The Sangha or Spiritual Friendship is at the very core of the Buddha’s teachings.
Since the inception of the Ordinary Zen Sangha in the spring of 2015, I have had the honor to practice with many wonderful human beings who have had a profound effect on my practice and life journey. I am very grateful and consider each and everyone without exception, to be a spiritual friend. I will always hold each of you in my heart-mind with compassion and unconditional love. That is my practice. Some of you have come to practice only once, some come once in a while, some have come regularly for months, while others for years and some of you show up for each practice session. No matter, each and every one of you does and has contributed in their own way. I cannot thank you enough for being part of this grand experiment we call Ordinary Zen. Thanks to you all, the experiment continues!
The Meghiya Sutta is a Pali text about friendship. It tells the story of the eager young monk Meghiya, who wanted to practice meditation alone in an especially peaceful and beautiful mango grove. But Meghiya’s meditation was anything but peaceful and beautiful. To his shock, he found his mind a snarl of malicious, lustful, and confused thoughts—probably because his practice was too self-involved. When Meghiya rushed back to report his confusing experience, Buddha was not surprised. He took the opportunity to give Meghiya what he must have hoped was a relevant teaching.
“Five things induce release of heart and lasting peace,” the Buddha told him. “First, a lovely intimacy with good friends. Second, virtuous conduct. Third, frequent conversation that inspires and encourages practice. Fourth, diligence, energy, and enthusiasm for the good. And fifth, insight into impermanence.”
Then, for Meghiya’s further benefit, and to the cement the point, the Buddha goes through the list again, this time preceding each of the other items with the first: “When there is a lovely intimacy between friends, then there is virtuous conduct,” et cetera. In other words, friendship is the most important element in the spiritual path. Everything else naturally flows from it.