Khenpo Karthar on Spiritual Friendship

The following article is from the Summer, 2011 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

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Q: How are lovingkindness and compassion at work when a spiritual friend continually rejects and disappoints a student? I suppose this is for the student's benefit, but I am not sure how.

A: The relationship depends both on the spiritual friend and on you. A spiritual friend can be several things. It can be just someone who has an intellectual understanding of the teachings but no realization whatsoever, and who has many limitations and flaws. A spiritual friend can also be a highly realized being, who has not only understanding but experience in various aspects of the teachings. This would be a bodhisattva spiritual friend.

Then there is your side of the relationship. Do you have sincerity and devotion? Are you inspired by the example of the spiritual friend? Do you approach the spiritual friend for inspiration, encouragement, and guidance out of a tremendous longing to benefit all beings? Or is it just a temporary infatuation because a big smile or an attractive gesture was extended toward you? Perhaps you want to be connected with the spiritual friend because of this attention that was given you, and you want further entertainment and feedback. Perhaps you want to learn something from this person that would help you develop more credentials and more spiritual powers. If that is your intention, the spiritual friend is not to be blamed.

If you are rejected, the teacher could be at fault because he or she is not a true spiritual friend, or you could be at fault because of limitations in your motivation and sincerity.

If you are rejected, the teacher could be at fault because he or she is not a true spiritual friend, or you could be at fault because of limitations in your motivation and sincerity. There is another possibility, though not a very frequent one. A teacher may know that it would be more beneficial for you to work with a different spiritual friend. For example, Milarepa's relationship with a great Nyingma teacher ended, not because there was any deficiency in the spiritual friend, but because the teacher realized that Milarepa's karmic connection was with Marpa. If that were the situation, you would be made well aware of it. On the other hand, if you have devotion, sincerity, and (most importantly) a longing to benefit beings, and you are rejected by a spiritual friend to whom you go for inspiration and guidance, that is not a true spiritual friend.

adapted from Dharma Paths by Khenpo Karthar

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