The Power of Friendship

04.02. 2024

“According to the Buddhist tradition, good friends represent everything needed to cultivate the path leading to awakening.” (Kalayanamittasutta, Samyutta Nikaya).

Just as the first dawn signals the sunrise, so does friendship with noble beings herald all that is good on our journey to awakening. From my own experience, I can say that friendly bonds with experienced Dharma teachers have been crucial support in my endeavor to become a better person. Meeting and living with them deeply influenced my conduct.

My acquaintance with Buddhist teachings primarily occurred through the study of the Pali language and the Pali Canon known as Tipitaka. The Theravada Buddhist teaching emphasizes personal discipline and theoretical knowledge of Buddhist philosophy. During my extended stay in Taiwan, I had the opportunity to live in proximity to Zen teacher Master Shen Yen. Getting close to him led me to a direct understanding of Mahayana Buddhism, which involves an ideal combination of rational and intuitive conception of Buddhist practice. When both aspects are harmoniously balanced in an individual, they can respond correctly and effectively in everyday situations. Zen Master Shen Yen was the best example of such a harmoniously balanced personality. Thanks to his constant mindful presence, he could positively influence everyone around him. I realized that Mahayana practitioners should learn to connect their personal practice of tranquility and insight with what is practical and beneficial for others. To achieve this, they study yoga, philosophy, logic, medicine, arts, crafts, and more.

In Tibetan Buddhism, we find the ideal combination of all these aspects that benefit both oneself and others, acknowledging that no human being can survive in society without the help of others. One of the teachers who had a fundamental impact on my development was JS Penor Rinpoche, a significant teacher of the Nyingma school and the root teacher of Dolpo Tulku Rinpoche. We spoke through translators since I do not speak Tibetan, but what inspired me most about him was not just what he said but, especially, how he behaved and acted in everyday life. Penor Rinpoche was constantly present in everything he did, in every situation—formal ceremonies or casual conversations. My brief stays at the Golden Temple in Bylakuppe, founded by Rinpoche, where he transmitted teachings, also gave me the opportunity to meet Dolpo Tulku Rinpoche, a noble friend with whom I have now connected, and together, we plan to develop the Shanta Vana center in the Bohemian Paradise in the Czech Republic.

My friendship with Dolpo Tulku Rinpoche began approximately twenty years ago at the Golden Temple, known as the Namdroling Monastery, where Rinpoche lived and studied. The monastery looks like paradise on earth from the outside, but living conditions for foreign visitors were quite challenging at that time. Dolpo Tulku did everything to make my stay as enjoyable as possible. He helped me navigate many things— showed me the place and introduced me to classmates and also assisted with the interpretation of teachings received. I could even share his room. In the following years, we stayed connected, visiting each other frequently. During my teaching at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute and the Shakya International Institute in Kathmandu, I visited Rinpoche in his home and had the opportunity to meet his family, who remains close to me. We also met during my time teaching at the university in Taiwan, where Rinpoche imparted Buddhist teachings. During his travels in Europe, Rinpoche visited the Shanta Vana center several times.

To this day, Dolpo Tulku serves as a model for the integration of personal spiritual practice with the practice of benefiting other beings. In our conversations, he addresses both spiritual and practical issues equally, and his activities always lead to the benefit of all sentient beings. This approach allows him to navigate every life situation. As a spiritual teacher, he has gained the respect, support, and friendship of many students not only in his homeland in Nepal but also in various places worldwide. Over the years, I have appreciated Rinpoche’s approach to harmoniously integrating various aspects of an incredibly rich Buddhist practice. Dolpo Tulku has studied and practiced Buddhist logic, philosophy, yoga, arts, construction, and other disciplines for a long time, complementing our understanding of the whole within the Buddhist worldview.

A positive approach to one’s life and promoting positive qualities in others is what friendship represents in the Buddhist context. To cultivate friendship, it is also necessary to cultivate love, compassion, joy, and non-attachment. Anyone who meets Dolpo Tulku Rinpoche will appreciate all these characteristics in him, just as I do. In Rinpoche, we also find generosity, magnanimity, fearlessness, tolerance, personal discipline, practicality, and activities that lead to the benefit of sentient beings. I believe that, thanks to all these qualities and our mutual respect, our friendship and joint work can lead to the flourishing of the Shanta Vana center, which translates to the Silent Forest. Why?

For tranquility, the right place, the right people, and the right practice based on benefiting oneself and others without discrimination are necessary. I find hope for the future in the belief that our center, despite the challenges it has faced in the past, will continue to be a refuge for those seeking deeper meaning in life. Our friendly relationship with Dolpo Tulku Rinpoche is based on universal values that are so needed in the present times. It fills me with the conviction that our joint project of the Shanta Vana center will be successful.

Thomas Dhammadipa