Friendships – part 1

1. Why are friends so important in life?

Friendship is a open ended community of different formations of relationships. Its like people having different musical inclinations, being in tune or out of tune. The possibilities of friendship are open ended. Yet, to achieve harmony, balance and happiness, friendships then becomes closed ended, defined to a certain mode of conditions such as understanding what one or another is communicating or simply, just enjoying the comfortable periods of being in the presence of each other, not feeling or being awkward in periods of powerful silence. Friendship that managed to sail off into a more intimate relationship will cumulate into an adequate and healthy dose of genuine care and concern for one another’s welfare. Maybe akin to agape love, universal love or loving kindness. Wishing the best for one’s friend and concern for their happiness or their sadness. 

In here, I will like to discuss on aspects of friendships with the help of Buddhist point of view, I will elaborate with important suttas(scriptures) from the Pali canon which explained on the features and qualities of this theme. Other then suttas, friendships are also depicted in artistic sculptures in India. We will also have a look at it. The experience of friendship is a relational one. Modern art with its technical language through colours, symbolism, art techniques and perceptions play the intermediary role to beautify or act as the screen reflecting the ideal/concept of friendships. With this analysis, I will also like to explore on possible pedagogy techniques to magnify on the abstraction of human interrelationship such as ‘harmony’ and etc with art. Thus, it will be a few posts rather then one single way of exploration on this topic.

From the buddhist point of view, the compass of good friendship points towards the aspiration of spiritual cultivation in life. As Venerable Bhikkhu bodhi described as being horizontal, vertical or diagonal relationships,1 meaning, as peers, as teacher or student or student and teacher. The Buddha advised that if it is not possible to find ourselves a spiritual friend in life, after searching through high and low, it is actually better to be in solitude. But when one found the good spiritual friend, make tremendous effort and ardour to treasure it. This is in relation to the cultivation of spiritual life, the practising of the Buddhist path of morality, wisdom and insight(the noble eightfold path)⁠2. The quality of friendship also determined the happiness and well-being in this life⁠2. The Buddhist view is one that emphasised on personal attitudes and behaviour, thus when attitudes and behaviour are good, one becomes a positive conduit for another and the friendship is reciprocal. An example of exemplary spiritual friendship can be one of venerable Sariputta and venerable Moggallana in their ‘quest for the Dhamma’.3

The practicality and mundaneness of friendship as prescribed in Buddhist thoughts can be found in sigalovada sutta⁠,4 the many qualities and functions of a good friend will be one who sympathies, acts as a good counsel, encourages one to cultivate goodness in action, speech and deed, guards one against heedlessness in one’s wealth, moral decisions, provide protection when one is in danger and in deprivation, does not indulge in one’s misfortune, rejoice in their prosperity, do not participate in gossips of others when speaking of one but praises those when one is spoken well of. He/she also restrain one from evil actions, speech and deed. Encourages one to partake in their religious path. These qualities and functions of good friendship provide space for mutual building of trust, helpfulness and material support, the moral voice, quality and mature companionship in times of prosperity or misfortune. The meaningful relationship established between the two friends, as advised, are the considerations of good friendships which are mutually beneficial and mutually reinforcing of positive social values and emotions, interdependent and of high quality rather then quantity. The advise also means having good judgements of people and association with the wise.

​This table analysed the qualities between the considerations for the good friend and the not good friend for easy referencing.⁠5

TypesGood FriendsNot Good Friends
1. Sympathy
2. Rejoice in their prosperity and success 6
3. Do not participate in gossips of others when speaking of
one but praises those when one is spoken well of
His/her heart towards one remains the same in happiness
or sorrow
4. Reveal his/her secrets and keep yours
5. Engages one whom is advanced in virtues
(follower of the 5 precepts)in discussions
6. Generosity 

1. Associates for his/her own advantage
2. Does his/her duty out of fear
3. Gives little and ask much
4. Approves of his/her friend’s evil deeds
5. Disapprove his/her friend’s good deeds
6. Praises him/her in his/her presence
7. Speaks ill of him/her in his/her absence. 7
Actions1. Acts as a good counsel and a good critic
2. Guards one against heedlessness in one’s wealth, moral decisions
3. Provide protection when one is in danger and in deprivation
4. Restrain one from evil actions, speech and deed
5. Encourages one to partake in their religious path
6. Encourages one to cultivate goodness in action, speech and deed
7. Helpful mate
8. Do not forsake one when misfortunate is met.

1. Lip services.  8
    I.    Friendly profession regards the past

    II.    Friendly profession regards the future,

    III.    Gains favour by empty words

    IV.    Expresses his/her ability when opportunity for services arise.

2. Appropriates a friend’s possessions, wealth
3. Flatters
4. Bring ruins
5. As a companion, he/she indulge in alcohol, drugs 9
 and gambling ( related to 5 precepts )

End notes:

  1., Anguttara Nikaya: The Ekaka-nipāta, the Book of the Ones (AN 1 2016.11.19 part 1) Bhikkhu Bodhi
  2. ​Bhikkhu Bodhi trans “SN 45.2 Upaddha sutta: Half the holy life”, Samyutta Nikaya, wisdom publications(2000) 1524
  3. AN 8.54, Dighajanu sutta
  4. Nyanaponika Thera, Ed. Bhikkhu Bodhi, ‘The quest for Dhamma’, Great Disciples of the Buddha,  Buddhist Publication Society(2003) 4-10
  5. DN 31, Sigalovada Sutta, The discourse to Sigala,
  6. This practice aligns with the four Brahmaviharas, the benefit of this practice in rejoicing in others’ success (muditā, altruistic joy) can counter defilements such as jealously.
  7. This forms an aspect of wrong speech.
  8. This forms an aspect of wrong speech.
  9. Sustaining of one’s drug habit sometimes comes in huge consequences for other, especially in Singapore where drug trafficking attracts the death sentence.