Here are some genuine quotes from the early Buddhist texts on friendship, with a little context thrown in. These are from my article on Wildmind.
1. “Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life.”
This is from a passage in the Upaḍḍhasutta (SN 45.2) where the Buddha’s cousin and attendant, Ānanda, comes to him to express his realization of how important friendship (kalyāṇa mittatā) is in the spiritual life:
On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling among the Sakyans where there was a town of the Sakyans [the Buddha’s tribe] named Nagaraka [“Little Town”]. Then the Venerable Ānanda approached the Blessed One. Having approached, he paid homage to the Blessed One, sat down to one side, and said to him:
“Venerable sir, this is half of the holy life, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship.”
“Not so, Ānanda! Not so, Ānanda! This is the entire holy life, Ānanda, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship. When a bhikkhu [monk] has a good friend, a good companion, a good comrade, it is to be expected that he will develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path.
Ānanda’s realization was important, but from the Buddha’s point of view it didn’t go far enough. The Buddha recognized that without the support of other people, we won’t make much spiritual progress. In fact, the support of others is indispensable.
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Sometimes people think that the Buddha got enlightened all on his own. In a sense he did, but you can’t take his moment of enlightenment out of the context of his entire life, where he no doubt received spiritual instruction at home, and then after his “going forth” he had two teachers, Āḷāra of the Kālāma tribe and Uddaka Rāmaputta (son of Rāma). After that, he had five companions with whom he practiced until shortly before his enlightenment. He may even have clarified his understanding of spiritual practice through the act of teaching. Any of us that teaches knows that the act of teaching helps us to become clearer about what we know.
2. “By relying upon me as a good friend … beings are freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair.”
Later in the same conversation, the Buddha points out how he himself is a spiritual friend to the entire world.
By relying upon me as a good friend, Ānanda, beings subject to birth are freed from birth; beings subject to aging are freed from aging; beings subject to death are freed from death; beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair are freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. By this method it may be understood how the entire holy life is good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship.
3. “A true friend is one who stands by you in need.”
Actually this one does sound a bit like something from a Hallmark card! It’s from a section in the Sigālovāda Sutta, where the Buddha summarizes, in poetic verse, some teachings he’s just given to a householder called Sigālaka, on how to avoid bad deeds and bad influences. The verse that contains this line says: “Some are just drinking buddies, some call you their dear, dear friend, but a true friend is one who stands by you in need.” Another translation renders this as “Some are drinking buddies, some say, ‘Dear friend! Dear friend!’ but whoever in hardship stands close by, that one truly is a friend.” A strong emphasis in this section of the discourse is avoiding friends who would be bad influences.
This not the only thing that the Buddha has to say to Sigālaka about the value of friendship. There’s a section on fake friends, and another on “good-hearted friends” (suhada-mitta).
4. “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.”
There’s a lovely little teaching called the “Mitta Sutta” (the “Discourse on Friends”) where the Buddha tells a bunch of monks about seven qualities they should look for in a friend. The seven are:
- They give what is hard to give.
- They do what is hard to do.
- They endure what is hard to endure.
- They reveal their secrets to you.
- They keep your secrets.
- They don’t abandon you in times of trouble.
- They don’t look down on you in times of loss.
“The person in whom these things are found is your friend,” the Buddha says, as he sums up his teaching in a verse that includes the headline quote above.
As Justin Whitaker points out in another article on friendship we’ve published on this site, it’s notable that the Buddha doesn’t say that your friend should be wise, or a great meditator. This is good, basic stuff to do with integrity and mutual respect.
5. “Recognize these four good-hearted friends: the helper, the friend in good times and bad, the counselor, and the one who’s compassionate.”
The Buddha has warned Sigālaka how to recognize those who are only after your money or who want to lead you into drinking and gambling, but he also encourages the young man to appreciate good friends. He not only lists four types of good-hearted friend, but gives Sigālaka tips on how to recognize each type:
- The Helper: “They guard you when you’re negligent. They guard your property when you’re negligent. They keep you safe in times of danger. When something needs doing, they supply you with twice the money you need.”
- The Friend in Good Times and Bad: “They tell you secrets. They keep your secrets. They don’t abandon you in times of trouble. They’d even give their life for your welfare.”
- The Counselor: “They keep you from doing bad. They support you in doing good. They teach you what you do not know. They explain the path to heaven.”
- The Compassionate Friend: “They don’t delight in your misfortune. They delight in your good fortune. They keep others from criticizing you. They encourage praise of you.”
The Buddha rounds out this advice once again in poetic verse: “An astute person understands, these four friends for what they are and carefully looks after them, like a mother the child at her breast.”
6. “Emulating consummate conviction … consummate virtue … consummate generosity … and consummate discernment. This is called admirable friendship.”
Here the Buddha is giving advice to another householder, Dīghajāṇu the Koliyan, who has asked for some general advice on what would contribute to his and others’ “welfare and happiness in this life and in future lives.”
The Buddha offers advice under the four categories of ethical livelihood, protection, good friendship, and balanced finances. The condensed quote above obviously comes from the advice on admirable or good friendship (kalyāṇa mittatā).
In full, that advice reads as follows:
“And what is meant by admirable friendship? There is the case where a lay person, in whatever town or village he may dwell, spends time with householders or householders’ sons, young or old, who are advanced in virtue. He talks with them, engages them in discussions. He emulates consummate conviction in those who are consummate in conviction, consummate virtue in those who are consummate in virtue, consummate generosity in those who are consummate in generosity, and consummate discernment in those who are consummate in discernment. This is called admirable friendship.”
7. “One who has spiritual friends abandons what is unwholesome and develops what is wholesome.”
I’ve changed “bhikkhu” (monk) to “one” in this quote from the Itivuttika because although the Buddha was talking to monks when he made this statement, it’s obviously true for everyone. Anyone can benefit from having a spiritual friend (kalyāṇa mitta).
In the full passage I’ve quoted from, the Buddha says in fact that spiritual friendship is the most important external factor in a spiritual practitioner’s life: “I do not perceive another single factor so helpful as spiritual friendship for a monk who is a learner, who has not attained perfection but lives aspiring for the supreme security from bondage.”
8. “You should train like this: ‘I will have good friends, companions, and associates.’”
This is something that the Buddha said to his friend, King Pasenadi of Kosala, after the ruler had made a statement praising the importance of spiritual friends. The Buddha went on to say, “When you have spiritual friends [kalyāṇa mittas], spiritual companions, and spiritual associates, you live supported by one thing—diligence in skillful qualities.”
9. “As the dawn is the forerunner of the sunrise, so spiritual friendship is the forerunner of the arising of the factors of enlightenment.”
There are a number of discourses where the Buddha emphasizes the importance of spiritual friendship as a support for following the eightfold path. Here he switches things up and refers to another version of the path — the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. He also adds the nice simile of the dawn’s first light heralding the arrival of the sun.
The Buddha talked elsewhere about friendship being one of the factors that prevents a spiritual practitioner from slipping away from their practice: “One with good friends, easy to admonish, reverential and respectful, can’t decline, and has drawn near to nirvāṇa.”
10. “Regard one who sees your faults as a guide to a hidden treasure. Stay close to one so wise and astute who corrects you when you need it.”
This advice doesn’t mean you should hang out with negative, overcritical so-and-so’s. It assumes that the person is wise, and is able to point out faults in a spiritually beneficial manner. In fact the Buddha offered five considerations we should apply to ourselves is we consider offering criticism: “I will speak at the right time, not at the wrong time. I will speak truthfully, not falsely. I will speak gently, not harshly. I will speak beneficially, not harmfully. I will speak lovingly, not from secret hate.”
The quote in the heading is from the Dhammapada, where verses 76 to 78 are about the benefits of spiritual friendship, as contrasted with “low” friends who lead you astray.
- Regard one who sees your faults as a guide to a hidden treasure. Stay close to one so wise and astute who corrects you when you need it. Sticking close to such an impartial person, things get better, not worse.
- Advise and instruct; curb wickedness: for you shall be loved by the good, and disliked by the bad.
- Don’t mix with bad friends, nor with the worst of men. Mix with spiritual friends, and with the best of men.
11. “A spiritual practitioner with good friends, companions, and associates can expect to be wise.”
One of the main teachings about the value of friendship to be found in the scriptures recounts an incident where the Buddha’s attendant, Meghiya, abandons him to go off meditating in the shade of a lovely mango grove he’d spotted. (For obvious reasons Meghiya was not the Buddha’s attendant for long!)
In the quote above I’ve rendered “bhikkhu” as “spiritual practitioner” instead of monk, because the point the Buddha’s making isn’t valid only for males who have a certain ecclesiastical status, but to all of us.
Back to Meghiya: He apparently expects he’s going to have great meditations in his beautiful mango grove, but instead he’s assailed by distractions. When he comes back to the Buddha with his tail between his legs, the Buddha gives him an extensive teaching on the ways that friendship is a support in the spiritual life.
He says that monks “with good friends, companions, and associates” can expect:
- To be ethical, restrained in the monastic code, conducting themselves well and seeking alms in suitable places. Seeing danger in the slightest fault, they keep the rules they’ve undertaken.
- To take part in talk about self-effacement that helps open the heart, when they want, without trouble or difficulty. That is, talk about fewness of wishes, contentment, seclusion, aloofness, arousing energy, ethics, immersion, wisdom, freedom, and the knowledge and vision of freedom.
- To have their energy roused up for giving up unskillful qualities and embracing skillful qualities.
- To be wise. They have the wisdom of arising and passing away which is noble, penetrative, and leads to the complete ending of suffering.
When the heart’s release is not mature, these five things together (the four in the list, plus friendship itself) help it mature. In other words, friendship helps support us all the way to enlightenment.
Meghiya himself, in abandoning the Buddha, has not been a good friend. He’s also turned down an opportunity to be on the receiving end of the Buddha’s friendship and companionship. His ego got in the way of his friendships, and thus of his spiritual growth.
So there you have ten Buddha quotes from the scriptures on the topic of friendship.
If the author of the site I started off talking about had good friends in the sense that the Buddha used that term — people who exemplify ethical qualities and restrain us from doing bad things — then they wouldn’t be aiming to make money by lying to people.
And if you have a chance to hang out with genuine quotes from the Buddhist scriptures, maybe we shouldn’t be like Meghiya and head off for the flashier, feel-good, but fake versions.