“Spiritual Friendship”

There is a word for spiritual friendship. Kalyana-mitra, or “good friend”, is the concept behind all of our work in encouraging others and spurring on our own exploration. Being fully present and looking and listening to others deeply is basic for any spiritual friendship. When we become the spiritual friend of another, we hear, support, and encourage the other. When we practice in this way, joyous and profound compassion arises, knowing that we have been of help and that we have improved the universe just a little bit.

In our Blue Lotus Assembly work, our first pledge made is to prevent the arising of negativity, to encourage wholesome goodness, and to offer spiritual encouragement to all others. That is the San Ju Jo Kai “disciple of Shugendo” initiation. Spiritual friends bring out the best in each other by practicing right speech consistently and lovingly. We all have the ability to recognize what is agitating and wrong, and conversely what is soothing and supportive. A kalyana-mitra works to steer towards healing and wholeness and bring out the best in their friends.

A kalyana-mitra spiritual friend is a confidant, a fellow traveller on the path. He or she is most usually a person who has already gone through many of the trials that one of lesser time and experience on the path of wholeness has encountered. The spiritual friend’s counsel is offered from experience, study, and aspiration, but it is offered as loving suggestions and not as religious dictates.

In the West, where there is heavy emphasis on individuality, personal responsibility (well, sort of), and “doing it our way”, the concept of a guru, or one who takes responsibility for the spiritual welfare of others, does not set well for most. We distrust the concept of following unquestioningly someone else, even an enlightened someone else. We want to hedge our bets. We may follow, but just as long as the guru’s advice fits our prejudices.

For that reason, as we are after all Westerners, the Blue Lotus Assembly chooses to emphasize the role of kalyana-mitra as spiritual friend over guru as spiritual guide as our primary way of operating. We shun the idea of someone operating as a “spiritual teacher”, dedicated to guiding the lives of others from some lofty and respected position. Instead, we offer each other loving and sincere suggestions and encouragement, which can be enthusiastically embraced, taken on with some reservations, or simply “put on a shelf” for possible future consideration when we are more ready.

Though we need the support of others, we may secretly resist the idea of practicing together in a group. We are embarrassed by our past history or our challenges. We do not want to expose ourselves to others. We prefer our privacy. We are afraid of condemnation or misunderstanding from others. We resent others as having more wisdom than we do. The intimacy of a small group may frighten us. We may fear that the group will become cliquish or political. 

But if we see ourselves engaged with a group of fellow seekers, all willing to varying degrees to make public their challenges, hang-ups, and obstacles, this can be a deeply relieving and empowering advancement in life. We accept the spiritual friendship of our fellows. We enjoy the freedom to just be our honest and true naked selves, warts and all. We see ourselves on a beautiful radiant journey through realms of scary darkness leading to the bright light of breakthrough.

How wonderful to have found our kalyana-mitra spiritual friends. Do not take that blessing for granted.

5 Wisdom Transformations

For decades I have searched for teachings on how the 5 personality flaws (anger, neediness, ignorance, egotism, envy) are said to be transformed into the 5 parts of wisdom. Just how are the negatives transformed into the positives? What is the process? I am still researching, but here is a very brief overview of the process:

From the water element, when we recognize our hatred and alienation and show it patience, it becomes a deep clear mindfulness; distance and space to notice what is truly there. “It is what it is.” May all beings find clarity and transmute anger and rejection to become the wisdom that is like a great round mirror reflecting what is. Knowing from a distance gives us precision.

From the fire element, when we recognize desire and desperation and approach it with compassion, it becomes focused discernment; zeroing in on just the right thing for the specific situation at hand. “Target zeroed in.” May all beings find direction and transmute greedy desperation to become the wisdom of discernment. Focusing in on what we want gives us direction.

From the earth element, when we recognize our pride and egotism and show it some curiosity and open-mindedness, it becomes insight into the equality of all things; everything has its value. “It’s all good.” May all beings find openness and transmute tight arrogance to become the wisdom of seeing the value of all. Accepting all that benefits us gives us bigness.

From the wind element, when we recognize our envy and restlessness and add disciplined commitment, it becomes all-accomplishing action; you make your contribution. “So how can I help?” May all beings find purpose and transmute jealous insecurity to become the wisdom of accomplishment. Recognizing and seizing our opportunities gives us completion.

From the void element, when we recognize our ignorance and dullness and add depth of understanding, it becomes awakening to the bigger picture; the calm certainty of knowing all that is. “So that’s the true nature of reality.” May all beings find wisdom and transmute confused ideas to become insight into the vastness of truth. Allowing broadness of mind gives us advancement.

Snow blowing off the mountain

Photo: Geoffrey Garst, Nepal

by Jason Anders

The image of snow blowing off the mountain seems to jump right out and speak to me. The past blows away like that to reveal a hidden rock face.

Vistas greater than a camera eye, I invoke my memory lens. I invoke the part of me captured in each past moment, the one I can still see on the other side of the world.

The snow blows off the surface of the mountain, and I feel like a part of me is blowing away with it. I listen to hear myself in the past. As the past unravels like bandage coils from a mummy, I can feel it.

the sound of horns

by Jason Anders

Life around the temple moves with the rhythm of the practices and performances of the place. Awakening pre-dawn by the sounds of horns. A cool breeze moves the fabric flaps leading inside. Incense sneaks out.

Sleepy monks trail up and down the steps, having left their warm covers, flying into the temple like jumping deer. Into the twisted swath of robes, they sat facing one another. Ah, they were the lucky ones.

Teapots, curved spouts belching white steam, placed outside the entrance. The tea was coming and breakfast too. But first, aspirations to Vajrakilaya, our pledge to become the dispeller of spiritual obstacles to enlightenment.

The shepard and the goat

Photo: Geoffrey Garst, Nepal

by Jason Anders

We were hiking along the valley behind Pema Ts’al in Nepal. Sheer cliffs to the right, snaky river to the left.

Photo: Geoffrey Garst, Nepal

As we began to round the corner, in the ascent back toward the Tibetan village, and our way back to our home for the week, our paths silently crossed that of a sheep herder bringing his flock back from the river.

Photo: Geoffrey Garst, Nepal

What a striking image. Back to antiquity. Such gentle daily rhythms continue to be viable. We yielded the path. Watched the procession before us. And as we did, one young member split off from the pack. Walked straight up to Geoff’s camera, and stared directly at us.

Grinning and laughing about the bold directness of this particular member, we were astonished when it broke out in a perfect, photogenic grin!

Photo: Geoffrey Garst, Nepal

And held it, as if giving us time to get the camera setting right. Then after acknowledging this moment of contact, turned, and slowly rejoined the slow march up the slope we were all making together.

Photo: Geoffrey Garst, Nepal

How are we connected to everything that surrounds us, and in what unexpected ways? Certainly, we all existed together in that moment, if only for the duration of a camera snapshot. Could there have been a slightly thinner veil in that place? The veil that covers all things from ourselves. Did we pull back that curtain, if only a peep?

panoramic offerings

Panoramic view of central shrine

by Jason Anders

At Pema Ts’al monastery in Nepal, a condensed panoramic image. Yellow flags cover the Vajrakilaya mandala and artifacts at left. At right, windows open to clean, cold, refreshing air and rising mountains. Layers of offerings to peaceful and wrathful forms decorate colorful bowls and rows of tormas. Can I identify with the impact of their living force?

Special mountain incense, burning juniper leaves on a metal censor, I brush over myself. I can purify this invisible part of me.

Boudhanath

by Jason Anders

Ever since I was a kid, flipping through my first book on World Religions, the image of this stupa captivated me. It seemed so impossibly far away, remote and magical.

I arrived late at night, traveling down narrow, rough, and dusty streets. Early the next morning, I made my way up to a little balcony facing East. Boudhanath jutted up out of the sprawl. I was here!

I had somehow caught up with the utter impossible in my life.

vajrakilaya at gar drolma september 2019

Gar Drolma Vajrakilaya Anshu

by Jason Anders

An-shu Stephen K. Hayes, working with Khenpo Samdup Rinpoche at the Gar Drolma Buddhist Learning and Meditation Center in Dayton, OH, completed a three day Vajrakilaya retreat. An available text for the practice came from An-shu’s special English translation, matching syllable by syllable the Tibetan pronunciation, rhythm, and beat.

Included over the weekend were instructions on setting the text to drums, bells, and hand drum, as well as many in depth discussions based on years of experience in Buddhist teachings abroad.

Samsara and Nirvana

Samsara is mind pulled outward when beholding externals.

Lost and confused in the deluded belief in the reality of what the mind itself creates through interpretation, and then projects outward, externals are perceived to be absolute independent self-existing reality.
We are caught.

Nirvana is mind turned inward and recognizing the true nature of externals.

Recognizing the mind’s true nature, perceived externals are recognized as the mind’s projections, and then their seeming reality dawns into understanding.
We are freed.