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.