One should not associate with bad friends, nor with the vile. One should associate with good friends, and with those who are noble
– Dhammapada 78
If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone
– Dhammapada 329
Dear reader, I haven’t written an entry in a while, but I will try to update my blog more regularly. I have been busy with my work at the animal ambulance and I have spent a good many weekends hiking. Here I am, back again with an entry on the theme of friendship, something which is very important in my own life and probably in many others as well. I am not only referring to the presence of friendship here, but also to its absence. As you can see in the quotes above, the teachings of the Buddha learn us that we should associate with ‘wise’ and ‘noble’ friends and if we can not find them, we are better off alone, untill we meet friends which hold these positive qualities. What is friendship nowadays? Are friends the people you share your time with? Are your colleagues your friends? Is it a link to another person on Facebook that makes you a friend? Which qualities should someone have in order to make them a friend? Should they just be wise or noble?
One thing is clear, according to the Buddha everybody needs a friend in his or her life. The Buddha himself also had a best friend, his first cousin Ānanda. In the Samyutta Nikaya, part of the Sutta Pitaka, the Buddha says to Ānanda: “Having good friends and advancing together with them is not half the Buddhist way but all the Buddhist way” (freely translated). According to the dictionary friendship is a “mutual state of being friends; friends are persons with which mutual affection arises from mutual esteem and good will, making the relationship both likeable and very enjoyable.” In the Dhammapada the Buddha stated:
“The disciple should associate with a wise friend, who detects and censures his faults, and who points out virtues as a guide tells of buried treasures. There is happiness, not woe, to him who associates with such an intelligent friend” (Dhammapada 76)
In tibetan Buddhism there is a popular and recurring story about the ‘four harmonious friends.‘ It is a tale about four animals which are quarreling about which of them is the oldest. An elephant, a monkey, a hare and a bird. The elephant said that the tree was already fully grown when he was young, but the monkey said that the tree was small when he was young and the hare said that he saw the tree as a sapling when he was young. The bird finally claimed that he had carried the seed from which the tree had grown. This made the animals agree that the bird was the oldest. They ceased their quarrel and from then one lived together in compassionate harmony, helping each other to pick fruits from the tree while living in the shade of its leaves.
These stories and quotes all contain some truths about friendship. Friendship is a social relationship and there are different kinds of friendship. Bear in mind that the teachings of the Buddha mention the three marks of existence: suffering/dissatisfaction (dukkha), interconnectedness (anatta) and the impermanent nature and perishableness of all things (anicca). They apply to all aspects of life, so also to friendship. Friends, like you yourself, are in connection with everything else in the world. This makes it possible for you to connect after all and through mutual interests, situation or ideas you will meet each other eventually. Friendship then blooms and it helps gaining insight, repressing feelings of suffering and discontentedness by sharing your suffering and joy together. But friendships, like everything in the world, are perishable. Sometimes a friendship lasts for a lifetime, other friends come and go and some friends may even grow to be enemies. Friendships are subject to the change in both persons in the mutual relationship.
- Friendship is dual and mutually acknowledged.
- A friend is there for you, unconditionally.
- A friend is a mirror for you.
- Affection, loyalty, love, respect, and trust are the main building blocks of friendship.
- Friendships exist ot of mutual esteem and good will.
There are different kinds of friendship.First of all, there are the all-time friends, as I like to call them. They are people you met when you were still a young child, the kind of friends you stuck together with throughout your childhood, adolescence and further life. Some of these friendships may have worn out, some may even have been disbanded, but many people stick with these all-time friends. Often, but not always, they may be people you would not directly associate with in your present life, since these friends may have developed into individuals that completely differ from yourself. I have a few all-time friends who are very dear to me and they all grew up to be very different individuals. Still, they are my friends. We tolerate each other’s differences, we completely accept them. This exemplifies how interconnectedness and compassion are strong factors within the relationship we call ‘friendship.’ Justin Witaker, a MA and Ph.D. student in Buddhist Ethics wrote an interesting piece about theArt of Friendship on the Wildmind blog.
There is also the kind of friendship from necessity. Some friends you meet when you go to school or university. They may be random people which whom you band together in a ‘us against the world’ idea. You share some mutual ideas and interests at the least. Lasting friendship may bloom from such relationships, but these kind of friendships may also be permanent. A more intense kind of friendship is friendship forged by trial, which may also be a friendship originating from necessity. By physicaly and mentally suffering exztremely together with others may create a kind of friendship which is more like brotherhood. It is a kind of friendship experienced by soldiers, firemen, law enforcement personell, life brigades or other people who survived together during a war or another traumatising experience. It develops into a unique bond, a kind of brother (or sister-)hood. In the end, people in this kind of relationship would sacrifice their own life to save that of their friends, a value which is beautifully expressed in the Bible:
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
– John 15:3
Then there are best friends. They are the friends that stick with you through thick and thin, they are the ones who are always there for you, no matter what. They are the friends you share the closest bond with. .One of my best friends is someone I met on the mat of the gym. We were both novices in krav maga and martial arts in general. That was almost five years ago. We have been best buddies ever since. My other best friends I met during my studies and at school. They are all-time friends and friends which I met out of neccessity. Some I grew up with, others I grew with through the challenges we faced. Some future friends I met through my own friends. In the end I have a good deal of friends, people which I truly call friends and they are very dear to me.
Friendship is not related solely to human beings. You can also be friends with other feeling entities which you feel compassion for. My dog for example is my very best friend. He supports me, I support him. He needs me and I need him. He will always be loyal and see me as a leader, as well as a brother in his pack and that makes him very special. This relationship for me truly is a form of friendship. I often jonkingly refer to my dog as my smr waty, which was an Ancient Egyptian title meaning ‘unique friend’ ( I studied Archaeology and Egyptology). This title was bestowed upon close acquanintances of the Pharaoh. I think it is a very fitting title to apply to a close friend.
Let’s switch to the subject of Borderline Personality Disorder. Borderliners are not always the easiest people, so friendships may be really challenging for them, but maybe even more for their friends. Yet, without my friends, i would not have been here to wirte this article today. I was diagnosed with BPD rather late in life, so I already had many friends who saw me suffer.They have all been there for me, each of them in their own way. The only thing I had to do was to be honest and open toward them. I told them what I felt and what I thought was wrong with me. I asked them for help, I asked them for advice, but most of them were simply there, without me asking for help. Many friends visited me often to talk or they took me along on trips, asked me to join them for dinner or they invited me over, just to have a good time together. I traveled with some of them, others I shared wisdom with. Some friends literally were there for me when I needed to go to hospital after stabbing myself for example. Some of them suffered from mental illness themselves, makin them invaluable as conversational parners. I often still thank friends for what they have done for me and often they say: “I didn’t even do anything special.” I then answer: “You were there and you are still here, my friend. That’s more than enough.”
I lost some friends along the way, not due to my BPD, but I also gained some good friends since I am suffering from BPD. Some of them are borderliners as well. I also met up with some old friends and those friendships were re-kindled into very strong bonds. There are even people I would have eventually met in life, no matter which choice I had made. There is a lot that can be said about friendship, but in the end friendship is truly magic. A friend is something everyone needs. No one can exist completely on their own. We are all inteconnected. We all need each other.
What it comes down to is that true friends accept you for who you are and that they are there for you when it matters. When they don’t, they are no true friends. But beware, friends also act as mirrors. They may criticise you and disagree with you, but that doesn’t always mean they are not there for you! If they criticise you, the act as a mirror and try to show you what you are doing wrong in their eyes. True friends may do this in order to protect you, to keep you safe from harm. Therefore it is always very important to be ope toward each other and communication, like in every other social relationship, is the key to understanding! Do not abandon a friendship just because a friend doesn’t agree with you, sometimes a friend is only helping or trying to help! This is one of the aspects that makes a friend ‘wise’ or ‘noble.’ it is what makes a friend a friend. So cherish your friends and you will cherish yourself.
In all religious and philosophical traditions friendship is to be cherished, also in Buddhism, as was already stated at the beginning of this entry. Friendship is a social relationship, a form of compassion, even a form of meditation! Friends are there to show you who you are, they help you in practicing compassion and forgiveness, they provide you with the joys of mutual acknowledgement and they share your joys and pains, just like you share theirs with them. In the Upaddha Sutra the Buddha elaborates that, through friendships, one develops each of the factors mentioned in the eightfold path through seclusion, dispassion and cessation. He says: “When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.’ Friends with these qualities are referred to as “good friend,” “virtuous friend,” “noble friend” or “admirable friend” (through their actions as a friend) or kalyāṇa-mitra. They are friends that do not only touch your heart, but also your spirit. Through every lesson we learn in life, we will learn that friendship is valuable and indispensible. Cartoons already teach us the value of friendship early on in life. So be a good friend and true friends will be good to you. I hope I can be a bit of a kalyāṇa-mitra to you as well, dear reader.