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15 Points for Friendship

by Paramabandhu

... quite often on that level that we dislike people - just because of some little habit or appearance or things like that.

And, clearly, one of the things we need to do in the spiritual life is go beyond our likes and dislikes. Someone once said about practicing the Dharma: 'The great way is easy if we don't pick and choose'. Practicing the Dharma is easy if we don't pick and choose, if we don't just go with our likes and dislikes.

Moreover, I think it is very valuable to have a range of friends so that we don't just reinforce particular limiting aspects of ourselves. If we are not careful, we can just reinforce particular limited worldviews or particular images of ourselves. For example, if we think, 'I identify with the underdogs' and we just have around us people who identify with the underdogs, that will just reinforce a limiting view.

One of the things I quite like about living in communities is the fact that I have got to live with people who I would never have chosen to live with. There you are - you're living together, so you have to try and do something as best you can. So it is very helpful to try and go beyond our dislikes, to develop a range of friends.

Another aspect of it is that sometimes what can happen is that we don't like somebody because they remind us of something we don't like about ourselves. So, actually, getting to know that person can mean that we get to know ourselves, in a way. We start to face this side of ourself that we don't like. It can be quite illuminating from that point of view.

And then sometimes people who we dislike can actually end up being very good friends. Maitreyabandhu is famous, dare I say it, for disliking people at first who later become very good friends... I am a living example! For some strange reason, when we met, Maitreyabandhu disliked me. As I remember, I think it was principally because I was a doctor and was going to become a psychiatrist, and as he had a nursing background, on principle he disliked me!

From my point of view, I immediately liked him, and because of my own egoism I couldn't understand - it somehow wasn't part of my world view - that somebody could dislike me if I liked them. If I liked somebody, then of course they would like me! That was probably a useful view at the time, even though I have been disabused of it subsequently!

So: if we don't like someone, try and make friends with them.

5. Friendship - or at least spiritual friendship - is not based on the romantic ideal

This is something that Maitreyabandhu touched a bit on last night.

I think it is an easy mistake to make, to try and base our friendship on the romantic ideal. Whether we are gay or straight, it doesn't matter. And it is easy not to be aware that that is what is going on.

I think partly this is because the romantic ideal is so strong in the West - the sexo- romantic relationship is so heavily emphasised - and I think that is partly because there has been such a decline in friendship, as far as one can tell. Certainly, in the West there has been a decline in other relationships in terms of the reduction of the extended family into a nuclear family, so whereas in the past there would have been much more variety of relationships, now the main one (certainly in all the movies) is this sexo-romantic relationship.

So that ends up being our main model for a significant relationship. If we think in terms of this significant relationship, we tend to think of a sexo-romantic relationship, whereas we have very few models out there of platonic friendship. So it is then very easy to use the romantic model as our basis. It's certainly something I've done.

What that can then lead to is that various expectations can get set up: for example, you may expect there to be lots of strong feelings and drama. You can find that you become jealous of your friend; jealous of your friend having other friends... 'He's MY friend.'

Certainly I can look back in shame at some of my behaviour. I can think of one friend in particular where I was doing my best to elbow any other of his friends out of the way, so that, you know, he was MY friend!

And another thing - if you are unfortunate enough to fall into the romantic type of model with your friendship - is that you can start having this painful awareness of where they are all the time. I remember being on retreat with this same friend, and I always knew where he was and who he was talking to. I couldn't quite let him go; let him be an individual, be himself.

And then if our friend lets us down - if we are using this romantic model - it is easy for us to feel terribly hurt or disappointed by it. Again, it is this particular type of relationship.

I think it very easily happens. If there is an element there, I don't think it needs to be a problem - it can start as a sort of 'gluing together'. But we need to become aware of it, and we need to go beyond that sort of conditional romantic relationship. Metta is primarily about a concern for other people; it is not about what we can get back - and the romantic relationship is very much about 'getting something back'; this 'special person for me', as it were.

So we need to go beyond that. We need to really be concerned about them, and let them be an individual in their own right.

Also we need to let go of us 'being important to them', which is the other thing. Sometimes we can be terribly concerned with another person but it is because we want to make ourselves really important to them. So we need to be able to let go of that 'being important to them'.

It has been interesting living with a number of friends in my community. If you're not careful, you get the whole business of who is best friends with whom, and feeling excluded or not in a particular friendship. It is very good to work through all of that and allow our friends to have their friends in the plurality.

...This brings me on to my next three points which are really about developing friendship and spending time together. Clearly it is not always possible: depending on one's particular circumstances, one can't always do all these things. But what I am advocating is that, if you can, take the opportunity - and if you have the opportunity, make the most of it - because it is a very good way for developing friendship.

So the next three points are about working together, going on retreat together, and living together...

6. Work together

I think if you work together you get to see a different side of someone from, you know, just meeting together for cappuccinos. And that can really fill out a friendship, by working in that way and seeing this other side of them. And I particularly think that it's good if you can work in a Team-Based Right Livelihood business. I don't, because I have worked mostly in the NHS, but I have really seen the value of it to people who have, and the odd days that I have wandered in (particularly recently, as Mitra Convenor), I really get a sense of the value of working together in a situation where your ideals are right there in front of you, and you can really address them and orientate yourself towards them.

But even if you can't work together I still think there are things you can do. For example, you can both support a course or a class together. One of the things that Maitreyabandhu has done is get groups of guys together to support him on courses, and I think that has been a very useful way of helping people to start to develop friendships.

Having a common project together is a very good way, I think, of developing friendship. When Maitreyabandhu and I set up our current community, in a way that was us having a project together - something to do together - because we moved out of this big community where there were lots of Order members, and we were the relatively junior Order members and had comparatively little responsibility, and began setting up this new community where we had the main responsibility for it.

And what was a surprise for us both was what a good effect it had on our friendship. It took our friendship a whole stage further by having this thing in common that we were at times enjoying and at times struggling to bring to fruition.

7. Go on retreat together

This is a similar sort of thing. You go on retreat together and you see other sides of people. But I also think that when we are on retreat we often can be at our best. We are in ideal conditions; we can be more emotionally positive; and we can start to really see each others' virtues, appreciate our friends and see their best qualities - and I think this is a lovely way of taking our friendship further.

Under this heading I would include going on holiday together as well. I have found that to be a very good way of moving on some of my friendships. For one thing it is another way of having just a bit more time. Sometimes, particularly if you live in an urban centre, time can get very chopped up into little bits, whereas when you're on holiday time just opens out. You can be around each other in a much more relaxed way, and go deeper in your friendship.

8. Live together

I think it is Aristotle who said: 'The essence of friendship is living together'. It is the same principle as just having more time around each other; more ways of overlapping.

Living in a community together, I think, is particularly helpful. Certainly most (though not all, by any means) of my closest friends I either do live with or have lived with at some point in the past, and one of the things that I really value about practicing the Dharma in this ...

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