they who are really beautiful”  (Dhp.262-3). I will translate kalyana mitta as spiritual friend.

The Buddha described a spiritual friend as being  “loving, pleasant, a good mentor, experienced, committed, able to explain things well,  with profound understanding, and being concerned with your welfare”  (A.IV,32). And he spoke of spiritual friendship like this.  “What is spiritual friendship? Concerning this, whether living in a village or town one consorts with, comes together with, associates and discusses with  people, whether young or old, who are full of faith, virtue, generosity and wisdom. One emulates the faith of the faithful, the virtue of the virtuous, the generosity of the generous and the wisdom of the wise. This is called spiritual friendship”  (A.IV,282). While the Buddha emphasized that the Dhamma has to be  “attained by the wise each for himself or herself”,   he also stressed that this cannot be done in isolation from others. Being self-confidently independent is important, but it needs to be balanced with the emotional sustenance that friendship offers.  “Ananda said to the Lord;  ‘Spiritual friendship, intimacy and  companionship  are half of the holy life.’ The Lord replied; ‘Not so Ananda! Not so! Spiritual friendship, intimacy and  companionship  are all of the holy life. When one has a spiritual friend, a spiritual intimate, a spiritual companion it can be expected that he will develop and cultivate  the Noble Eightfold path.’ ” (S.V,2).  


Blogger said...

:) Like!!

If you gain a mature companion, a fellow traveler, right-living & wise, overcoming all dangers go with him, gratified, mindful.

We praise companionship — yes! Those on a par, or better, should be chosen as friends....

Consort with one who is learned, who maintains the Dhamma, a great & quick-witted friend. Knowing the meanings, subdue your perplexity, [then] wander alone like a rhinoceros.....

-Khaggavisāna Sutta

lamb-O said...

Except for one, all of my good friendships are gone. Including the one with the person I would regard as my soul mate. And yes, so any trace of a holy life is gone. That's how it is.