The Joy of Spiritual Friendship

The Joy of Spiritual Friendship

Upcoming / ongoing:

Class series:  The Seven Steps to Freedom: Understanding How to Balance Your Life. Dates: Seven Mondays, May 6 to June 24 from 6:15 – 7:45 p.m. Location: The Sol Center, Tucson, AZ. You are welcome to attend any one class or all eight in the series. $30/session, Sol Center member discount is applicable. (MORE INFO)

Dear Friends,

The Joy of Spiritual Friendship

To explore the topic of friendship in the Dharma and what it means for us as Buddhist practitioners, I want to talk about some of the benefits of friendship, and of restoring respect to the role of friendship in our lives. I know, for me, it’s something that I have sometimes taken for granted in the past. If I think of a friend in the conventional sense of the word, it’s someone to hang out with, to share interests with, and to possibly have a cup of tea, coffee, or a meal with. Admirable friendship or Kalyana Mitta, as it is known in the ancient Pali language, is another dimension of this, both as a path to, and a support for, greater freedom and awakening; an undying connection with others based on loyalty, understanding, honesty, trust, and openness.

One of the phrases in the Buddhist teachings on spiritual friendship is “relationship with the wise.” It’s a suggestion that we begin to cultivate relationships with people who are spiritual practitioners. Sometimes it is a teacher — like a big “T,” teacher, someone who is very advanced in their practice, experience, and understanding, and who offers a taste of experienced wisdom. Often, it’s referring to a colleague or a fellow practitioner also on the path. It may be a community or sangha member or perhaps someone who’s just a few steps more experienced –  a being with a similar practice who reminds us of our own aspirations as meditation practitioners and followers of the dharma. This doesn’t mean just Buddhist. It is broader than any one spiritual philosophy. No one group has a monopoly on liberation, and many people who are awakened beings wouldn’t call themselves Buddhists. The wise can be found outside of any spiritual discipline or within different frameworks or traditions. Here is a wonderful example:


In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is “anam cara.” “Annam” is the Gaelic word for soul and “cara” is the word for friend. So anam cara in the Celtic world was a “soul friend.”

In everyone’s life, there is a great need for a soul friend. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away; you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home.

The anam cara experience opens a friendship that is not limited by separation or distance. Such friendship can remain alive even when the friends live far away from each other. Because they have broken through the barriers of egoism to the soul level, the unity of their souls is not easily severed. When the soul is awakened, physical space is transfigured. Even across the distance, two friends can stay attuned to each other and continue to sense the flow of each other’s lives. With this special relationship, you awaken the eternal within you and between you.

(Part of the Anam Cara excerpt is from John O’Donohue.)

Spiritual friendship is one of the advantages of being in a spiritual study group, also known as a community or sangha. Our group is the Desert Insight Meditation Community. In joining and participating, we begin from the place of holding spiritual friendships at the forefront of our practice together. We accept all members equally, respecting our diversity, ethnicity, race, gender, age, and religion, and meet others where they are without judgment. We honor their process; to listen mindfully with our full attention, to speak from a mindful place without harm and with loving friendliness, and ease. We come to know that we can be safe and supported in our practice, and engender our trust in others.

In lovingkindness and compassion,