A dear friend of mine recently referred to our friendship as Kalyanamitra, the Sanskrit word for spiritual friendship. According to the definition, kalyanamitra encompasses much more than a casual friendship, it refers to a person or even a thing that becomes our guide, a teacher that serves to inspire us along our path to awakening.
There is a common Zen saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Ready or not, teachers are constantly appearing in our lives, but sometimes they are difficult to recognize because we are looking for someone that meets our “ideal” image of a teacher. Or, we choose to look at this person or this situation as an obstacle in our life, rather than as something that can awaken us to life’s true meaning.
For instance, the birth of our child can be kalyanamitra, we can say that an illness is kalyanamitra, the death of a sibling can be kalyanamitra. Falling in love can be kalyanamitra. In actuality, anything which shakes us out of our routine and creates an opening to a vista beyond our experience of ego-self, is a spiritual friend worthy of being called kalyanamitra.
Of course, it can be difficult to regard a painful experience as a friend. We respond by pushing such experiences away or by grasping on to something else. But if we learn to sit in the midst of our suffering, much as one would do with someone in need…just sitting, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, awareness — recognizing and affirming the most essential nature of our situation, whatever it may be.
This “together” speaks directly to our most basic vow to save all beings. Our realization only truly comes alive when it is used in the service (seva) of others, in helping others awaken to life’s essential nature. The key is to recognize and appreciate the spiritual friends in your life: you yourself serving others in this way, and others and things continually befriending you, pointing to the endless wisdom that is unfolding in our daily lives.