“When relying on the sacred spiritual friend, our faults become exhausted
And our good qualities increase like the waxing moon.
It is the practice of bodhisattvas to value such a sacred spiritual friend
As more precious than their own body.”
-The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, verse 6.*
What is a spiritual friend?
In this context it’s someone with the qualities that we want to embody ourselves. We have the ability to choose who we spend time with. The truth is that if you’re spending your time with people who are trying to be wise and virtuous in their own lives, then it’s a little harder to be a jerk. When we spend time with people that are trying to grow and are encouraging us to grow, that is a great value. And the flip side is if we’re spending time with people that are rude or mean, those qualities will grow in us.
Nagarjuna said, “Through relying on a spiritual friend, pure conduct will be completely perfected.”
There’s a story from the Buddha’s life that I want to share with you.
The Buddha’s assistant Ananda (who was also his cousin and best friend) went up to him and said, “You know, I’m beginning to think that half of the path is just spending time with spiritual friends.”
And the Buddha said, “No Ananda, it’s the whole path.”
I love that story. It really gets at what matters. Being on this growth journey alone is incredibly difficult. It’s so easy to get off track without friends. In the same way people seem to have an easier time getting to the gym and working out when they have a buddy. In the same way support groups really help people that are battling addiction. We don’t need to do this alone.
The spiritual community can be like a support group. Or even just one friend who is trying to grow like you are can be a great help.
I wanted to practice without that community aspect. I am, by nature, more than a little introverted. Social gatherings aren’t my favorite thing and meeting new people isn’t my favorite thing either. It takes me a long time to get comfortable with other people. And I’m telling you that because I am certain many of you struggle with that as well.
I tried to practice Buddhism without a community for a long time and I really regret that. That’s not to say those years were wasted but I could have had so many more…