Zen Heart

On Friendship


     Plato says that the primeval word for community is law; as for Aristotle he thinks it is Philia. Both could be right. What holds a community together is the law above beings. But what creates a community is friendship that lives in these beings. Philia means friendship, but this friendship is not an idea. Rather it is a being itself, too. Where discord is, presumably Ares, the stormy one is present; where there is love, presumably Aphrodite, the one who dissolves opposites, is present; and where friendship is, presumably Philia, the goddess of friendship is present, too. According to Aristotle if thousands and millions of people live together, speak the same language, foster the same traditions– all of these are the magic of the presence of goddess Philia. Without her La Bruyere would be right asking: why are you surprised that the humanity does not live in the same state, does not believe in the same religion, and does not speak the same language? If I look at the diversity and colorfulness of human character, temperament, talent and wisdom, I am rather surprised that two people can sleep under the same roof without strangling each other before morning. It is because of the magic of goddess Philia that such things as common house, a common language, or a common custom can exist between beings snarling at each other. Without her, they would be no more than lonely beast of prey. Community is created by goddess Friendship and thus the primeval word for community is Philia.

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Compared to the many things to which we paid special attention in the past hundred years, the silence around friendship is more than strange. There exists only one considerable work, made by Emerson. In the ancient world no one failed to keep it in mind. The reason that so few write on friendship today is not really that friendship is a classical subject and today’s people are not up to a classical subject. The reason is rather that friendship is a classical relationship and today’s man is not up to a classical relationship. Mankind has never been so close to all beings becoming just beasts of prey, snarling at each other from hiding. The aggressive collectivism of mass-religions is only the surface; beneath it lives the man who is ready to kill the one he lives with under the same roof before morning arrives, and only because he is different. Everyone who had reached out his hands these days toward someone else had to have experienced, humiliated, that people don’t understand the only thing that is important. But no one can be called to account. Yesterday I reached out my hands toward someone but he did not notice; today someone reached out for me and I was the one not noticing him. We’re living a Philialess life and the relationships that are still here between us might be only the remains of the old days or a possibility for the future; no friendship springs from today.

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       However, Aristotle probably is wrong when he says that the possibility of community is created by Philia. The community is not more and is not less. The community is something different. It is an wholly and perfectly and basically different life; an existence, possibility, reality, magic and mysterium. They have found an expression for these days: they say it is the relationship of Me and You. There must be at least three people for a community. But when there are three Philia takes off. The Me and the You makes two, always and only two. More with one than when one is alone and less with one than when one is part of a community. The relationship of Me and You is a circle of existence apart: a specific circle between the individual and the collective. Between loneliness and community. Between aloneness and crowd. Between the One and the Three. This two is the world where Philia thrives.

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Astrology divides the space of human fate into twelve parts, or in its vocabulary, it divides the stages of human fate into twelve houses. Such houses are personality, wealth, education, home, marriage, etc. and astrology assigns a house apart for friendship, too. In the huge literature of modern psychology one may find not a word on friendship – based on this single fact it seems obvious that astrology has much more refinement to the whole of human existence. Astrology also seems to know that friendship doesn’t have anything to do with the Me nor with love. It designates a house apart for Philia and values its weight and importance the way it values vocation or death. Friendship is not a simple association, just the same way that a friend is not a mere companion. Not a comrade, not a colleague, not a partner. What one experiences in the house of friendship cannot be substituted by any other kind of relationship. A friend cannot be replaced by anything else. There are people incapable of friendship; there are people who are unfit for friendship; there are people who have many other people around them; and there are some, whose life passes in a constant hunger for a friend, without ever finding one.

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Montaigne says love never asks for permission. It comes when it wants and overcomes the man like an elemental force. Friendship needs consent. My friend I choose for myself, freely. However, once that is done it becomes a compulsion. I cannot manage without him. “Il me semble n’etre plus qu’a demi” – it seems that I am only the half of something. But even then, it doesn’t overcome me. It is always gentle and passionless. Goddess Philia is the most gentle among divine beings. A lover sometimes can feel the happiness or trouble of the absent beloved and sometimes can guess his or her wishes. What’s exceptional in love is natural in a friendship. I always know and have to know what’s happening to him and what he’s thinking. No secrets can remain hidden between us. But this is not a condition of friendship; sincerity doesn’t precede friendship. Those believe that have no idea about friendship. For those who are united by the goddess, all lies and masks fall. It is not that friendship springs from sincerity, but sincerity springs from friendship. First there is Philia, and all the rest are her gifts.
Montaigne describes the forms of contact among the Greeks, and he says they were natural, social, filled with love and hospitality. But there is no Philia in the nature or society or love or hospitality. Friendship is Philia.

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Emerson affirms that the friend is nature’s paradox and masterpiece at the same time. A friend is the only being, he says, from who I don’t desire what he has, but rather what he is. The newer writers speak the same way in so far as they touch upon friendship. Scheler, who wrote on the forms of sympathy, Buber, who expressed the relationship of Me-You in the most beautiful way, Ebner, who built a whole eschatology on this relationship, Barth, Gogarten, Jaspers, Klages -all who wrote many beautiful pieces about the Zweisamkeit. But they all miss something at a certain point: one believes that friendship, the relationship of Me-You is no more than the copy of the relationship between God and Man; the other thinks that it is a vital, or metaphysical, or existentional relationship. None of them sees that we’re talking about something that cannot be traced back to something else, nor can it be explained by anything else. They don’t see that friendship is a state sanctified by the higher Power.
It could be put this way: existence can shift toward the individual circle and can attain its fulfillment there. That is the divinification of Me. One starts from the metaphysic that says: only the Me is everlasting and immortal, thus he lays stress there.
Existence, however, can shift toward the community, too, and find its fulfillment there. One starts from the idea that only the community, as a race or nation or religion is everlasting and immortal, and so he lays his life’s stress there.
Friendship is a circle of existence where the Me and the community are both fulfilled, and live on untouched; but between and independent of them a brand new, third possibility of existence springs up which cannot be derived from the one nor the other. A new life form is opening. This is friendship. Friendship does not resemble any other forms of existence. It is a circle completely apart. Why?  Philia creates a Philia-world that cannot be confused with anything else. That is the world of friendship.

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So far no one has paid particular attention to the community of men., especially to the alliance, the order, the association, the army. Men like to unite, and to emphasize the importance of this union they apply ritual outward appearances. Knights exchange swords between each other and swear secret oaths to each other. Monks and soldiers wear uniforms, sit in rows and walk in step. In every case they decide upon mandatory rules, and thus commit themselves to principles such as the monastic oath, the knightly morals, or those of the military service. Compared to a woman’s scattered mind and inward way of life - which might have its center in herself - it strikes the eye how men are devoted to their clubs, their chivalry orders, and that they prefer rules, uniforms, the exchange of swords, and the walking in step. It may be that if the structures of humanity were managed by women, the nation, community, society and state would have never come into being. Laws wouldn’t have been written and uniforms wouldn’t have been worn. Perhaps the collective is the work of men and the state is none other but an enlarged monastic order or a softened and loosened army.
All men know what joy and seriousness is to be found in sport. Eleven men conclude an alliance with each other, and stand against eleven other men; the task is to kick the ball into the enemy’s goal. That is the football. All the characteristics of men’s collectives are there: the rules, the oath, the uniform, and the enemy. And the game is so important that fifty thousand people watch it with bated breath.
If someone knows what is it like to be in a war camp, to undertake a daring enterprise, to live together for life-and-death on a battleship with forty-eight similar men; if someone experiences what Amundsen or Shackleton tell about their companions - participants of their Antarctic expedition - the advantage, renunciation, solidarity, humor, gentleness, self-denial that these men gave as proof toward each other, one will begin to understand what created, creates and holds together the collective of men. One will begin to understand that friendship is possible only between men.

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Friendship can only spring up when two men not only keep each other’s being safe but when they step out of the circle of Me into the circle of Two.  They do this because they know that that is the place where their wholesomeness will be doubled by the wholesomeness of their friend. Wholesomeness can only be completed by wholesomeness. Just as suppression ends up by suppressing the suppression itself, and the way completeness can only be accomplished by completeness. I can only be open by my friend’s openness, and I can only be sincere by his sincerity. I can be a friend by his friendship and he can be only by mine. There is no hierarchy, ranking, or succession. This is the perfect acknowledgment of the mutual consistency of values. Friends are equal. Because where they tarry there are no differences. The place they live is beyond competition. Friendship grows and exists and thrives and passes on its existence. The circle of friendship is not about life but about existence. The shaking of hands is the sign of meeting in a higher world.

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Every friendship begins with a vague feeling that we’ve already met somewhere. As if we were brothers a long time ago; rather as if we were twins. Therefore our meeting is just seeing each other again. And when one is separated from his friend, he knows that being apart is just an appearance. Somewhere they remain together just the way they were together before meeting each other.

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Elemental Eros is the ancient binding Power that holds together the atoms and equalizes the opposites. Elemental Eros has two children, one of them governs the realm of love and the other one the realm of friendship. Aphrodite is the goddess of love and Philia is the goddess of friendship.

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Love lures out all man’s power, stirs it up, and whip it up. In other words, love wakes up all man’s passions. Love sets free all the demons that live within the man.
Friendship brings all man’s powers into harmony. Friendship masters all man’s passions. Philia is the goddess whose presence makes the elemental demons to calm down and find their places.

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Love and friendship have one feature in common: the cause of its breaking up is never the Other but always the Me.

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Love’s secret is that out of two will be one; friendship’s secret is that out of one will be two. Therefore love is a reversed friendship and there is always something oozing from one into the other. Love can sometimes seem as if there were two out of one, whereas there were always two and only love made them become one. Friendship can sometimes seem as if two made one, but they always were one and only friendship made them seem two.

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Women forget their friends but never their lovers.
Men forget their lovers but never their friends.

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A history of book printing exists, of minting, of sailing, of clothing, of the use of poisons and of crockery. Friendship has no history. Why? Friendship’s history is Lao Tze and his friends, Buddha and his friends, friends in the Trojan war, Harmodios and Aristogeiton, the friendships of Socrates, the knights of the Grail, the friendships of painters, artists and poets, the George-circle.

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Friendship has three main obstacles: pride, arrogance and irony. These are the three basic forms of the Me overstepping itself. All of these involve closing and expelling. They are autistic forms of behavior and are only used by those who want to differ at any price. Pride looks for and finds a mirror in the other one; arrogance wants only a servant and someone inferior to despise; and irony is only after imperfection. We all know that we all are mirrors, servants and imperfect. But we also know that this is not the most important thing. A friend chooses to make himself to be a mirror, a servant and imperfect. One who doesn’t understand that and doesn’t return it the same way hurts not the man but friendship itself.

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Friendship has four forms: it can be heroic, intimate, spiritual or playful. A genuine friendship unites all four in one, and therefore it’s possible to see them as four dimensions of friendship. Heroic means that I sacrifice my life for him; spiritual means that it is the world of the spirit where we’re together; playful means that I am playing with him as cheerfully as a child; and intimate means that I open my heart to him.

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Goethe says that it is not enough to be ready to sacrifice your life for your friend – you have to deny your beliefs for him.

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The fact that Philia had a statue in the ancient world shows how well known she was there. Later statues represented either only one man, the immortal Me, either the group, the immortal community. The immortal two was forgotten. The memory of two Athenian men, Harmodios and Aristogeiton is the statue of friendship. It holds all that is important in a friendship: the duplication of existence, and in such a manner that if only one man stood there, one could easily see that he’s just the half of something.
Lawrence says about the friendship of the Bearhunter and the Delaware chief that it is deeper than family, deeper than fatherhood, deeper than motherhood, deeper than love – “so deep that it is loveless”. All attraction, sympathy, wishing, desire, passion have disappeared, and it is so deep that one can only reach those depths in his deepest roots. Deep there is silence, undisturbed tranquility and motionless peace. That is the world of idyll, the golden age. In love, the happiness that springs from the endless tranquility can be attained only for moments, while in friendship is always present. Friendship can be identified because of this idyllic quality. Such a silence is unknown to communities. The community of the golden age so far has not been realized on Earth. One can experience tranquility, even if lonely, only once and only if one is specially favored by the gods. But is floating in a friendship, even if the two friends are setting out for a battle, if they’re having a snack by a fire in the woods, if are playing, or if one of them lives on the other side of the ocean and one here, ten thousand miles from each other. When one is alone, it seems, one can and should only step into the idyllic existence through the favor of the gods; so far it seems that together it is impossible. Man and woman’s union can never reach that height where the golden age could be attained – for more than a moment. Friendship begins by both stepping into the idyllic. And there’s no need for desire, wishing, power or struggle; the idyll lacks nothing and satisfies all passions. Therefore friendship is deeper than affection and deeper than love.
The idyll, which steps into the highest circle of existence called the golden age is perfectly whole, complete and accomplished. And what is whole, perfect and accomplished is classical. Friendship is a classical way of solving life. That is why they appreciated it in the antique times and is not understood today. Classical means that the basis of existence is revealed in a crystal clear light. The creator and protector of the classical way of life is Philia.

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There is an incomprehensible relationship between friendship and stars. Why is my friend a star? And why is a star like a friend? Because he’s so far and yet living inside me? Because he’s mine and yet out of my reach? Because the space where we meet is not human but cosmic? Because he doesn’t want anything from me and I don’t want anything from him either? Only to be and to be the way he is and the way I am and that’s completely enough for both? There’s no answer. There’s no need for an answer. I will always think of my friend as a star, the universe shining down on me, incomprehensibly.

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In the human world friendship was and will always be the classical way of life. Friendship steps out of the bewildered irreality of the human being, which they call reality in an unexplainable manner, and solve life in a poetic manner. It is said that love makes you become poetic - often. Friendship makes life itself poetic; life becomes poetry. Poetry disappears from love quickly, because for love everything is just means to unite man and woman, the two biggest opposites of the universe. This poetic relationship is friendship itself. We don’t write poetry, but we live it.
Perhaps Aristotle was thinking of this when saying that the primeval word for community is Philia.


© On  friendship - an excerpt from The Invisible Story by Béla Hamvas (1897-1968), translated by Zsolt

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