Buddha on Friendship

Echoes of Compassion: Buddha’s Insights into Friendship

The importance of friends in our lives cannot be overstated. They serve as a reflection of ourselves, helping us to see and understand ourselves better, and as a sounding board for our thoughts and feelings.
However, it’s all too common for us to get caught up in the whirlwind of life and lose touch with our true friends. The Buddha offers valuable guidance on how to cultivate and maintain meaningful friendships, as well as how to let go of toxic ones.
In this blog, we will explore the concept of true friendship, delve into the Buddha’s teachings on the subject, and discuss ways to apply these principles in our daily lives.

Whether you form friendships by choice, or by joining community groups like work associates, sports teams, or religious congregations; there is bound to be some degree of choice involved. 

Regardless of a person’s life circumstances, their friends are both a part of it and reflect it. It’s important to have at least one social circle in your life that you can call family!

To prevent yourself from getting burnt out, try investing some time in those relationships as well as friendships. Even the family choices you make in your personal life can impact your emotional health.

Buddha’s teachings about friends

According to an ancient Buddhist story, attendants to the Buddha talked about how important it was for followers of his teachings to have noble friends and companions.

The Buddha responded by saying:

It is the whole of this holy life, this friendship, companionship and association with the good.

SN 45.2: Upaddha Sutta

Mitta Sutta

(Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven?

He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure.

He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you.

When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.

Life can be difficult enough without having to deal with negative people as well. But how do you know if someone is a toxic person or not?

We have some signs to look out for that might help you figure it out.

An important part of avoiding the jerk-effect is making sure that you’re not in denial about what’s happening with your friends and acquaintances – so make sure that everyone in your life is okay with being told what they aren’t doing right when it comes to improving their behavior because nothing will ever improve if no one ever tells them otherwise.

Keep an eye on those who are close to you and try not spending too much time around anyone in particular who gives off a negative vibe which, sadly, can come from a lot of people who we don’t expect.  

When you do find yourself in a friendship with someone toxic, it’s important to remember that just because you care about them doesn’t mean they’re going to stop being toxic.  

You have the option of putting distance between yourself and these people by not making excuses for their behavior or refusing to take part in their drama when an opportunity arises.

Also, remember not to take things personally when someone blows up at you because they’re not worth your time and it’s likely that in the depths of their negative attitude, they’re lashing out at everyone anyway.

If someone is toxic to you then there are ways to deal with it but if it’s too much for you then cutting them off is a must.

Buddhism teaches that “right speech” means not gossiping or backbiting, as well as refraining from telling lies.

Sigalovada Sutta: The Buddha’s Advice to Sigalaka

The Buddha lists four criteria to help us judge friends in the Sigalovada Sutta:

“Young man, be aware of these four enemies disguised as friends: the taker, the talker, the flatterer, and the reckless companion.

01. The Taker

The taker can be identified by four things: by only taking, asking for a lot while giving little, performing duty out of fear, and offering service in order to gain something.

02. The Talker

The talker can be identified by four things: by reminding of past generosity, promising future generosity, mouthing empty words of kindness, and protesting personal misfortune when called on to help.

03. The Flatterer

The flatterer can be identified by four things: by supporting both bad and good behavior indiscriminately, praising you to your face, and putting you down behind your back.

04. The Reckless

The reckless companion can be identified by four things: by accompanying you in drinking, roaming around at night, partying, and gambling.”

Putting it all into verse, the sublime teacher said:

  • The friend who is all take
  • The friend of empty words
  • The friend full of flattery, and
  • The reckless friend;
  • These 4 are not friends, but enemies.
Video: Monk Radio: Friendship
Read Next:Why Are Buddhists Vegetarian?

What makes a good friend

The Buddha explains in the same lesson what qualities make a good friend, and how to become a good friend yourself. 

I wrote a separate blog post about that already. I have attached the link below so you can take a look at it. 

Buddha Quotes about Friendship

The best way to understand the Buddha’s take on friendship is to directly read his words. Here are a few famous Buddha quotes on friendship.

·        “Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life.” These words come from the Upaddhasutta (SN 45.2) and were said to Buddha’s cousin Ananda. The words clearly depict that Buddha believed in the importance of friendship as he is attributing it to the entirety of spirituality.

·        “By relying upon me as a good friend … beings are freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair.” In the same conversation, Buddha marks himself as the spiritual friend to the entire world. Meaning, he bases his relationship with the outer world on friendship more than any other title.

·        “A true friend is one who stands by you in need.” As simple as it gets, for Buddha, friends are the ones who would stand by you when you are in hot waters. It also depicts Buddha’s affiliation to the world as he teaches his disciples to be true friends.

·        “A friend gives what is hard to give, and does what’s hard to do. They put up with your harsh words, and with things hard to endure.”  The idea ponders on a teaching known as the “Mitta Sutta” (the Discourse on Friends).

·        “Recognize these four good-hearted friends: the helper, the friend in good times and bad, the counselor, and the one who’s compassionate.” Contrarily, Buddha also teaches his followers to identify the snakes. In the same chapter, he tells his disciples to know their true friends and avoid those who aren’t.·       

“Emulating consummate conviction … consummate virtue … consummate generosity … and consummate discernment. This is called admirable friendship.” In his advice to Dighajanu the Koliyan, Buddha gives a general overview on true friendship. It includes offering welfare and happiness for each other.

My take on Buddha’s advice

Being around positive and good friends is very important, because it will help make you a happier person.

Always be wary of your friendships with people who only seem to care about themselves (the takers), give advice without much basis in fact (the talkers), flatter you but don’t actually mean their words (the flatterers) or cause trouble that occasionally ends up with you somehow being dragged into the fray by association (the reckless ones).

These are not friends and may even be harmful to a well-balanced, joyful life so be sure to steer clear of such people whenever possible and surround yourself instead with those who genuinely care about helping others regardless of how they feel personally – the true friends.

Don’t let anyone who constantly complains or dumps their problems on you be part of your life because that will only drain you emotionally.

Never forget to widen your social circle beyond the people you’re already familiar with by getting to know new people and seeing what they have to offer.

And although it may be tempting to try and spend time with people who are better off than you, do not forget that humble friends have their own particular place in your life.

They will remind you of what’s important, help you realize your dreams and push you to improve yourself.  Remember that all friendships are valid as long as they are based on mutual respect, understanding and empathy.  

In that way, you’ll have good friends who will support you and help each other without causing unnecessary trouble in the process.

How wholesome are your friends?

One way to tell if someone is lucky in life is whether or not they have a good friend. A good friend might be someone who lets you know when you’ve gone the wrong way, especially when they know that it will result in you coming out worse than before.

Good friends help us get through the hard times and get us excited for the future. They are there for support and correction at any given moment. A good friend knows how to help you cheer up as much as they can to encourage right choices regardless of situation, mood, social status, etc.

A good friend knows when to stop and let you be, as well as when to push forward.

A good friend is like a compass: always trying to align their actions with yours so that they can point you in the right direction.

A good friend encourages you by emulating your lead, and can be a close ally in helping you overcome your fears. Your good friends should also tell it like it is, especially when they think something is off.

By urging you to make positive changes, or saying “no” when needed, a good friend will challenge you to live better and do better. Because she cares about what happens to you as much as she does about himself, your good friend will support your wholesome actions while discouraging the unwholesome ones.

Are your friends supporting or challenging? Are they adding value to your life?

A challenge doesn’t have to mean something negative, in fact, your challenge might be to do better at something that you usually slack off on.

A form of encouragement or a “kick in the butt” (in a positive way) is sometimes needed for us to get moving and take action. We all have things that we are too lazy, busy, tired to do but what’s so wrong about having a friend who will cheer you on to work out, or calling up someone else when you are the one afraid to call them first?

Have a friend who can motivate others to do well – not just give lip service – but actually take action.

This is especially important in times where we need support and encouragement from others during stressful periods in our lives.

People you surround yourself with will affect how you think and act. Additionally, the friends that choose to spend time in a positive manner could potentially end up having a different kind of effect on you than others who live in your community but don’t quite contribute positively to those around them.

When asked what they do outside of work, do your best to remember whether they are social or intellectual types, since mindsets tend to be carried over from one area of life into the next. How exactly do these individuals affect you?

Do their personalities make things better for you, or worse? Based on conversations you had recently with your associates outside of your occupation, do they agree that their influence is beneficial for everyone involved? 

Sometimes we feel afraid of ending a friendship because it means opening ourselves up to more risk.

However, this is not necessarily true in all cases that friends are meant to be forever. We can call them our “one love”, one who we loved at least once in our life, but this love can eventually fade away.

The Buddha says in Maha-mangala Sutta,

  • Not consorting with fools,
  • consorting with the wise,
  • paying homage to those worthy of homage:
  • This is the highest protection.

Maha-mangala Sutta: Protection, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Video: On Friendship – BBCorner

Can your friends count on you for a wholesome friendship?

Do you like to help others? How often do you help others? When it comes to bringing up important issues do you approach them with a positive mindset even when it’s clear there won’t be much in terms of personal gain?

Are you willing and ready to display your appreciation towards your friends, family members or significant others for simply being there for you throughout this whole journey?

Do you take time out once in a while – even if only momentarily – to truly appreciate the importance of those around you?

As with any other friendship, your relationships with people will only deepen if you put in the effort to keep them healthy and strong. Skillful friendships are based on trust, respect, loyalty, patience and kindness.

It is like a tender relationship or a long-lasting bond that keeps evolving over time despite so many ups and downs that come with every new journey. 

Most importantly, be kind. Try as much as possible to not hurt others and avoid hurting yourself in the process, too.

Have a chat with your friend if you sense any tension between you two – words once spoken cannot always be taken back, so it’s wiser to help each other patch things up before they get out of hand.

Be true to yourself. Your way of life is your own choice, and no one else can tell you what’s right or what’s wrong because it will stand in direct contrast with your own beliefs.

As long as you are staying honest within, there should never be any reason for you to feel ashamed or embarrassed by the choices you make in life.

Bringing out the best in others is a gift that you can give to yourself as much as it is given to them. Make your friendships strong even if they are meant to stay for just a little while. 

Parting Words

Friendship is one of the greatest gifts given by the Lord to mankind. All religions prescribe it and it is the greatest thing that will help you in your time of need.

Friendship with the right people is a blessing but friendship with the wrong people can be a liability. Be wise in who you choose to be your friends, not everyone is worth your time.

Learn how to be a good friend and a good friend will learn how to be a good friend to you.

In Buddhism, friendship is highly regarded. Buddha has said that a true friend is the greatest blessing of life. The

Most enduring and successful of friendships are those which have a spiritual element to them. The Buddha said that one should have faith in his friends, make an effort to be with them at all times, not associate with the unwholesome people.

Buddha’s definition of friendship is that it is a relation of mutual trust and understanding. It is a relation of similarity, of likeness, of harmony and cohesion. In friendship, people can share their joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, happiness and grief, knowledge and experience.

Friendship is like a beautiful tree that will grow and flourish if it has the right soil, climate and conditions.

In our daily lives, we have many tasks to fulfill which are not always pleasant. We face much adversity through which we can find ourselves lonely and in need of someone who cares.

Friends share and understand such needs with each other. Friends in Buddhism are those who care for others.

For all of the personal benefits to be gained from such a deep friendship, there is no greater achievement than seeing your friend succeed, knowing that you were partly responsible for making it happen.

Friendship is a source of happiness, strength, comfort and security. People can be friends or one can become a friend at any age.

Thank you for reading, and may you always have the good fortune of a good friend, wherever you go.

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