Posted in sangha

Spiritual Friendship

The truth is that I didn’t realize how much I valued having a spiritual community until I didn’t have one anymore.

I’ve not said much about this.

I went to a Buddhist Center here in Kansas City for 8 years. I did lots of volunteering and teaching. I led the Youth Program for a while.

I stopped going 3 years ago. It was hard for me. I don’t get comfortable in groups or places very easily and I don’t have a lot of friends. I don’t want to say, “I was mistreated” or something because that would be overstating what happened. I’ll just say that I felt a sense of belonging and it was made clear to me that that feeling was misplaced. I will add that the leadership didn’t agree with me regarding how much respect should be given to members and on the importance of good communication.

The whole experience makes me reflect on what I think communities need to do regarding things like how to deal with problems, how to make people feel valued, how to strengthen the community. These are difficult things to handle and many communities fall short. And the truth is my issue in that community has had an impact on me. I don’t know if I’ll be comfortable joining some other community in the future. I sort of tried to start my own so I wouldn’t have to and that didn’t work out. I don’t have a community that I really feel part of right now, although I have explored some of the other Buddhist communities in Kansas City, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable and like I belong. That’s just the way it is. Spiritual leaders have to be careful.

I used to wonder why spiritual friendship is so important in Buddhism. I’d say it’s important in most spiritual paths. This is not included in the teachings for no reason.                                                                                                                                       

“And what is meant by admirable friendship? There is the case where a lay person, in whatever town or village he may dwell, spends time with householders or householders’ sons, young or old, who are advanced in virtue. He talks with them, engages them in discussions. He emulates consummate conviction in those who are consummate in conviction, consummate virtue in those who are consummate in virtue, consummate generosity in those who are consummate in generosity, and consummate discernment in those who are consummate in discernment. This is called admirable friendship.” – the Buddha, the Dighajanu Sutta.

Admirable friendship is another way of talking about community. On reflection I think the idea of “admirable friends” (kalyana mitra) resonates with me a little more than “spiritual community” or any of the various other terms we could use. It strikes more at the heart of why we’re doing it. It is good for us to spend time with people who are making the same efforts on the path that we are. It motivates and inspires us. It helps us stay on track and reminds us of what’s important. 

But also, the question sometimes gets asked, “How do we make friends as adults?”

Ideally the sangha, or spiritual community, would be a good place for that too. I know I wouldn’t know any other Buddhists if I hadn’t gone to a Buddhist Center. I wouldn’t have met and married my wife if I hadn’t gone to a Buddhist Center.

I’ve heard it said that we become more like the people we spend the most time around. What does that mean we should do? Spend time with virtuous people. Spend time with people that you want to be more like. If we’re on this journey and it’s important to us, then it makes sense to engage with other people on the journey with us. The ideal situation is your whole household goes with you and everyone is exposed to good influences. Often it simply doesn’t work out that way and that’s okay.

What can someone do if there are no communities around to join? Or if the communities around haven’t felt right?

I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a good answer to that besides try to start your own.

But I’d say anyone that lives somewhere with Buddhist centers around should at least try to make the effort to get involved. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, run away if there are red flags. But trying is important.

This path isn’t just something to study and think about. It’s supposed to be a path we’re walking on. And we should try to figure out how to walk on it together whenever we can.