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Friendship (mittatā or sakkhī) is a close, loving and non-sexual relationship between two or more people and is the human relationship that the Buddha praised above all others. The Buddha said that some of the characteristics of genuine friends are that they are true to their word (avisaṃvadanataya), they will stick by you in times of trouble (apadasu na vijahati), and that they might even give their life for you (jivitaṃ pissa atthaya pariccattaṃ hoti, (D.III,187-190). In other words, the highest level of friendship does not change through changing circumstances.
The ‘good-hearted friend’ (suhadamitta, the Buddha said, will be there for us in good times and bad, encourage us to do good, be one we can confide in and one who confides in us, who rejoices in our happiness and who speaks well of us (D.III,187).
But to the Buddha the highest type of friend is the spiritual, literally ‘beautiful’ friend (kalyāṇamitta). While the good-hearted friend offers social and emotional support, the spiritual friend helps us understand and practise the Dhamma. The scriptures say: ‘What is friendship with the good? It is to follow after, to frequent the company of and to associate with people who are believers, who are virtuous, learned, generous and wise; to resort to and consort with them, be devoted to them, enthusiastic about them and be in unity with them.’ (Dhs.1328). Once Ānanda said to the Buddha: ‘I think that to have a spiritual friend is a half of the holy life.’ The Buddha replied: ‘Say not so Ānanda, say not so! Friendship, association and intimacy with a spiritual friend is all of the holy life.’ (S.V,2). See Faithfulness.
Buddhism and Friendship, Subhuti, 2004.