The Buddha stated that there is no condition of life that more powerfully influences your development than cultivating wholesome friends and companions.
We’ve looked in some depth at the four types of wholesome friends the Buddha encouraged us to cultivate: the helper, the enduring friend, the mentor and the compassionate friend. We’ve also had a look at their approximate opposites: the taker, the talker, the flatterer and the reckless companion.
It’s worth looking at these groups of qualities and using them for two different reflections. Which characteristics can we claim as our own, at least in a degree greater than 50%? Are there some unwholesome qualities we have as friends that could use some work? Seems to me the first job is to investigate ourselves and see how we might become better companions to the friends we have.
The other necessary reflection is to review who we spend our time with, and realistically assess what their strengths and weaknesses are as friends. Again, don’t look for perfection, but how it is “on balance”. Someone might have a very annoying habit and yet actually be a mentor or a compassionate friend. On the other hand, someone might make us feel quite good with flattery, but lead us into spending time in ways we regret. One by one – who do you count as friends, and are they (on balance) wholesome?
We’re not stuck with the status quo. We can appreciate and commit ourselves to our wholesome friends, and sometimes encourage wholesomeness in the friends we already have. We can spend less time with people we find unwholesome. And we can seek out, cultivate and nourish relationships that bring out the best in us. This sort of activity cannot be done in a rush; it takes honest reflection over long periods of time, and attention to how we interact with others. But I can’t think of another reflective activity more worth doing.
From the Buddha’s words:
Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven?
He gives what is beautiful,
hard to give,
does what is hard to do,
endures painful, ill-spoken words.
His secrets he tells you,
your secrets he keeps.
When misfortunes strike,
he doesn’t abandon you;
when you’re down & out,
doesn’t look down on you.
A person in whom these traits are found,
is a friend to be cultivated
by anyone wanting a friend.
(AN 7.35 tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu)