Offering and exploring the meaning of spiritual friendship
Kalyanamitrata, or spiritual friendship, is an essential component of spiritual exploration and practice.
Spiritual friends provide guidance, but lack the authoritative control that makes guru relationships so prone to abuse. Offering spiritual friendship to someone is less temping to the ego than being their guru. This is a better, more sustianable model for transmission of realization and dharma. This change in orientation is very relevant to conversations within Shambhala and other Western Buddhist communities at this time.
No one is under any requirement to heed the words of their spiritual friends - though those words are often full of good advice. There is no room for compulsion in the relationship.
In his earlier teachings, Chogyam Trungpa suggests that practitioners should abandon aspirations of realizing enlightenment, and are better served by focusing on developing their practice. It is not hard to see, and indeed many of us are witness to the creation of spiritual hierarchies, where people are judged based on their relative perceived attainment, which serves as a distraction to practice.
It is much better to aspire to engage in spiritual friendships, where we can nourish and encourage each other's practice along the path. Aspiring to be someone's spiritual friend, as opposed to becoming enlightened, or becoming the guru, is a much more realistic, much more sane aspiration.
Many of the problems practicing communities experience seem to stem from the dynamics of having a number of individuals who are more concerned with their own personal gain - whether spiritual or material - than with being good spiritual friends to each other. Subtle and not-so-subtle ego games, turning sangha into a competition rather than a collaboration, forgetting the eightfold path and bodhisattva intentions of working for others before ourselves - these undercut the basic sanity and safeness of our communities.
If we set our sites on the much earthier goal of being good spiritual friends to each other, we will have much better outcomes as a community, a much stronger sangha. There should never be a question of letting instances of abuse slide, or even worse, enabling it, out of some perceived potential for a shift of status inside the organization.
Being a spiritual friend requires acting in the absolute best interests of the sangha at large. Of everyone, of each individual we may encounter. It's not a question of ranking interests, as happens in hierarchical organizations.
If there is abuse occurring within the community, it is absolutely imperative for spiritual friends to root it out and put an end to it. Not to let it languish for decades while fooling themselves into thinking they are serving the basic good in whatever other capacity they may be doing.
The harm that comes about as a result of abuse within a spiritual organization, and then the subsequent institutional betrayal that tends to occur, is so great that it cannot be ignored.
The tree cannot grow fruit if we allow its roots to be poisoned - any sangha that allows for abuse of its members, let alone its children, will not survive.
It is incumbent upon anyone who follows a spiritual path, particularly a path based on mahayana principle, to not only report, but to action, and follow up on, and prevent cases of abuse. It is important that our kalyanamitras have loud voices to bring attention to the injustices that require addressing. No friends or communities benefit from blissing out and ignoring their problems, yet everyone benefits from smiling at fear and embracing the courage and bravery required to confront and transcend our collective problems.
“Howsoever they were tortured, I changed myself to shield them, being thus their joy.”