Friends 4 – choices

In an ancient Buddhist story, the Buddha’s faithful attendant, Ananda, asked about the importance of having wholesome companions. Ananda asked the Buddha whether having noble friends and companions wasn’t half of the holy life. The Buddha replied: “Do not say so, Ananda. Noble friends and companions are the whole of the holy life.” (SN 45.2, Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Since living the holy life was their main goal, the quality of their friendships was of paramount concern.

Even if we are not purposely living a life we would call holy, we do want to live the best life we can, understanding that our choices are important. Who we spend our time with, along with how we spend it, influences our actions and mental states to a high degree. So thinking carefully about these choices makes sense.

Words of the Buddha:
If you gain a mature companion,
a fellow traveler, right-living & wise,
overcoming all dangers
go with him, gratified,
mindful.

If you don’t gain a mature companion,
a fellow traveler, right-living & wise,
wander alone
like a king renouncing his kingdom,
like the elephant in the Matanga wilds,
his herd.

We praise companionship
— yes!
Those on a par, or better,
should be chosen as friends.
If they’re not to be found,
living faultlessly,
wander alone
like a rhinoceros.

Avoid the evil companion
disregarding the goal,
intent on the out-of-tune way.
Don’t take as a friend
someone heedless & hankering.
wander alone
like a rhinoceros.

(from Snp 1.3, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

The point of these verses is that we are responsible for choosing friends who support our wholesome qualities. If wholesome companions aren’t available in a particular time and place, then it’s better to stay alone “like a rhinoceros”.

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