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Lions Roar : May 2016
entities. They are mutually conditioned positions or concepts. What we call a person is in reality a series of interactions and relationships. There is no atomized, freestanding person. This is completely obvious to the bodhisattvas. That is why love, compassion, and friendship are at the center of the bodhisattva path. That is why the buddha of the coming era is called Mai- treya, the buddha of the practice of friendship. IN HIS ESSAY on friendship, sixteenth-century French writer Michel de Montaigne compares friendship to all other human relationship and finds it superior. Siblings usually fight with one another. Spouses are too emotionally entangled to sup- port one another disinterestedly. Parents and children are too blinded by the psychological weight of their connection to see one another with fully open appreciation. But friends, he writes, share one mind, one heart, and one will. They are for one another even more than a person can be for themself. You can trust your friends to look after your interests more than you can trust yourself, he writes. Nothing is more intimate, nothing more lovely, than friendship. Montaigne’s essay is all the more poignant because in it he tells us that he is not merely theorizing. He is writing in testi- mony and memorial to the most cherished friendship of his own life—his relationship with the writer Estienne de la Boetie, whose death has left him “feeling like half a person.” In this essay about friendship, I too am giving testimony and memorial to my own great friend of more than forty years, the late Rabbi Alan Lew. We met on the first day of classes at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1968, before either of us had begun our spiritual practice. After Iowa we moved, independently, to California, where we practiced Zen together for a decade under our teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman. When Alan went on to become a rabbi we continued our spiritual friendship, founding a Jewish medi- tation center (that I still direct, in his name and memory) in San Francisco. For all those years, Alan supported, loved, and respected me more than I supported, loved, and respected myself. His practice and loving heart was, and remains, my inspiration. In his essay, Montaigne argues that deep friendship is necessarily exclu- sive—it is only possible, he says, to Spiritual friendship is boundless, empty, open, and free. Nothing is more intimate, nothing more lovely, than friendship. have one such dear friend—and that exclusivity is its essence. But that isn’t the case with spiritual friendship. We can have many dear spiritual friends. Probably the more such friends we have, the more we are capable of having—and the more enriched our lives will become. Still, with luck, we may have, as I have had, a spiritual rela- tionship that is uniquely precious to us. In an uncanny way, my friendship with Rabbi Lew was not exclusive. Our intimacy was one in which others were always welcome. Because we were such good friends, others were encouraged and inspired to be good friends too. This is the nature of spiritual friendship. It never depends on division or discrimination between people. Love can’t be exclu- sive. It is boundless, empty, open, and free. Spiritual friendship is too. No doubt this is an ideal we can never completely realize. But I believe it was what the Buddha had in mind when he taught that there is no element of the path more precious or more important than spiritual friendship. ♦