“…what are the greatest blessings
which bring about a peaceful and happy life.
Please, Tathagata, will you teach us?”

(This is the Buddha’s answer):
“Not to be associated with the foolish ones,
To live in the company of wise people,
Honouring those who are worth honouring”

Mahamangala Sutra

A friend and I have been debating what is of greater value: friends that do things with you and for you (drive you to the airport, help you in times of material need) or friends that show you the way to unconditional happiness and spiritual freedom. Naturally, these are not exclusive – being driven to the airport can be done with love and that love can be spiritually awakening. All practical aspects of life have a spiritual dimension, whether that is explicitly recognized or not.

The comparative “greater value” may not be appropriate either.  Why compare them even. A friend you help by driving them to the airport benefits even from just the drive – and the driver benefits from the giving. Giving and generosity are a practice of liberation too, so even just giving the ride is of great value.

Yet the gift of Dharma is of immeasurable value and the friends on the path who share it with you are invaluable friends. They are rowing with you to the other shore.  Friends who are not on the path will help you in worldly ways – lend you money, fix problems, resolve conflicts.  This is good.  But it is a greater good, I think, is to know how to be truly happy in ways that do not depend on whether your problems are fixed, how much money you have or whether all conflicts are resolved.

Spiritual friendship (Kalyāṇa-mitta) is embodied in your Sangha. And the Sangha is one of the “three jewels” for this reason: it is the vehicle to freedom from all suffering. Hence it is to be treasured above all else.

3 thoughts on “Kalyāṇa-mitta

  1. On the other hand, friends who are not on the path are just as revealing of the dharma as are friends who like us choose to travel the eight fold path. I would thus say that they are to be treasured just as much as the sangha. The sangha is a refuge and a tremendous help for those seeking freedom from suffering but I’m not convinced there is a need for it to be “treasured above all else”.

    It is easy to cherish the sangha but it’s a lot harder to Love everyone around you yet that ability, I believe, is intrinsic to attaining freedom from suffering.

  2. Yes you have a good point. Enemies can be your “best friends” that way – they can teach you the path of non-discrimation and boundless love. But I think that for enemies to play that role as teacher, you also need the Sangha because the Sangha has wisdom and also the Buddha within it. Your enemies can only teach you if there is awareness that allows you to transform the suffering that enemies inflict into love and understanding. Buddhas, Arahants and bodhisattvas may be able to do it alone, but the rest of us need a Sangha, I think.

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