Cultivating Spiritual Friendships

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Dear Still Water Friends,

These past few weeks I’ve been thinking about friendship. Perhaps it is related to having been out of the country for two months, away from my wife, Ann-Mari, and from the friends I have been practicing with for many years.

In an often quoted exchange from the Upaddha Sutta, Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, suggests to the Buddha that spiritual friendships are half of the spiritual life. The Buddha corrects him:

Not so, Ananda! Not so, Ananda! This is the entire spiritual life, Ananda, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship.

The Buddha goes on to explain that having good spiritual friends is beneficial in two ways. Good friends help the practitioner to practice better. He or she is able to embody the Noble Eightfold Path of right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. A practitioner is also able to attain the goal of the spiritual life through his or her friendship with and emulation of the Buddha:

. . . by relying on me as a good friend, Ananda, beings subject to birth are freed from birth; beings subject to aging are freed from aging; beings subject to death are freed from death; beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair are freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair. (Translations by Bhikku Bodhi.)

What the Buddha meant by being a good friend is amplified in the Sigہlaka Sutta in which the Buddha offers life advice to a young Brahmin. He suggests there are four types of loyal or good-hearted friends:

  • The helpful friend . . . looks after you when you are inattentive, he looks after your possessions when you are inattentive, he is a refuge when you are afraid, and when some business is to be done he lets you have twice what you ask for.

  • “The friend who is the same in happy and unhappy times . . . tells you his secrets, he guards your secrets, he does not let you down in misfortune, he would even sacrifice his life for you.

  • “The friend who points out what is good for you . . . keeps you from wrongdoing, he supports you in doing good, he informs you of what you did not know, and he points out the path to heaven.

  • “The sympathetic friend . . . does not rejoice at your misfortune, he rejoices at your good fortune, he stops others who speak against you, and he commends others who speak in praise of you. (Translation by Maurice Walshe)

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will focus our Dharma Discussion on friendship: What helps us, assists us, enables us to cultivate intimate and spiritual friendships? What makes it more difficult, is an obstacle, takes us away from cultivating intimate and spiritual friendships?

You are invited to join us.

You are are also invited to join us this week for a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at

An excerpt from Bhikku Bodhi on Spiritual Friensdhips is below.

Warm wishes,



Coming Home to Ourselves: A Day of Practice, December 9, 2012, at Blueberry Gardens, Ashton, MD

Beginning the Year Mindfully Potluck Brunch, January 1, 2013, iin Silver Spring, Md.

Mindfulness Traninings Transmission Ceremony, January 5, 2013, Oakton, Va.

Deepening Our Practice: The Science of the Buddha, January 12 to April 7, 2013 in Takoma Park or Columbia, MD

A Calm Mind and A Joyful Heart: An Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation, January 21, 2013 at Crossings, Silver Spring, MD

Smiling like a Buddha: A Ten-Session Mindfulness Meditation Class, January 28 to April 15, 2013 at Crossings, Silver Spring, MD

Becoming a Spiritual Friend

from Spiritual Friendships by Bhikku Bodhi

… when we enter into a spiritual friendship based upon dedication to a common goal, this friendship helps us to transform our attachments and ego-centered drives. Even more, it helps us to transcend the very idea of the ego-self as a substantive reality. Spiritual friendship, we discover, is not about satisfying my personal needs, or even about my satisfying the other person’s personal needs. It’s about each of us contributing as best we can to uplift each other, and to bring each other closer to the ideals of the dharma.

In spiritual friendship we are concerned with the other person not because of the ways that person satisfies us, but because we want to see the other person grow and develop in the direction of greater wisdom, greater virtue, greater understanding. We want the other person’s wholesome qualities to attain maturity and bring forth fruits for the benefit of others.

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