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Pathama Mitta: the Best Friend

After the Kathina holiday, I made a pact with my friend Rith that we would sit for an hour every morning and every evening. We had shared very personal stories about our meditation practice and discovered many exceptional similarities. The two of us also happened to be stuck in a meditation rut. We were determined to get back on track.

We failed miserably from the very first day. When we did sit, we failed to sit for an hour and never on a regular basis. Many weeks passed without any communication at all.

Recently inspired by a certain Buddhadharma forum, we decided to try again and start sending text messages to encourage each other every day.* At first I couldn’t sit for even an hour. I texted Rith and told him it was harrowing, but I’d try again anyway. It took a couple days before I could sit an hour both morning and night, and of course I’m still struggling. Naturally, he got this news by text too.

This evening I was scanning sutras, when I came across one that is sometimes called the Pathama Mitta Sutta. The word pathama means ‘first’ or ‘foremost’ and mitta means ‘friend’, so I chose to translate this somewhat loosely as ‘best friend’. The qualities described in the sutra very aptly characterize why, even as such a recent friend, I hold Rith in such high esteem. Below is a translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven? He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.

He gives what is beautiful,
     hard to give,
does what is hard to do,
endures painful, ill-spoken words.

His secrets he tells you,
your secrets he keeps.

When misfortunes strike,
     he doesn’t abandon you;
when you’re down & out,
     doesn’t look down on you.

A person in whom these traits are found,
is a friend to be cultivated
by anyone wanting a friend.

These qualities certainly are nothing new to anyone who’s ever had friendships that have frayed or completely fallen apart. There is of course a more practice-oriented term that also applies to my friend Rith: kaylana mitta, a virtuous friend.**

Keeping in touch with Rith is like taking a journey with a friend. We live in different time zones, work very different jobs, and only one of us has regular internet access (guess who). The text messages nurture both our friendship and our practice. When we mention our sittings, we remind each other not to dawdle. When we despair, we are there to reinspire each other. Even when we share our complaints, we remember that we are not alone in facing obstacles.

I know I’m not the only meditator who’s had the fortune of such a great friend. If anyone happens to read this and feels the urge to share their story, I would love to read it below.

Lastly, where are my fellow Dharma Folk? I miss you guys!

* I can curse this article to no end, but I thought it was an interesting forum nevertheless.

** Defensive translator: I know this term has very different meanings in different contexts in the sutras. This particular meaning is certainly the most popular one that I’ve encountered in contemporary communities.

  • http://www.oxherding.com Barry Briggs

    Would it be possible for us to make a best friend of each person we meet?

    To give beauty, do the hard things, avoid the harmful, open with generosity, forbear difficulty and abide in compassion?

    What keeps us from being this kind of person?