November 5, 2021

Kalyana Mitta: Spiritual Friendship as the Path to Freedom

IMS Online Mini Retreat with Devon Hase

Kalyana Mitta: Spiritual Friendship as the Path to Freedom

Saturday, November 13, 2021

9:00 am – 12:45 pm ET


Devon Hase started meditating and studying Dharma in 2000. She is a graduate of Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s Community Dharma Leaders program and the Insight Meditation Society’s teacher training program.

Devon is passionate about depth practice, both in retreat and in daily life. She is deeply grateful for her Asian teachers and interested in how we can best support Buddhism’s lineage traditions in ways that feel accessible, inclusive, and relevant to our complex times.

She is the co-author—with partner nico—of How Not To Be A Hot Mess: A Survival Guide for Modern Life, which offers six pieces of semi-Buddhist advice to keep you anchored and steadied amidst life’s inevitable chaos.

IMS Staff Writer Raquel Baetz sat down with Devon to talk about her upcoming virtual mini retreat “Kalyana Mitta: Spiritual Friendship as the Path to Freedom.”

Devon will begin a year-long retreat after this program, so this will be the last opportunity to practice with her until January 2023.


What inspired you to focus on the topic of “Kalyana Mitta: Spiritual Friendship as the Path to Freedom” for this mini retreat?

Lately, I’ve been teaching quite a bit on friendship and relationships. Many of the early Buddhist texts are oriented around how to be a good friend, how to relate to others, and how to live in community. The Buddha really emphasized relational practice and I think sometimes we forget how to do this.

The Dharma is often practiced nowadays as a solitary pursuit—it’s about taking care of our own minds and bodies, and we need a lot of peace and quiet to do that. But there’s this whole other aspect of the Dharma which is about being in the world and relating to other people and being a good friend to ourselves.

This topic feels like an important and timely focus to take in a world that’s been in isolation due to the pandemic. A lot of relationships and ways of connecting are shifting quickly. So, I wanted to focus on what the Buddha had to say in terms of relational practice. Learning how to be a wise friend feels necessary right now.

What is a “wise friend” and why is this important? How can someone be a wise friend to themselves?

In the Mitta Sutta, the Buddha lays out the seven qualities of a good friend. For example, a good friend does what’s hard to do, says what’s hard to say, and endures what’s hard to endure. They keep your secrets. They don’t abandon you when you’re in hardship or when you’re struggling, and they don’t judge you for it.

What I love about those instructions is that they apply to our relationship with ourselves too. Being human is hard. When we struggle or we’re working through difficult emotions—and there’s a lot of reasons to feel anxious, fearful, and lonely right now—there’s often this additional layer of judgment on ourselves.

We imagine that if we’re struggling, it’s because we did something wrong or it’s our fault. That’s a bit like abandoning or judging a friend who’s struggling. With this teaching, the Buddha is encouraging us not to judge ourselves when we struggle with life’s ups and downs, knowing that a good friend wouldn’t judge us.

When we practice on our cushion in formal meditation, we’re creating a calm, quiet, caring space for ourselves. This is when we are showing up and staying with what’s difficult, not abandoning ourselves, being willing to look at what’s difficult inside.

We’re also being honest with ourselves. Joseph Goldstein often says, “Self-knowledge is always bad news.” So, sometimes we can get discouraged (and surprised!) when we sit down and see all the machinations of our heart-mind. We need to cultivate steadiness of mind. And through this, a friendliness that can accompany all the difficulties. We can be our own best friend, encouraging ourselves and creating good companionship inside.

Is being a “wise friend” different than being a “spiritual friend”?

I often use “wise friend” and “spiritual friend” interchangeably. A spiritual friend can sometimes take on connotations of how we relate to teachers or mentors; those who have laid out the path for us to practice.

However, I think the reason why I like to use “wise friend” and “spiritual friend” interchangeably is that from a certain perspective, we see that everybody is our teacher. We can learn from every single relationship we have: our pets, our beloveds, our neighbors, people who disagree with us politically, etc. Everyone can be a teacher if we can see them as presenting the opportunity for us to cultivate wisdom, compassion, and friendliness.

How does someone give (or receive) as a wise friend?

Just as we cultivate friendship with ourselves, we can step out into the world and bring those same qualities to those around us. It’s often hard to be a wise friend. It’s difficult not to judge. It’s difficult to be honest sometimes. This practice helps us not turn away, not abandon, and not fear. It helps us cultivate the steadiness and willingness to do what’s hard. To say, “I’m in it with you. I won’t leave.” That kind of messaging is so important these days.

Doing a retreat is another way to be a spiritual friend. Our practice has the power to help us cultivate courage and clarity and feel deeply connected to the world. Retreat helps us grow a heart that is strong enough to go back into the world and endure what’s hard to endure and be with people in a very real and honest way.

What did the Buddha mean when he said, “Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life?”  

There’s a beautiful teaching in which the Buddha’s cousin and caretaker, Ananda, comes to the Buddha with this big insight. He says, “Buddha, Buddha, I figured it out. I figured out that spiritual friendship is half of the holy life.” And the Buddha says, “Not so, not so, Ananda. Don’t say that it’s only half, it’s the whole of the holy life.”

It’s such a beautiful spiritual question. How is it that we have so many teachings, for example, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the five aggregates, etc., and all of it relates to spiritual friendship?

I love this teaching because we’re always relating to something. We’re relating to ourselves but we’re also relating to the weather, to our roommates, to the people in the grocery store, to other drivers, etc. Every situation we find ourselves in puts us into relationship with someone or something else. Every moment is an opportunity to cultivate a steady, kind, friendly attitude. No matter what happens—and anything could happen at any time—if we greet each new moment with this friendliness, it’s a good way to be free. And this is a frame for what it means to be enlightened.

What can attendees expect when they join this mini retreat?

These mini retreats are so beautiful because they really are a retreat, even though they’re a few hours on a Saturday morning. The practice of sharing Dharma together and sitting and walking in silence can build a powerful container of practice in sangha. So, we will be sharing some of these ideas and putting them into practice in our silent sitting and walking. The words can be an invitation or guidance for how to incline our minds and then the magic happens when we’re just practicing together very simply.

I’ll be focusing on the relationship we have with our own hearts. We may do some metta practice, sharing friendliness with other people or situations in the world, but mostly I want to cultivate a container for self-care. More and more I find that online practice is powerful, there’s a kind of solidarity and sangha that can happen even in a small group of people, all scattered around, but meeting in a virtual space that can very much support and inspire our practice.

Any final words about the retreat that you want people to know?

A lot of gratitude and appreciation for those who are interested in taking some time out of their weekend to do this precious and noble practice. It’s not always easy, especially in our home environments, to step away. Focusing on friendship is such a good way to start with this practice because we’re building a habit pattern of moving through our environment with more compassion, wisdom, and mindfulness.

Independence, confidence, and self-reliance also comes when we practice at home together. It might be harder than being in person, but it’s a good kind of hard because we’re training new muscles and new habits right here at home.

I’m so grateful for IMS Online, as it provides this wonderful opportunity for us to come together and cultivate sangha, right here and right now, wherever we may live.

For more information, and to register for this IMS Online Mini Retreat, clickhere.