John O’Donouhe was an Irish philosopher and poet, and one of my favorite writers on spirituality. In what is arguably his best known work, Anam Cara, he wrote about a word that comes from the Indian sub-contintent, “kalyna-mitra” which translates to “noble friend,” or “friend on the path.” He says,
“Your Kalyana-mitra, your noble friend, will not accept pretension but will gently and very firmly confront you with your own blindness. No one can see his life totally… Therefore you must depend on the one you love to see for you what you cannot see for yourself… The honesty and clarity of true friendship also brings out the real contour of your spirit.”
Many people, including myself, appreciate their spiritual practice for the solitary comfort it provides. However, this individualistic line of thinking has its pitfalls, including our limited ability to self-inquire. We are but one mirror unto ourselves. The friends who support us and join us on our journey of living multiply these mirrors, and we are gifted with a more complete picture.
This concept feeds into other beautiful words. The word “sangha,” often used to refer to Buddhist meditation communities who support each other in their practice. The word “kula,” referring to the community of the heart, the community connected not by blood but by love. The beloved community is built out of noble friends.
Those among us who identify as introverts may struggle mightily with this, but the reward is great. We don’t need a battalion of noble friends, but the intimacy and clear-seeing of relationship adds immeasurable value to the the project of self-illumination by lighting the path upon which you find yourself continuously, beautifully stumbling.