Bhikkhus, one should associate with a friend who possesses seven factors. What seven? (1) He gives what is hard to give. (2) He does what is hard to do. (3) He patiently endures what is hard to endure. (4) He reveals his secrets to you. (5) He preserves your secrets. (6) He does not forsake you when you are in trouble. (7) [When you are in trouble] He does not roughly despise you. One should associate with a friend who possesses these seven factors.
— from AN 7.36, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Thank you to Alex who brought our attention to this sutta with his comment.
A useful examination of this sutta might begin with assessing our own behavior against what the Buddha recommends. For a valued friend or family member, do we give beyond what is easy to give? Do we do things that we’d rather not do that benefit another person? These first two qualities of a friend present us with a challenge. Are our personal boundaries set with our own comfort too much in mind? Are we so intent on our own goals that we don’t give any weight to the needs of others? How are we at balancing these demands?
Patient endurance is an essential quality for spiritual development, one that Ajahn Chah reminded his students of often. The opposite of patient endurance might be whining and complaining, especially to those who can’t change the situation causing distress. Do we patiently endure what must be endured? Or do we rail against fate, our parents, or a nebulous “they”? Patient endurance is a beautiful quality that raises our value as a friend and at the same time teaches us the ways of the Dhamma.
Do we maintain the confidences of others with integrity? Do we know without being told that personal information is to be protected and not shared? Can we offer support to a friend who is burdened? Perhaps even help them to think through a conundrum? Do we share our burdens with others when that sharing might be helpful? Trust is a rare commodity in our society; we should treasure it.
Lastly, do we turn away from friends in their hour of need? Or do we ask directly how we can be of service? Do they need space or presence? Are there tasks we can take on? Many of us become confused and inarticulate when something goes seriously awry. As friends, we can make specific offers, and possibly help to sort things through. As often as not, what’s needed is in-person, patient listening, a very great expression of friendship.