A Buddhist Guide to Friendship

“Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven? He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.”

Aṅguttara Nikāya, The Book of the Sevens, (translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

Types of Friends:

1. Seek the friendship of those who are noble in character. Look for individuals with integrity. Do not associate with people who are cruel and wicked and cause division. (The Dhammapada, 77 and 78, translated by Walpola Rahula; Chapter 25 of the Tibetan Dhammapada, translated by Gareth Sparham)

2. Don’t become close companions with gamblers, drunks, drug addicts, frauds, cheats, and violent troublemakers. These people can ruin your life and the lives of those around you through their greed/lust, hatred/anger, and ignorance/delusion. (Sigalovada Sutta: The Discourse to Sigala, translated by Walpola Rahula)

Bhikkhu Bodhi once wrote about some of these friendships:

“If we associate closely with those who are addicted to the pursuit of sense pleasures, power, riches and fame, we should not imagine that we will remain immune from those addictions: in time our own minds will gradually incline to these same ends. If we associate closely with those who, while not given up to moral recklessness, live their lives comfortably adjusted to mundane routines, we too will remain stuck in the ruts of the commonplace. If we aspire for the highest — for the peaks of transcendent wisdom and liberation — then we must enter into association with those who represent the highest. Even if we are not so fortunate as to find companions who have already scaled the heights, we can well count ourselves blessed if we cross paths with a few spiritual friends who share our ideals and who make earnest efforts to nurture the noble qualities of the Dhamma in their hearts.”

Greed, hatred, and ignorance are the three poisons (or fires) that can lead you to suffer. The opposite of these poisons are the qualities of generosity, loving-kindness, and wisdom. You can water your wholesome qualities while extinguishing the fires of your unwholesome qualities.

As the Buddha said in The Adittapariyaya Sutta: The Fire Sermon Discourse, “All is burning… Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, burning with the fire of hate, burning with the fire of delusion.” (Adittapariyaya Sutta: The Fire Sermon, translated by Ñanamoli Thera)

In The Sigalovada Sutta (translated by Narada Thera), he said:

“Whoever through desire, hate or fear,
Or ignorance should transgress the Dhamma,
All his glory fades away
Like the moon during the waning half.
Whoever through desire, hate or fear,
Or ignorance never transgresses the Dhamma,
All his glory ever increases
Like the moon during the waxing half.”

3. Some people pretend to be your friends while they are really your enemies in disguise.

“The Taker” takes but rarely gives. They expect more from you than you expect from them. Any relationship that you form with them will always be to their advantage and not yours. They will only be there for you when they want something. When they don’t want something from you, you will not see them anymore.

“The Talker” uses empty words to praise you but they will never be there when you need them. They are always going on about old memories, about getting together in the future, but their words are meaningless.

“The Approver” encourages your bad deeds as well as your good deeds. They will compliment you when you are around. When you’re not around, they will talk badly about you to others.

“The Evil Helper” will accompany you when you are drinking, gambling, and partying, but they will not help you when you want to better yourself. (Sigalovada Sutta: The Discourse to Sigala, translated by Walpola Rahula)

4. Associate with goodhearted people.

“The Helper” will protect you and make sure that you’re safe. They will guard you from your own poor decisions. They are generous, even when they don’t have to be.

“The Enduring Friend” will reveal their secrets to you and keep your secrets private. They will never abandon you when you are in trouble. They may even risk themselves to save you.

“The Counselor” will support you and listen to your troubles. They want to help you become a better person. Sometimes they will challenge you, or admonish you, so that you will follow a wiser path.

“The Compassionate Friend” will delight in your good fortune and grieve with you over your misfortune. They will talk about your good qualities and restrain others from speaking badly about you. (Sigalovada Sutta: The Discourse to Sigala, translated by Walpola Rahula)

How to Be a Good Friend:

1. Before you criticize others, look at your own mind. It is easy to find the flaws in others, but it is much harder to find the flaws in yourself. (The Dhammapada, 252).

2. Do not speak ill of anyone. Do them no harm either. When you can keep to the good and avoid the bad, you will be happy even among those who are hateful. If you can cultivate wholesome qualities, and purify your mind, you will be your own refuge. Then you will not succumb to the foolishness of hatred and ignorance and greed. (The Dhammapada, 185, 191, 269, translated by Walpola Rahula). Those who hate may influence you, but hatred will never cease by hatred alone. Love is the only way to defeat hatred. (The Dhammapada, 5, translated by Walpola Rahula).

3. Abide in loving-kindness. Do not make a habit of unwholesome thoughts, words, and behaviors. Watch yourself moment to moment, guarding against impurities. Do not let greed and hatred and ignorance drag you down into misery. As the Buddha once said, “There is no fire like lust; there is no grip like hatred; there is no net like delusion; there is no river like craving.” (The Dhammapada, 232, 233, 234, 239, 248, 251, translated by Walpola Rahula).

4. When you are skilled in goodness, when you walk the path of peace, you will treat all beings with loving-kindness. Be humble, gentle, amiable in your speech, and content with what you have. (Mettā Sutta, translated by Walpola Rahula)

Treat every living being with respect. Wish them happiness and peace and safety. It doesn’t matter if they are strong or weak. Cherish everyone with a boundless heart. (Mettā Sutta, translated by Walpola Rahula)

As it is said in the Mettā Sutta (translated by Bhante Gunaratana):

“One should cultivate for all the world
a heart of boundless loving-kindness,
above, below, and all around,
unobstructed, without hate or enmity.”


Bodhi, Bhikkhu. The Suttanipata: An Ancient Collection of the Buddha’s Discourses Together With Its Commentaries (the Teachings of the Buddha). Wisdom Publications, 2017.

Sparham, Gareth. Dharmatrata. The Tibetan Dhammapada: Sayings of the Buddha. Wisdom Publications. January 1, 1986.

Thera, Ñanamoli. Adittapariyaya Sutta: The Fire Sermon. (SN 35.28). Translated from Pali. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010

Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition With Texts From Suttas and Dhammapada. Revised, Grove Press, 1974.

*Note: I’ve reflected on various translations of the suttas. My main translations were in the expanded version of “What the Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula. Some other translations came from Acharya Buddharakkhita, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ñanamoli Thera, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and Bhante G.


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