Since we’ve been thinking about adjusting our perspective on things, it occurs to me that it’s time to re-visit the Buddha’s eight-fold path, which starts with Right View. But first, I want to add an element. In considering each of the steps on the path, I’d like to add the questions: “And how might a noble friend assist in this? How might we be a noble friend to others in this regard?”
We are animals, and as such, we are highly sensitive to our immediate environments and the people around us. Those of us lucky enough to have been born into secure and (at least somewhat) happy families are likely to have more confidence and success in whatever we do than those who struggled with insecurity and fear in their early lives. Now, at whatever age and in whatever situation we find ourselves, the same is true. The people and environment we are in contact with on a daily or weekly basis are still influencing our actions and attitudes.
Because this is true, it is worth paying particular attention to who we are associating with. It has been proven that the most influential decision in anyone’s life is the choice of a life partner, for good or ill. It’s also true that many friendships last longer than partnerships, so we could benefit from thinking about all our important relationships.
Particularly critical to our spiritual progress is our selection of friends and companions, who can have the most decisive impact upon our personal destiny. It is because he perceived how susceptible our minds can be to the influence of our companions that the Buddha repeatedly stressed the value of good friendship (kalyanamittata) in the spiritual life. The Buddha states that he sees no other thing that is so much responsible for the arising of unwholesome qualities in a person as bad friendship, nothing so helpful for the arising of wholesome qualities as good friendship (AN 1.70,71). Again, he says that he sees no other external factor that leads to so much harm as bad friendship, and no other external factor that leads to so much benefit as good friendship (AN 1.110, 111). It is through the influence of a good friend that a disciple is led along the Noble Eightfold Path to release from all suffering (SN 45:2).
Good friendship, in Buddhism, means considerably more than associating with people that one finds amenable and who share one’s interests. It means in effect seeking out wise companions to whom one can look for guidance and instruction. The task of the noble friend is not only to provide companionship in the treading of the way. The truly wise and compassionate friend is one who, with understanding and sympathy of heart, is ready to criticize and admonish, to point out one’s faults, to exhort and encourage, perceiving that the final end of such friendship is growth in the Dhamma. The Buddha succinctly expresses the proper response of a disciple to such a good friend in a verse of the Dhammapada: “If one finds a person who points out one’s faults and who reproves one, one should follow such a wise and sagacious counselor as one would a guide to hidden treasure.” (Dhp. 76)
– from an essay, Association with the Wise, by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Do we have any friendships that are so deep we are willing to hear (constructive) negative things about our behavior? Is there anyone we trust enough to tell us the truth if they see us harming ourselves or others? This is a very high standard for friendship, but anything less may just be adding to our delusions.
It’s easy to see flaws in others that they are unaware of. The same is true for us – our flaws are more obvious to others than they are to us. This doesn’t mean we should choose friends who constantly criticize. It does mean we should invite our trusted friends to speak up when they see us do or say something out of alignment with our intentions, and we should listen to them when they bravely tell us.