Friday, March 21, 2014

Seven Qualities of a Good Friend

Today is Friday, March 21, 2014.

The actual discourses given by Siddhārtha Gautama, the historical figure who is now known as Gautama Buddha, are given in a document called the Pāli Canon, written in the ancient Pāli language.  The Cannon was actually kept alive in the oral tradition for 450 years after the Buddha's death before it was written down during the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 B.C.E.  (This makes scriptures such as the Christian Bible and the Muslim Quoran seem like new kids on the block.) One text, called the Pathama Mitta Sutta, gives seven qualities to look for in a friend.  Here's the text in translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven? He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.
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.
It's been said that if you want to have a friend, you need to be a friend, so with that in mind, let's look at the Buddha's advice.

1.  Give what is beautiful.

Given that Buddhist philosophy is the antithesis of materialism, it goes without saying (although I'm saying it anyway, to be clear), that the Buddha was not talking about material things.  To me, the most beautiful things friends can give one another are their time and their support.  When you spend time with a friend, you are saying, "I value your company.  Time spent with you enriches my life."  This is just as true when you spend time together in person as it is when you talk on the phone or chat by Skype or text message.  I try to take the time to be with friends whenever I can, and I strive to allow my friends the time they need to say what's on their mind without rushing them, even if I am a little pressed for time.  If I have to rush off, I try to let them know that our conversation can be continued at a later time, if they wish.

I also appreciate my friends' support when I am sad and when I'm trying to solve a problem.  My friends come from all corners of the globe, so they can't always be with me physically, but they find ways to let me know that they love me, they care about me, and they wish me well.  When I'm having problems, they may offer some advice, but they are gracious about it if I decide not to take it.  The commiserate with me rather than telling me that I shouldn't feel the way I do, and they support my decision-making process, even if they don't agree with my solutions.  I try to support my friends in their challenges, as well.  It's often hard for me to step back and let things happen when I have opinions about how to solve a particular problem, but it's something that I'm working on.

2.  Do what is hard to do.

In other words, go out of your way for your friends.  Being a friend is not always convenient.  Here in the United States, our lives are ordered by the measure of convenience.  We wear convenient clothes that can be washed and worn with very little extra care.  We eat convenient foods that take almost no preparation time or cooking skill to make.  We use whatever mode of transportation is the most convenient.  In most of the country, that's a private car, and even our teenagers have their own cars these days, as evidenced by the huge (and very full) student parking lots at high schools across the nation.  In the cities, that might be a train, subway, or bus, since parking a car at work is either a hassle, horrendously expensive, or both.  When we travel long-distance, it's air travel, because the extra time it would take to travel by car, bus or train is inconvenient.

When we do things for our friends, we only do them if it is convenient.  You may beg to differ, but when I didn't have a car, I asked an awful lot of people for a ride and was told no an awful lot of times.  It got to the point where I didn't even want to know the reason, because people never really told me the real reason, no matter what excuse they gave.  I quickly learned that unless my American friends were planning to go there anyway, they were not willing to go out of their way to give me a ride.  They were never interested in when I wanted to arrive or leave.  I had to match their schedule.  I waited around for them to take me, and I often waited around for them to decide to leave.  Or I cut short whatever I was doing in order to catch a ride.

When is the last time you went out of your way to do something for a friend, something that was not particularly convenient, something that took a bit of time out of your day?  When was the last time you did a kindness for a friend that made you physically tired?  When did you last do something that was a little expensive for a friend?  Have you ever given a friend something of yours that was valuable and irreplaceable?  Have you ever suffered an indignity, been bullied, or put yourself in danger for a friend?  I'm not saying we have to do this all the time, but, seriously, have you ever done anything like this?  Just asking.  I have actually had a few friends who did some of these things for me, and I have to tell you that those friends were not Americans, or they were not born in the United States, even though they live here now.  Just saying.   No matter how I may have tried to thank them, I doubt that any of them realized just how much I appreciated what they did for me.  All I can do is try to pass on the favor to others.

3.  Endure painful, ill-spoken words.

This is another thing that few of us wish to do.  It's a fact, though, that all of us have said things that are hurtful or ill-advised at one time or another in our lives.  I know I have.  And I certainly appreciated those friends who gave me the opportunity to apologize and ask for forgiveness.  It sometimes takes me a while to bring myself to the point where I can summon the requisite humility to apologize, and I appreciate those friends who are willing to allow me to go through that process before unilaterally shutting me out of their lives.  Remembering this, I try hard not to take my friends' painful words personally.  It's a challenge.

4.  Confide in your friend.

Not every friend an be trusted with a secret, so it's a wonderful thing when we find people who can listen to our deepest secrets without revealing them to others.  I think, though, that it's also a good idea not to overburden friends with too many secrets.  

5.  Keep your friend's secrets. 

This is one that has been hard for me in the past.  I'm getting better at keeping secrets.  I think it's true that a lot of times, when we tell other people's secrets, it's because we just enjoy the attention we get when we drop a bombshell of information.  It's an ego-stroke thing.


6.  Don't abandon your friend when misfortune strikes.

This one works as a two-edged sword sometimes.  We can always offer advice or help, but if our friend decides not to take the advice or accept the help we offer, we have to accept that situation.  If the friend is mired in an addiction, we can be there to help if necessary, but we have to be careful not to enable the person to continue his or her addictive behavior.  We can console a grieving friend or commiserate with someone who is bummed out, but that doesn't mean we have to experience the same grief or misery as our friend.  The point is to be a friend without getting caught up in their drama.  Sometimes all we can do is wait out a situation on the sidelines and send our friend thoughts of love and goodwill

7.  Don't look down on your friend when he or she is down and out.

When you lose money or get fired from a job, when you get a divorce or break up with someone, when you get really sick or become disabled, that's when you see exactly who your real friends are.  People who aren't afraid to be seen with you, who don't forget to check in on you, and who don't become impatient with you are like silver and gold.

Sometimes the only thing we can do for our friend is refrain from being judgmental.  We don't have to condone what our friend has done if it is illegal, immoral, or unacceptable, but we can let them know that we still love them, no matter what they have done.

*****

I can't say that I've been a perfect friend to everyone, but I do my best.  I think this is a great checklist of points to consider about being a friend to others, and I intend to use it in the future as a gauge of my own behavior toward my friends.  :-)
Via the Mitta Sutta, a text in the original Pali canon of discourses directly attributed to the historical Buddha (by way of /r/Buddhism), check out this list of seven qualities the Buddha says you should look for in a friend.
Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
Which seven?
He gives what is hard to give.
He does what is hard to do.
He endures what is hard to endure.
He reveals his secrets to you.
He keeps your secrets.
When misfortunes strike,
He doesn’t abandon you.
When you’re down & out,
He doesn’t look down on you.
A friend endowed with these seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
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.
For more, check out In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Teachings of the Buddha), edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, with a foreward by the Dalai Lama.
- See more at: http://ultraculture.org/blog/2014/01/07/7-qualities-look-friend-according-buddha/#sthash.vIBjdOrQ.dpuf
Via the Mitta Sutta, a text in the original Pali canon of discourses directly attributed to the historical Buddha (by way of /r/Buddhism), check out this list of seven qualities the Buddha says you should look for in a friend.
Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
Which seven?
He gives what is hard to give.
He does what is hard to do.
He endures what is hard to endure.
He reveals his secrets to you.
He keeps your secrets.
When misfortunes strike,
He doesn’t abandon you.
When you’re down & out,
He doesn’t look down on you.
A friend endowed with these seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
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.
For more, check out In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Teachings of the Buddha), edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, with a foreward by the Dalai Lama.
- See more at: http://ultraculture.org/blog/2014/01/07/7-qualities-look-friend-according-buddha/#sthash.CBu32Z84.dpuf
Via the Mitta Sutta, a text in the original Pali canon of discourses directly attributed to the historical Buddha (by way of /r/Buddhism), check out this list of seven qualities the Buddha says you should look for in a friend.
Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
Which seven?
He gives what is hard to give.
He does what is hard to do.
He endures what is hard to endure.
He reveals his secrets to you.
He keeps your secrets.
When misfortunes strike,
He doesn’t abandon you.
When you’re down & out,
He doesn’t look down on you.
A friend endowed with these seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
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.
For more, check out In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Teachings of the Buddha), edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, with a foreward by the Dalai Lama.
- See more at: http://ultraculture.org/blog/2014/01/07/7-qualities-look-friend-according-buddha/#sthash.CBu32Z84.dpuf

1 comment:

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