Spiritual Friendship & Community on the Buddhist Path
“I take refuge in the Sangha,
the community that lives in harmony and awareness…
Dwelling in the refuge of Sangha,
shining light that supports me, keeping my practice free of obstruction…
Taking refuge in the Sangha in myself,
I aspire to help all people build Fourfold Communities,
to embrace all beings and support their transformation…”
-From the “Three Refuges” chant of the Order of Interbeing
Traditionally, one “officially” becomes a Buddhist by Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels: The Buddha, the one who teaches the path to awakening; the Dharma, the teachings that lead to awakening; and the Sangha, the spiritual community that practices the buddhadharma. In one sense, “sangha” can refer to the monastic community of monks and nuns. In a wider sense, “sangha” includes monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen (the Fourfold Sangha).
While Buddhism stereotypically conjures up images of hermits intensely practicing in solitude, the importance of community within Buddhism cannot be overstated. Numerous Buddhist texts emphasize how beneficial and important it is to be a part of the spiritual community. One of the most famous examples comes from the Upaddha Sutta:
“There Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, "This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie."
"Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.”
Closely connected with the concept of sangha is the term “kalyana mitra”. This term means “good/admirable/noble/virtuous friend” and is often translated as “spiritual friend”. In the Buddhist context, spiritual friendship refers to the relationship between students and teachers as well as the relationship between spiritual peers. As the Buddha eloquently states in the Itivuttaka:
“'With regard to external factors, I don't envision any other single factor like admirable friendship as doing so much for a monk in training, who has not attained the heart's goal but remains intent on the unsurpassed safety from bondage. A monk who is a friend with admirable people abandons what is unskillful and develops what is skillful.”
Join us for an evening of dinner and discussion as we explore the concepts of community and spiritual friendship in the Buddhist context. Some of our discussion topics include: how have spiritual and like-minded people (friends, family, teachers) helped you along on the path? How have you helped others on their spiritual journey? How have spiritual communities guided and influenced your practice? Have there been cases when spiritual groups have not been beneficial (cults, extreme-minded, being excluded because of associations, etc.)?
Upaddha Sutta, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
Itivittuka 1.17, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
Selection of Teachings on Admirable Friendship:
“Spiritual Friendship”, a lecture by Bhikkhu Bodhi:
Note: we are here to share and provide others with opportunity to speak. Also we need to be cognizant not to preach or solicit.
Look forward to meeting everyone,
Eddie, Rob, and Jody