Friendship that’s Truly Unconditional

Kate Johnson continues her teaching on the true meaning of friendship in Buddhism. In this segment, she teaches on friendship that is truly unconditional. Friendship that is unconditional has the qualities of generosity, trust and steadfastness; it is not regarding someone as “an empty form.”

A friend is one who doesn’t abandon you when they know your dark secrets, when misfortune strikes, when you’re down and out. Notice that nowhere in the Buddha’s own teaching on friendship did he ever say anything that sounded like “friends are empty forms.” That is not the teaching of the Buddha. Rather, he taught that friends are those who are “really there” for you, and you are “really there” for them, holding the relationship sacred and strong in good times and bad.

This evening I chaired an AA meeting on the 12th Step: “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps. . .”  By the end of the meeting I realized what the 12th Step was really saying: the measure of our spiritual awakening is the quality of our relationships. It’s not whether we have done ngondro or Scorpion Seal or completed a dhathun or a three-year retreat, or understood Nagarjuna and the ultimate meaning of “emptiness”. The true measure of our spiritual awakening is the quality of our relationships, with ourselves, with our friends, loved ones and community members, with all the people in our daily lives, with every sentient being in our world. An unconditional friendship has the capacity to be open to suffering and remain strong; it has the qualities of generosity, loving-kindness and compassion; it is a relationship of honesty and trust.

Kate Johnson:

The Buddha declared spiritual friendship to be the whole of holy life. For many practitioners in the 21st century, however, friendship is relegated to the margins of experience, taking a backseat to work as well as romantic and familial relationships. Dharma teacher Kate Johnson explores, both on and off the cushion, the practice of friendship as central in our collective journey toward freedom and wholeness. She will approach friendship not as something fixed, but as a process in which we restore intimacy, loyalty, and generosity to our relationships with all beings, including ourselves.

Buddha’s Teaching on the Seven Qualities of Friendship

A Friend:

Gives what is beautiful and hard to give

Does what is hard to do

Endures painful, ill-spoken words

Tells you their secrets

Keeps your secrets

When misfortune strikes they don’t abandon you

When you’re down and out, they don’t look down on you.

—Metta Sutta


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