Spiritual friendships 3

In his essay titled Spiritual Friendship (http://www.bps.lk/olib/nl/nl057.pdf#nameddest=a), Bhikkhu Bodhi identifies two types of spiritual friendship: the “horizontal type” and the “vertical type.” Today we take up the horizontal type in which the friends are at roughly the same level in following the path.

In our worldly life, our friendships are very closely connected with personal attachments, which in turn are rooted in our own egocentric needs. Even when we think we love the other person, often we really love that person because this relationship in some way satisfies a deep need within ourselves. When the other person fails to satisfy this deep need within us, our feelings quickly become embittered and our love turns into resentment or even enmity.

But when we enter into a spiritual friendship based upon dedication to a common goal, this friendship helps us to transform our attachments and ego-centred drives. Even more, it helps us to transcend the very idea of the ego-self as a substantive reality. Spiritual friendship, we discover, is not about satisfying my personal needs, or even about my satisfying the other person’s personal needs. It’s about each of us contributing as best we can to uplift each other, and to bring each other closer to the ideals of the Dharma.

In spiritual friendship we are concerned with the other person not because of the ways that person satisfies us, but because we want to see the other person grow and develop in the direction of greater wisdom, greater virtue, greater understanding. We want the other person’s wholesome qualities to attain maturity and bring forth fruits for the benefit of others. This is the essence of “horizontal” spiritual friendship: a keen interest in helping our friends grow and develop in the practice of the Dharma, in maturing their potential for goodness, for understanding, for wholesomeness.

I’m reminded of a line from the movie, “As Good As it Gets”. The character played by Jack Nicholson is trying to explain to the Helen Hunt character why he wants to be with her. He says, “You make me want to be a better man.”

This is the characteristic that we look for in spiritual friends. Do they make us want to be better people? And conversely, do we help them become their best selves?  Can we imagine ourselves and our friends moving away from energetic attempts to satisfy our ego-driven wants and needs and towards releasing clinging? Is there some evidence of the intention to head in this direction?

We can ask ourselves whether our life partnerships are based on ego-needs or a mutual desire to help each other grow; it’s often a mix of the two. Healthy, long-lasting relationships depend on a gradual shift in motivation from “getting what I need/want” to “how can we support the best in each other?” It is possible to discuss this question openly.

If we find ourselves trying to control others, it’s a sure sign that we are acting from our own ego-needs. We can interrupt this process and attempt to generate an open, loving, accepting, and nourishing field for ourselves and others to grow in.


About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Friendships, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Spiritual friendships 3

  1. Alex Young says:

    This is a very constructive way of looking at friendship. I have been reflecting for some time on the best way to identify true friends and how better to be true friend in return. Of course, Bhikkhu Bodhi in the excerpt you’ve provided resonates. Here is what the Buddha said on the qualities of a true friend as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “He gives what is beautiful, hard to give, does what is hard to do, endures painful, ill-spoken words. His secrets he tells you, your secrets he keeps. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you; when you’re down and out, he doesn’t look down on you. A person in whom these traits are found, is a friend to be cultivated by anyone wanting a friend (Mitta Sutta: A Friend). So the point is that what really differentiates good friends from fast friends is how we react to the difficulties. The hardest part about being a true friend might be listening when our friends give us hints on how to improve and being able to give them the same honesty in return in a way that is more constructive than critical (maybe it’s just by setting a good example). So we’re back to working in the dhamma together as you pointed out: friendship is helping each other to appreciate, accept and overcome the ever-changing, painful and uncontrollable aspects of life. Thanks again for your post!

    • A lot of truth in this read. Often there is confusion as to the real differences between a want and a need, and/or as in friendships as you say; is the friendship fulfilling my own internal need that I might not necessarily be aware of right now, or is it a truly soul sharing friendship based on the other person more than the self? Must add here that the term soulmate is much overused and misunderstood these days Thanks. I would like to hear more on this subject.

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