Buddhist teacher, Lama Shenpen responds to a student’s worry regarding their spending more time and energy practicing Buddhism and engaging in the Sangha activities, resulting in a sense of losing touch with old friends.
A meditation student writes:“I am increasingly moving away emotionally and physically away from my non Dharma friends. The spare time that I do have I am either studying or contributing to the Sangha. I’m starting to feel torn and saddened by this distance, it feels like a loss. But, on the other hand I am choosing to study and be part of the Sangha as this is very important to me.
Is it really OK to leave your old friends behind? I enjoy being with them but I’m finding it increasingly obvious that things have changed, or maybe it’s just me that’s changing. When I’m with my Sangha friends there is the deep and real connection of a common purpose, this is now lacking on my old friendships.
Should I just allow this distance to happen as the natural course of things? Or should I try to maintain these old connections, as these are friends who have been with me through good and bad times?”
Lama Shenpen: “It is a question of time isn’t it? It is not that you are choosing to distance yourself. It is that you are choosing the Dharma as your priority and that makes sense. As you say ‘the spare time that I do have’ – we don’t get that much spare time to study, practise and contribute to the Sangha do we?
Yet by prioritising our Dharma connections we are empowering our personal mandala to be able to help all those connected to it from now until we and they are all enlightened.
They don’t understand that right now but in future lives they will benefit from what we are doing now. You will always remain connected to them. For many of them you will be the closest they get to a Dharma connection in this life.
So you need to remember that you are not neglecting those old friendships – you are trying to do your best to honour them by your Dharma practice. There is no need to cut off from them and when they really need you you will be there for them.
They may feel disappointed at not seeing so much of you and it may be that because you see less of each other a distance develops between you – but you know that when there is a genuine friendship between people it never changes, even if you do not see each other often. The connection is always there and in the end we all recognise that don’t we? What do you think?”