What Is A Dharma Friend?
One of my favorite verses from the Upanishads goes something like, "Make friends with the happy, help those who are genuinely trying to help themselves and be indifferent to evil."
What is a Dharma friend?
Well, this is sort of a made up term. Dharma is a term that shows up in Eastern spiritual traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism that sort of means this eternal way, the truth, the reality of things.
If you are studying the Dharma, it means that you're sort of doing that which is yours to do. Sort of seeking truth. So a Dharma friend is kind of like a spiritual seeker, buddy type of a friend.
One of the problems that happens when we really start to engage in a more personal growth, spiritual growth-oriented time in life (some people call this spiritual awakening, whatever you call it), people will notice that there's this period of the old people that you used to kind of hang out with and used to fit in with don't quite fit anymore.
This is one of the known challenges on the spiritual growth path. What's important is to start to cultivate these kind of Dharma friends in your life. No matter what your spiritual or religious tradition is.
Many in most traditions advise to surround yourself with people who are also doing similar work because it's challenging to be on a personal spiritual growth path in the physical world. This idea of having spiritually oriented friends and community is not particular to one specific religion.
Christianity calls it fellowship. Buddhism calls it your Sanga—your group of people that really lift you up and walk along with you.
Here's three signs that you can use to start to find and evaluate, "Is this friend a Dharma friend?":
Free From Personal Conduct Issues That Violate Your Values
"Is this person free from personal conduct issues that violate my values?"
This is a big one to evaluate.
If you are in even a kind of superficial relationship with someone in a friend-acquaintance type way, and they have personal behaviors that grossly violate what you feel is your sense of just general goodness, morality or conduct in a significant way.
Not only is that not a Dharma friend, but it's also not someone that you want in your life. That's a big red flag that this person is not a Dharma friend.
In order to be someone that's supporting you in that part of life, I'm not saying they have to be perfect or a Saint, but they need to be free from general conduct issues that really would make you question their values and morals.
Prioritizes Personal and Spiritual Growth
They prioritize personal and spiritual growth.
This doesn't mean that they have to be of the same spiritual tradition from you, but you notice that in their life they prioritize with their time, their focus, their finances.
Their life schedule is balanced with their other life part like family and spouses. They actually value their interpersonal growth.
Lots of people go to a yoga class. Not so many people carve time out to go on a silent retreat for a week at a time. They don't have to do any one thing in particular, but you want to surround yourself with people who are as committed, if not more committed to prioritizing their personal spiritual growth path.
This will support you. It will give you models of how to do things more in your life and is really a qualification of a Dharma friend.
Agrees To Give Reflection and Feedback
Number three, and this is key. This is one of my favorite and most valued things about the Dharma people in my life:
You have an agreement to give reflection and feedback.
Now, this is something that I've been really fortunate to cultivate over many years.
I have Dharmic friends. I have an accountability partner that I work with on things like business and personal growth. She and I have given each other explicit permission to give each other feedback when we notice the other person maybe getting a little bit out of line, having a blind spot or acting out a pattern that we know is not healthy for them.
I actually, and I recommend that you do have this conversation with friends specifically to say to them, "Hey, I just want you to know that I give you my explicit permission to give me feedback. If you ever see me doing something that you feel is acting out a pattern as being kind of unconscious, is doing something that's self sabotaging or doesn't serve me right now, I give you explicit permission, please tell me those things I want to know".
When they do bring those things up, your response is to listen, to be open and to thank them and to really use that as fuel for your personal and spiritual growth.
I hope those things have been helpful. I'm wishing you a beautiful community of focused, supportive people that support you in your personal and spiritual growth path!