What’s a “Dharma friend?”

The path of recovery leads us to an entirely new way of living, which can be challenging, even overwhelming at times. As we enter recovery and begin developing more intimacy with the full range of our own humanity, it is essential for us to connect with others in recovery who will guide us, inspire us, support us, and challenge us when we get stuck.

The Buddha felt that community was so important that he included it in the traditional practice of “taking refuge” and committing to the path of freedom. In his teachings, the Buddha repeatedly emphasized the importance of community (sangha) and associating with wise friends. He once spoke of friendship with admirable people as “actually the whole of the holy life.”

In Refuge Recovery, we feel strongly that connection and accountability are the cornerstones upon which we must build a healthy recovery practice. As we venture outside of our comfort zones and practice vulnerability and transparency with others in recovery, we begin the process of taking refuge in the sangha.

“BUDDHIES”

In the Refuge fellowship, people are starting to use the term “Dharma friends” or “Buddha buddies” (or, even, “Buddhies”) to describe a personal, mutually supportive relationship with another member actively engaged in the Refuge Recovery program. Most simply, a Dharma friend is another member of the Refuge Recovery community freely sharing their journey through the Four Truths and Eightfold Path as outlined in the Refuge Recovery text. For many, buddhies serve as people with whom they can regularly connect, check-in, and share in life’s many joys and sorrows. Sometimes, one Dharma friend may have more experience on the path, or in recovery, than the other. Even in such a case, though, their role is not that of a parent or social worker, nor is a Dharma friend meant to act as a therapist offering professional advice. Dharma friendship is best viewed as a collaboration between both parties, with the understanding that, ultimately, all members must do the work of recovery themselves.

Who can be my Dharma friend?

Refuge Recovery members will have differing opinions on who makes a good Dharma friend. While each of us ultimately must find a buddy that best suits our individual needs, some guidelines on who may be a good buddy may be useful.

Those who have maintained renunciation for over a year, established a regular meditation practice, and are working on or completed the inventories are in a good position to become buddhies for newer members. Some communities may not have members with such experience. In that case, they may choose to turn to the most experienced members in their communities to act as buddhies. If there are very few or no members in your community with sufficient experience, you may be able to find a Dharma friend by connecting with others online, or with other Refuge Recovery communities in other cities/states.

All members should reflect on their own individual intentions and motivations for seeking a Dharma relationship. Friendship is a non-authoritative, mutually supportive relationship that serves as a helpful tool on the path toward freedom from the suffering of addiction. As Refuge Recovery grows and expands, we will find new ways to offer this mutual support, and continue to develop this component of the program in meaningful ways.

How do I get a Dharma friend?

Refuge Recovery groups may choose to discuss mutual support at the end of each meeting, detailing their own process for supporting newer members in finding a buddy. Some groups may encourage newer members to speak to the group facilitator after the meeting, or may provide a phone list of willing buddhies. Generally, we encourage newer members to begin by connecting with as many different members of the community as possible.

What is expected of me?

When selecting a Dharma friend, it is important to remember that, ultimately, we are each responsible for our own recovery. No one else can do the hard work of developing a daily meditation practice, engaging in service, or maintaining recovery for us. As we begin working the Refuge Recovery program, we must stay open-minded and be honest with our buddhies. We will also want to build ongoing relationships with many different members in the program. By connecting with our buddhies, as well as others in the program, we broaden our base of support. As we broaden our base of support, we also broaden our perspective on recovery, and learn new, balanced, and creative ways to respond to the challenges we face both as individuals and as a community.

The “Refuge Recovery Live” online community has developed a wealth of resources for deepening your connection to the path and to support Dharma friendship. One of the roles that Dharma friends can play could be just to connect buddhies to the tools that are available.

Dealing with Difficult People

As we engage in friendship, friendships, and casual relationships with other members, we will inevitably find ourselves coming into contact with difficult people. Those who are difficult can be our greatest teachers, challenging us in our ability to respond with understanding and friendliness to those who need us most or push our buttons. Difficult personalities can often serve as mirrors for the places we ourselves get stuck in judgment, fear, and confusion. We must learn to find a balance between setting appropriate boundaries and practicing compassion when faced with the challenging personalities of other members.

WHAT THE BUDDHA SAID

In the “Upaḍḍha Sutta,” the Buddha talked with his buddy, the Venerable Ānanda, about friendship:

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying among the Sakyans. Now, there is a Sakyan town named Sakkara. There the Venerable Ānanda went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, Ven. Ānanda said to the Blessed One, “This is half of the holy life, lord: having admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues.”1

[The Buddha’s reply was] “Don’t say that, Ānanda. Don’t say that. Having admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.”

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