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“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.

21st Century Religion?

Religion can be said to be humanity’s attempt to know the unknowable and control the uncontrollable.

Religion also entails a belief that reality is underpinned by some absolute external supernatural unchanging reality, above or beyond laws of mundane physical nature. Religion thus provides a coping mechanism for a changing world where we fear that reality is impermanent, impersonal, and immanent (the divine is seen as existing in all humble things that take shape around us). Through religion we try to perceive (create?) a world that is permanent, personal, and transcendent.

Because people try to impose what they wish to be real instead of understanding the nature of what is real, there is division and conflict. We see wide ranging forms of prejudice and evil acts because each and every person, community, nation, religion, etc. believes they know what is good and evil, what is and what is not, what should be and should not be.

What if there were a religion founded on empirical research (“I have explored and I have found…”), personal interpretation (“I find it prudent to believe…”), and openness to new bigger possibilities that become evident the more we progress (“I now believe, but reserve the right to change and advance my beliefs as I grow…”)?

In a communicating 21st century world where all beliefs from around the world are open and available to all persons (…as opposed to a limited availability of beliefs based on where you are coming from as it would have been in the 1600s or 1700s), what do you think is the most effective, encouraging, meaningful, and satisfying form for religion to take?

Being Aware of the Mind’s Process

Did you ever have a nightmare so real that you actually felt rescued upon awakening? You felt a deep sense of joy and liberation when you realized it was “only a dream”?

A secret truth is that such bad dream experiences very much parallel the experience of obstacles and fears in waking life too.

This realization will empower you. Direct your life so that rather than being overwhelmed by obstacles and fears, you can operate from the liberating realization that the root source of your perceptions is your own mind.

Almost everything we think and feel, and all our interpretations of what we encounter, are rooted in hope and fear, which in turn, bind our minds to turbulent emotions. This constrains our thoughts to the point where we no longer have any control over them. That is why, according to the shravaka teachings, we need to tame the mind. Or from the bodhisattva point of view, train it to become useful. Or from the vajrayana perspective recognize how the mind works.

Where do you fit in the process?

Earthquake Victims in Tibet

April 14 was Rumiko’s and my 30th wedding anniversary. We celebrated with joy and then were dismayed to hear about the Tibetan earthquake tragedy that day. More than 1,700 people have died and an estimated 10,000 mostly ethnic Tibetans were injured and left homeless in near-freezing temperatures after an earthquake struck a region of Kham, Tibet. More than 85 percent of the houses in Kyigudo, a town of 100,000 people nearest the epicenter, were destroyed along with a major monastery.

I encourage friends to donate relief funds, either directly to an appropriate organization like The Tibet Fund Emergency Earthquake Relief, or by sending a donation to Rumiko’s and my charity Blue Lotus Assembly to form a collection we will donate as a group.

May 13 update: I made a presentation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on stage in front of the audience when he visited us, and requested that he add ours to his contribution to relief work. We collected over $3,000 in donations. That goes a long way in Tibet!

Please join us in keeping the victims of this earthquake in our thoughts and prayers and assisting financially if you are able. So far, the following friends have contributed:
Curtis Adkins
Jacob Bassham
Boulder Quest Center
Brent deMoville
Maison Dhondt
Daniel L. Dunn
Tori Eldrige
Michael Erwin
Tony Griffin family
Richard Harrington
Jackie Haviland
Marissa Hayes
Reina Hayes
Stephen & Rumiko Hayes
Rick Jurvis
Christos Karatsalos
Jesper Ljungquist
Joel Minton
Eamonn Mullaly
Neal Nemhauser
Russell Nemhauser
Newbury Park Martial Arts
Steve Pavlovic
Michael Piper
Robain Polly
Kyle Smith
Marco Tillmann
Richard Titcombe
Jerry C. Townsend
Gail Whipple