The Jewel of the Sangha

There’s a story in the sutras about Ananda going to the Buddha filled with love for the sangha saying, “Lord, I think that half of the Holy Life is spiritual friendship, association with the Lovely.” And the Buddha replied: “Not so; say not so, Ananda. Spiritual friendship, association with the Lovely is not half of the Holy Life, it is the whole of the Holy Life!”

The Pali word for “association with the Lovely” is kalyanamitta. “Kalyana” means “lovely” or beautiful and “mitta” means “friend.” So, Lovely–or Loving–Friends. Mmmm. I feel that in the sangha. But, I have that same experience in many relationships in my life. When we say “spiritual friendship,” we don’t just mean the people we sit with in the sangha on Monday or Thursday. It isn’t just teacher and student. It’s also our husband, wife, or partner. It’s our lover, friends, teacher, siblings, children, parents, employer and co-workers. All of these different kinds of relationships are spiritual and supportive when we come to them with the Dharma and an open heart; with loving-kindness and compassion for one another.

Here’s a story I read some years ago by Ajahn Amaro:

“This year I learnt the word, ‘schmoozing,’ ‘to schmooze;’ I think it is a Yiddish word. It means to hang out with your friends, and chat and drink tea, doing nothing very much, just having a good time together. To schmooze is a very admirable and useful activity, and I’m not being facetious here. It is amazing how often people who are interested in spiritual practice come to a centre like this monastery, and listen to a talk or do a retreat and, as soon as it is over, everyone goes home. Sometimes you go to Buddhist groups for years, and you find that the people in the group hardly know each other. But part of developing our spiritual life is to spend time with each other, to generate a sense of respect and gratitude for each other’s interests and commitment to spiritual values; not to just think: “The talk is over, now it’s time to go home.” or, “The retreat is finished, now I’ll go off, I’ve got this and that to do.” “Through getting to know those who delight in the Buddha’s teaching we create a connection with them; we establish a support system. This is kalyanamitta, the network of spiritual friendship. This is what really enables us as a human society to hold together. Political agreements don’t work, laws don’t work; it is our ability to strengthen and affirm our qualities of inner beauty, of kindness and generosity, and to encourage those in others – that’s what enables human beings to live in a wholesome and profitable way.”

May you be well, today, my Dear Sangha.

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