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The Teacher as Spiritual Friend
understood the first noble truth, your relationship with your teacher
begins to evolve into a different level in the Mahayana, the vehicle of
the bodhisattva path. He or she becomes the kalyanamitra, a Sanskrit word meaning “spiritual friend,” or “friend in the virtue.”
kalyanamitra is less heavy-handed than the elder or parent, but on the
other hand, he is more heavy-handed. He is like a rich uncle who
provides money for the family. However, he doesn’t want them to just
lounge around and live off his money. The rich uncle would like to be
more constructive than that; he would like to have industrious
relatives, so that he can increase his capital. Unlike a rich uncle in
ordinary life, the bodhisattva’s approach, the Mahayana approach, is not
based on self-aggrandizement. It isn’t self-centered. It is a much
closer relationship. The teacher has become a spiritual friend. When
relatives give us advice, we have a certain attitude toward their
advice: we know that we are being told the relative truth.
It has some value, it has some application, but it is still relative
truth. When friends give us advice, its effect is more immediate and
personal. If we are criticized by our parents, we think it’s their trip,
or we think something is wrong with their approach, so we take it
lightly. But if we are criticized by our friends, we feel startled. We
begin to think there may be some element of truth in what they are
in the Mahayana, the teacher is a spiritual friend. He or she is much
more demanding than the purely relative level. The spiritual friend
makes us much more watchful and conscientious. At that point, relative
truth has already become somewhat old hat: we already know about pain,
the origin of pain, cessation, and the path, the four noble truths. At
this point, the spiritual friend tells us, “Don’t just work on yourself.
Do something about others. Relate with your projections rather than
with the projector alone. Do something about the world outside and try
to develop some sense of sympathy and warmth in yourself.”
is usually quite hard for us to do. We are already upset and uptight
and resentful that life is painful. It’s very hard to relax, to let go
of that. But it can be done. It’s being done in the present and it will
be done in the future. So how about giving an inch? Just letting go a
little bit? Opening a little bit? We could be generous and disciplined
at the same time. Therefore we should be patient and exert ourselves, be
aware of everything that is happening, and be clear, all at the same
time. That is the teacher’s prescription.
Following this approach is what is called the practice of the six paramitas.
These six transcendent actions—generosity, discipline, patience,
exertion, meditation, and discriminating wisdom—are practiced by the
Mahayana practitioner, the bodhisattva.
practice puts us in the spotlight, so to speak. We have a general sense
of wanting to open, for the very reason that we have nothing to lose.
Our life is already a bundle of misery and chaos. Since we already have
nothing to lose, we gain something by just giving, opening. That step is
the transition between experiencing the teacher as elder and as