Buddhists’ approach to friendship
The Buddha explained in detail
how to determine between friends and enemies in the
Singalovada Sutta. One should not judge another by
outward appearance or behaviour. The Buddha advised to
avoid companionship with the foolish and to associate
beings who are the
same or more advanced.
Friendship can be
a difficult and complex topic for a young person to
grasp. At times it can be difficult to know who means
one well and who does not. This article aims to shed
some light on this topic from a Buddhist perspective,
especially for the benefit of young adults.
Someone can either be a friend, an enemy or neither a
friend nor an enemy (impartial). However this also can
be subjected to change (anicca). Generally friends are
the beings that are dear, mean one well and offer
protection. Enemies on the other hand are the opposite
of this; they are not dear, wish to cause one harm and
to see one’s demise, suffering, loss and unhappiness.
Neutral beings (e.g. acquaintances) neither mean one
well nor any harm.
The Buddha outlined how to differentiate friends and
enemies in depth in the Singalovada Sutta. As a basic
guideline, any being who acts to cause one harm can be
considered an enemy, while any being that causes no harm
to one and give rise to happiness and well-being can be
considered a friend. Someone who does neither can be
Sometimes the line between a friend and an enemy can
become blurred. A friend can act like an enemy and an
enemy can act like a friend. This is consistent with the
law of impermanence (anicca) where everything, including
relationships, constantly changes. So regardless of whom
one deals with, it is important to do so with wisdom (panna).
It is of paramount importance not to let others take
advantage, use, abuse, trap, mislead, or do any harm to
another when dealing with others, whether they are
classed as friends, enemies or for bieng impartial.
There are wise and skilful ways of preventing others
from causing one harm that are in-line with the Dhamma
(reality, truth, the way things are) teachings, which
cause no harm to either oneself or others. This way no
matter how others change, one will always be protected.
The Buddha advised to avoid companionship with the
foolish. ‘Foolish’ here refers to as those lacking in
wisdom and live unskilfully - this is essentially those
who ignore basic moral values and decency and/or takes
one away from the correct Path. If one associates with
such beings, one will be at the risk of falling down to
their level through association and bad influence and
may even miss the chance to find the lasting peace of
The Buddha said that if one cannot find a wise and good
companion to associate with, someone who is on the same
‘level’ as one or better, to lead a life of solitude -
that is to live alone. This advice is completely
contradictory to the cultural outlook and thinking of
Western societies where a life of solitude can be looked
down upon. It is important not to get influenced by such
thinking and to resort to the Buddha’s words for better
People need and seek friendship for many benefits it
brings and depend on good friends at times with good
advisors and companions. It helps to understand why
people seek friendship at a deeper level. From a
Buddhist perspective people seek friendship to be
‘happier.’ How is this ‘happiness’ defined in Buddhist
terms? It is defined as pleasure. Friends are associated
to please the eye with their pleasant sight (seeing
them), by pleasing the ear with their pleasant sound
(their voices), to please the body with the pleasant
touch (e.g. hugging) and also to please the mind with
the pleasant ideas that friendship gives. It is when
this ‘happiness’ (pleasure) is missing that one feels
‘unhappy’ (displeasure). Under this condition, one is
said to be ‘lonely.’ Enlightened beings and others
advanced along the Path do not need nor seek
companionship as they do not desire pleasures of any
Generally beings that primarily give rise to pleasure
(causing attachment) are classed as ‘friends’ and beings
that primarily give rise to ‘displeasure’ (causing
aversion) are classed as enemies. The choice of friends
is a personal thing, based on personal likes/dislikes,
standards, ideas, views, beliefs, etc. It is natural for
like beings to be drawn to other like beings and unlike
beings to be repulsed from other unlike beings. Some
beings become one’s enemy because of a personal weakness
they possess, be it fear, insecurity, desire (lobha) and
competition for something, aversion (vyapada) or even
stupidity and confused thinking (moha) and not because
of anything that one has done to them. Especially in
such instances, there is nothing to take ‘personally’.
One needs to understand this with wisdom (panna) as to
why beings act the way they do.
Everyone has friends, enemies and neutral beings.
Generally friends mean one well, enemies mean one harm
and neutral beings mean one neither harm nor happiness.
The distinction between friends and enemies can
sometimes blur, so it is always important to use wisdom
to employ skilful means of preventing anyone, be it a
friend, enemy or otherwise, from causing one harm.
The Buddha explained in detail how to determine between
friends and enemies in the Singalovada Sutta. One should
not judge another by outward appearance or behaviour.
The Buddha advised to avoid companionship with the
foolish and to associate beings who are the same or more
advanced. It is better to live alone if one does not
find such a companionship. People seek friendship and
companionship for various reasons, including deriving
pleasure, which is widely viewed as ‘happiness.’ Beings
may become enemies due to their own personal weaknesses
and it may have nothing to do with one’s behaviour
May you find good friends to help you guide on the
correct Path towards lasting peace of Nibbana!