More from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s essay, Spiritual Friendship:
The relationship between student and teacher provides an ideal field for both to work at tackling the importunate demands of the ego. …
One quality that the Buddha considered essential in a qualified student is called (in Pali) suvaco, which means being “easy to speak to.” A student who is “easy to speak to” is ready to listen to his or her teacher and to accept the teacher’s advice without resentment, without vindictiveness, without arguing back, without complaints. Spiritual growth in the Dharma is a process of abandoning one’s faults and replacing them with the opposing virtues. Yet too often we are blind to our own faults, unable or unwilling to see them.
A skilful teacher is like a mirror: he shows us our faults clearly, insistently, without deception, reminding us of the faults we continually strive to hide from ourselves. For it is only when we are willing to see our faults that we can correct them. If we go on denying these faults, insisting that we are perfect, then we will continue to wallow in them, like a buffalo in the mud. But when we open up to the teacher and show a willingness to see our own faults, to subdue our self-will, we then take the first major step in the direction of correcting them.
(full essay here – http://www.bps.lk/olib/nl/nl057.pdf#nameddest=a)
This point has significant value for us as students of the Buddha’s path today. How can we progress if we can’t see that there are attitudes we carry and things we do that are obstructing our freedom? No one likes to be criticized, but this impasse makes it hard for us to shed unwholesome habits of body and mind. The quality of being “easy to speak to” (sometimes translated as “easy to admonish”) can be developed. We can notice our defensiveness, step back a bit and humbly invite in any available learning.
If we have a teacher or spiritual friends, we may have to tell them specifically that we would welcome their reflections if they see or hear us doing things that seem unwholesome. Our culture doesn’t support this type of relationship, but a special invitation can bring results. Sometimes we see others harming themselves (impatience, agitation, laziness, arrogance, unworthiness, to name a few possibilities) and it’s too difficult to say anything. They may not want to have it brought to their attention.
One way forward is to initiate a discussion with a spiritual friend by asking, “What do you consider your biggest obstacle to inner freedom?”, and then listening carefully and patiently to what is said in response. Whether we recognize the truth of their perceptions or not, we can examine any available evidence – actions or words that reflect the obstruction (or not).
It’s important for this to be a two-way conversation. We can say out loud what we consider our greatest obstacle and ask our spiritual friend if their perception matches our own. By opening this door to self-awareness, we take a big step towards freedom.