Buddhist concept of friendship

By Sita Arunthavanathan
Courtesy : Vesak Lipi

Some critics have a tendency to label Buddhism as a religion with supra-mundane goals, devoid of the concept of love and friendship for living in this world. But the Tripitaka furnishes us with ample evidence to prove that the Buddha considered living in harmony and friendship without disputes (Samagga Sammodamana avivadamana) an important human relationship based on love. Metta or Loving Kindness envelopes much more than mere love. Etymologically the word Metta means the nature of a friend – (mittassa sabhavo).

In other words, a friendly spirit which is edified, not only on love, but on loving kindness. In modern parlance, the word “love” has rather a cheap connotation, but Metta when taken in its real perspective encapsulates all the noble human feelings a person could shower on another.” Metta (loving kindness), Karuna (compassion), Muditha (altruistic joy) and Upeksha (equanimity), which are known as Satara Brahma Vihara or the Four Noble patterns of behaviour form the very sheet anchor of Buddhist friendly, ethical conduct. The spirit of love and friendship promulgated by these, cover a much wider spectrum than mere love, which is supposed to be lacking in Buddhism.

It is mentioned in Samyutta Nikaya that once Ven. Ananda approached the Buddha and remarked that “half of the dispensation is based on friendship, companionship and association with the good.” to which the Buddha replied ” Ven. Ananda, do not say so. Not half, but man’s entire life is established on friendship, companionship and association with the good.”

The friendly disposition among the Bhikkus towards each other was so admirable and imitable that King Ajatasattu who was not so well disposed towards Buddhism had remarked according to Samananaphala Sutta of the Digha Nikaya that “the monks lived in unity talking to each other with mutual friendliness ….. mixing with each other like milk and water and seeing each other with pleasing eyes.” (Nirodha Ki Dhuta annamannam Piya Cakkhuhi Sampassamana) and had even gone further and said, “How nice it would be if my son Udayabhadda too could possess these friendly qualities.”

Again, it occurs in Majjhima Nikaya that once the Buddha questioned Ven. Anuruddha how the Bhikkhus were getting along with each other, and the Venerable replied thus, “Lord, we have diverse bodies but assuredly only one mind.” (Na na hi kho pan a bhante kayam ekam ca kho manne cittam).

Two types of friends
As far as the laity is concerned, the Tipitaka abounds with examples to show that the guidance of good friends is very essential for life here and hereafter. The Buddha has described two types of friends, Kalyana Mitta (the good friend) and Papa Mitta (the evil friend). A famous stanza in the Dhammapada says, “Do not keep company with evil friends or those who are mean. Associate with the good and bold friends.” (Na bhaje papake mitte-na bhaje purisadhame, bhajetha mitta kalyane-bhajetha purisuttame). All parents should instil into the minds of their children the noble advice conveyed by this stanza. The Buddha has advised us to lead a lonely life in case we cannot find a decent friend. But never keep the company of a fool. (eka cariyam dalham kariya-natthi balo sahayaka). Mahamangala Sutra which enumerates 38 blessings to guide one in life’s journey starts with avoiding the company of fools as the first blessing.

Friendship is a force that has no parallel; there is no other single power that can generate good qualities in a person as friendship with the good because, after a certain age children stop emulating their parents and start imitating their friends.

The Buddha’s advice regarding friends could be well comprehended by absorbing the contents of the Sigalovada Sutra. Sigala, who had very devout Buddhist parents was indifferent to religion. The Buddha explained inter alia who an evil friend and a good friend are:- A foe in the guise of a friend or a Papa Mitta will appropriate a friend’s possessions, render mere lip service, flatter, will give little with the idea of taking much, will associate for his own advantage, tries to gain favour by empty words and when the opportunity arises for action, he will give an excuse and express his inability to render any service. An evil friend also praises and approves his friends bad deeds whlle the good deeds go unnoticed and upraised. He praises the friend in his presence and rebukes him in his absence.

The Buddha has explained further how a foe in the guise of a friend (mitta patirupaka) brings about the ruin of a person in four ways. He is a companion in indulging in intoxicants which gives rise to infatuation and heedlessness. He is a ready companion to frequent the streets at ungodly hours. He is a companion to attend theatrical shows and he is a companion in gambling which causes one’s downfall.

Next, the Buddha tells Sigala the four types of friends who could be reckoned as warmhearted and dear. He who is a helpmate, does not change in happiness or sorrow, gives good counsel and sympathizes. Upakaro ca ya mitto-yo ca mitto sukhe dukkhe dtthakkhayi ca yo mitto-ya ca-mittanukampike.” A wise person having understood these four kinds of friends, should cherish them and associate with them as a mother tends her only son. (etepi mitte cattaro-Iti vinnaya pandita, sakkaccani payiru paseyya Mata puttamva orasam).

According to Nettippakarana there are seven qualities by which you can judge a friend. He should be pleasant and loveable, respectful, worthy of emulation, willing to engage in useful conversation, willing to tolerate words, engages in profound talk and never exhorts groundlessly. Today, the younger generation have a tendency to shun good advice and show resentment when their faults are pointed out by even parents. A stanza in the Dhammapada spells out a bit of excellent advice. “Someone who points out your mistakes, declare them as weaknesses and condemns them, think of such a person as one showing you a treasure. Associate with wise people of that nature. (midhinam va pavattaram-yam passe vajja dassinam; niggayhavadim medhavi tadisam pabditam bhaje). This shows that a friend need not be always sweet and soft spoken, but could resort to constructive criticism.

How to win Friendship
The Buddha has explained how to win and keep friends. By being generous one can surely win friends (dadam mittani ganthati) and also by being courteous and benevolent. Rajoice in your friend’s achievements, praise any commendable acts and strong points. But the Buddha says that if you always keep on talking of your friend’s goodness, kindness, greatness and so on, then you are trying to deceive him. In dealing with friends, one’s word should be as clean as the actions.

According to the Jataka Pali, striking a friendship is one, maintaining it is another. Buddha has given invaluable advice not only to keep the friendship but also to make the bonds stronger. One should not visit the friends too often or overstay the welcome.
This changes the friend to a foe. If your friend loses something, then you may be under a cloud. Visiting a friend too often invariably leads to gossip, which will involve you in a vortex of trouble. Buddha says that, it is equally bad not to visit your friends at all. You should judge for yourself how often you should visit your friend, how long you should stay and so on. Buddha has pointed out that a friendship deteriorates by asking favours, especially at wrong times. If at all you ask a favour, it should not be unreasonable or of a demanding nature. Asking favours far too often makes you a pest more than a friend.

Buddha has explained that if someone wants to bring about his own ruin or downfall, he could associate with Papa mitta or evil friends who are gamblers, libertines, tripplers, cheats, swindlers or violent thugs. Buddhist Commentarial Tradition defines a friend thus:- “A friend is one whose association leads to spiritual profitability, protects you from evil that may befall you and is inclined towards your welfare.”

In this manner, Buddhism points out the basic ingredients to foster a healthy friendship, minimize friction and displeasure, promote good-will, and companionship and ultimately bring about one’s welfare here, and spiritual progress leading to the realization of the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana.

The foregoing facts show that Buddha’s admonition regarding how to chose friends, win them and keep them expounded in the 6th Century before the common era surpasses all books of the twentieth century on this subject and the Buddhist Concept of Friendship remains a vibrant force forever.