The best spiritual friend is one who attacks your hidden faults.
The best instructions are the ones that hit those faults.
The best friends are mindfulness and vigilance.
The best incentives are enemies, obstacles and the sufferings of illness.
The best method is not to fabricate anything.
- Lord Atisha
via 'Words of my Perfect Teacher' by Patrul Rinpoche
A spiritual friend is a Geshe, a title given only to those who have overcome their own delusions, greed, and aversions. This person is pure-hearted, his[/her] words come always from that pure heart, and he never speaks from a narrow, self-serving perspective. This is a person at home in the world, for whom insults cause no grief, and desires are no distraction. The best geshe is one who shows you your good and your bad. He is a mirror of your true nature. Acting as a mirror, showing you your greed, aversion, and delusions attacks them as they occur. Because you are lost in them and cannot see them for yourself, they are your hidden faults.
Instructions are not limited to formal teachings, but can be so simple as a hand gesture or sigh. Watch your friend carefully for such instructions, the ones that can come here or there with great subtlety. The best of these instructions act as demolishing balls, but you must allow them to hit their targets, which are those faults in you that are hidden from you otherwise.
Friends are all things in life that draw us away from greed, aversion, and delusion (the Three Poisons), toward generosity, loving kindness, and understanding. While many traits and activities help us in this, the best of these nail our focus to the task, mindfulness, and keep us moving forward even when tired, vigilance.
An incentive is anything, either good or bad, that reminds us why we are avoiding the Three Poisons and cultivating their opposites. Minor incentives include joy, calm, bliss, and equanimity. However, the best incentives are those that provide concrete opportunities to practice generosity, loving kindness, and understanding. The benefit from practicing these in an ideal environment is minimal, but to practice these with enemies brings the greatest reward in the future. One mustn't forget one's self though, as practicing generosity, loving kindness, and understanding toward ourselves, toward our own obstacles is of equal benefit. Finally, all of our generosity, loving kindness, and understanding will be of little good if we do not realize true motivation: that of helping all beings. Thus, experiencing for one's self the suffering of illness is of highest importance. Not only can we more clearly help others through what we ourselves have suffered, but we are reminded of the importance and immediacy of our practices.
A method is a way of doing something; just as a skilled carpenter has a certain method, so too does the wise person. The lowest carpenter follows the rules and guidelines set out for him by great carpenters. The lowest wise person likewise follows the rules and guidelines set out for him by the wise. The middlemost carpenter builds always to best suit the future inhabitants. The middlemost wise person likewise works to fulfill the needs of all those around him. The highest carpenter has cultivated the skills and materials to allow the home to build itself. The highest wise person likewise has cultivated generosity, loving kindness, and understanding fully and as such, allows them to manifest in the world. This, it is said, is the best way of living. Just as the baseball player does not 'hit at' the fastball, but allows the bat to connect with it, just as an artist does not 'make' a painting, but allows it to flow through him, the wise person does not [any longer] fabricate the three good qualities, but allows them to flow forth. Once this is accomplished, there is no other goal to be attained, thus the wise person does not fabricate anything.
May all beings be happy; may all beings be free from suffering.