Friday, January 20, 2012

Giving and taking

One of the huge benefits of being in IDP's Buddhist Teacher/Meditation Facilitator Training Program in 2011 was the opportunity to study, practice, meditate, and laugh with an amazing group of thoughtful, kind, funny sentient beings. The first weekend I was shaking in my seat at the idea of having to listen to feedback from these highly intelligent and classy people; by the last weekend I so wanted to hear what they had to say.

Truly they are my sangha, my companions on the path to liberation, whichever vehicle they are riding in. I treasure the opportunity to share in their wisdom and the different ways we present the same teachings. It's fascinating. And you can hear many of them speak on coming Wednesday nights at IDP.

In Buddhism, there is a word for a teacher, kalianamitri, that translates as "spiritual friend." It's a very specific relationship between a student and teacher in which they meet with the intention of working on student's spiritual path, with the teacher providing guidance or suggestions. It's not a guru relationship, in which the student does what the guru says. It's less formal.

I found myself wondering, however, whether two students could be spiritual friends to each other after a conversation with one of my dear friends from the program. We're both serious students of Buddhism with a few years of experience and a strong sense that we've experienced the benefits of practice in profound ways. Our conversations are sacred -- and sometimes silly. And we dance.

I wonder too if this isn't a model that would have emerged if there had been a buddhette and her followers rather than a man, however ambisexual he's presented in icons. The female energy is more fluid -- and water seeks a level, not a rock sticking out of it.

Back when I used to go to Al Anon Adult Children of Alcoholics groups, a friend asked if I would be her sponsor. I said that I didn't feel qualified for that, and we talked and agreed to be each other's sponsors, to listen and give advice from a place of knowing and compassion. Again, neither of us were newcomers at that point, so we knew the marks and the benefit of holding the other person responsible for their conduct.

Of course, nothing prevents me and my dharma sistas from getting together to talk on our own. And nothing says these talks can't take place with men.

It's the structure, the organization that interests me. Does wisdom have to be handed down? Or can it bubble up? Or put its arm over your shoulder?

What do you think? Do structures build trust? Can be BFF be an SF (spiritual friend)?

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