How to be a True Friend

Bluecliff Standing Buddha

Standing Buddha, BlueCliff Monastery

“If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva, one who lives for the sake of others. Knowing we are on that path, taking each step with our spiritual family, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or fears about the future.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.” ~Pema Chödrön

“I consider non-violence to be compassion in action. It doesn’t mean weakness, cowering in fear, or simply doing nothing. It is to act without violence, motivated by compassion, recognizing the rights of others.” ~The Dalai Lama

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and peaceful as we step into this season of change. We are witnessing big shifts in life, season, and dramatic environmental and political events. In New England especially, the fall is time to reflect upon change and impermanence. We see the green leaves turn yellow, red, and orange, ultimately leaving their homes, and returning to soil. We watch formations of birds flying to warmer weather and our bodies give us the message that we are vulnerable beings that need protection. As practitioners, we are heir to powerful protection when we live with the global ethical foundations of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

At sangha, we recite the Five Trainings every month. Those who wish to may receive the transmission of the Five Trainings in a formal ceremony.  This is an opportunity to receive the support of the community that does their best to live with compassion for all beings. Taking the five trainings, or individual trainings, is not a promise of perfection but setting an intention to live in a way that does not harm ourselves or others. We step into the ancestral stream that dates back thousands of years and access the solidity and strength of our spiritual ancestors. For the next five weeks, I’d like to examine these trainings one by one.

To dispel the myth that mindfulness is passive, we need to look at the commonly used definition of mindfulness that comes from Jon Kabat Zinn (1994), the originator of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” The word “non-judgmentally” can be problematic. Often folks hear this as a move towards indifference as if they are asked to observe events without context or principles. That is not mindfulness. That is numbing out from the reality and escaping the moral responsibility of humanity. More recently Zinn (2014) states, “When we use the word mindfulness in MBSR, we mean right mindfulness…. Woven into mindfulness is an orientation towards nonharming…. It is a nondualistic perspective from the very beginning, resting on an ethical foundation.” It is this ethical foundation, the Buddhist principles of sila [ethics], that are integral to mindfulness practice. The role of sila includes five aspects of conduct:1. non-harming, 2. generosity, 3. sexual responsibility, 4. loving speech, and 5. mindful consumption (not ingesting toxins). Thich Nhat Hanh and members of the monastic community took these early precepts the Buddha gave and present them in modern and relevant language. The introduction and full list of the mindfulness trainings are found at:

The Five Mindfulness Trainings

The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

The First Mindfulness Training: Reverence For Life 

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world. 

Looking at this training, we see our personal violence and the world’s violence growing from roots of anger, fear, greed, and intolerance. These mind states exist when we forget that we are part of each other. We believe the delusion of a small, ego-centered separate self and believe we are form instead of formation. When we touch the insight of Interbeing, we see that we all contribute to creating our present and future in each moment. This week, I invite you to contemplate this training. Can you notice when your anger, fear, greed, and intolerance come up? What thoughts trigger those feelings? For many of us it’s scarcity, believing that there’s a finite amount of good stuff and if you get, that means none for me. Most of us are not big-time killers, but we participate in small acts of violence, hard-heartedness, and judgment that close us down and divide.

The beginning of any transformation requires noticing. We notice what our mind is doing without negative assessments and added violence. We all come with history and conditioning and have good reasons why we think the way we do. We can examine killing in our diet and our interaction with Mother Earth. Are we connected to the act of killing involved with eating animals and fish? Do we want to change our relationship with living beings from a dominating one to one of caring? Knowing that the habits of mind are just that—habits, we can look at the roots of violence, anger, and killing that lives in us, gently and compassionately. When we live with kindness towards ourselves and the rest of the planet, we lose our fear.

When I offer friendliness, and understanding to someone I disagree with, someone who is clearly acting from delusion, I notice a softness and openness in myself. Dropping my armor of judgment and separation, I feel curiosity and kindness towards this other person, who just like me, does not want to suffer. The way they go about it looks very different, but I can see that their motivation is the same as for all living beings. When I look with the eyes of connection, I stop attacking in my mind. I become harmless and when I can do that, I don’t need to be afraid. I put down my weapons of judgment and condemnation. The first mindfulness training teaches non-harming towards animals and all species we cohabitate with. When we give up practicing anger, violence, and hatred, we become a true friend.

May we all trust our light,


Peace begins with your lovely smile

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh



Gates, B. & Senauke, A. (2014). The thousand year view: An interview with jon kabat-zinn, Inquiring Mind 30(2).

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.



2 thoughts on “How to be a True Friend

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s