We’ll get to communal harmony soon, but for now, another thought about friendships:
[The Buddha is speaking to a young man named Sigālaka:] Young man, there are these four kinds of kind-hearted friends: the friend who is helpful; the friend who shares one’s happiness and suffering; the friend who points out what is good; and the friend who is sympathetic. – from DN 31, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
The sutta goes on to parse these statements. Here is a summary:
Helpful: A helpful friend looks after you, provides refuge when you’re afraid, and is generous to you.
Shares one’s happiness and suffering: Such a friend guards your secrets, shares her secrets, and stays involved even when there’s trouble.
Points out what’s good: This friend encourages you to do good and abstain from harmful acts, keeps you informed of useful information, and helps you remember your best intentions.
Sympathetic: A sympathetic friend stays present when you suffer, rejoices in your good fortune, defends you when you’re not present, and affirms those who speak well of you.
Such true friends are rare, and we would be wise to cultivate and cherish them.
It’s equally important to BE a good friend. We can review for ourselves: how many people do we treat with this steady helpfulness and good will? This is a pro-active stance, not one in which we simply answer the phone when called. We know who our good friends are; we keep in touch with them; we tell them regularly that we’re thinking of them and wishing them well. When they need something, we are happy to respond right away.
Even people we don’t see very often can be valued friends. Sometimes just thinking about them helps us to make better choices, to be kinder to others and to invest our energy wisely.
Dharma buddies are obviously in this category of kind-hearted friends because we share the desire to move in the same direction, and take joy in supporting each others’ efforts. Some of our kind-hearted friends are not on the Buddha’s path; people who identify as Buddhist don’t have a lock on good intentions. Whenever and wherever we find trustworthy people who will support our wholesome desires and discourage decisions that will harm us, we can (and should) be open to letting them into our hearts.
As the Buddha said, noble friends and companions are the whole of the holy life, or, in other words, there’s nothing we can do that is more supportive of awakening our highest potential than cultivating supportive friendships. And there’s no greater gift we can give than to be kind-hearted, supportive friends ourselves.