What is good friendship? What’s its importance?
Those who, like me, are attempting to follow in the footsteps of Master Gotama may wonder about the connection between working to remove our own attachments and relating to another person. What’s the relation between seeking ultimate freedom and good companionship?
Today I happened to read a relevant passage from the “Samyutta Nikaya” from the Pali Canon in which Master Gotama startles his loyal discipline Ananda by disputing Ananda’s comment that good friendship is half of the spiritual life; rather, he says, it is the entire spiritual life!
I take him to mean what I would put this way: to befriend someone is to love that person. To love someone is to act in such as way as to promote what is best for the beloved. (By way of contrast, love is not a feeling. I use ‘[to] love’ as a verb, not as a noun.)
What is best for someone? Opinions, of course, differ.
I believe that the best life is to adopt, cultivate, and master the Noble Eightfold Path [right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration]. If so, for you to have a good comrade would be for you to have someone in your life who encourages you to adopt, cultivate, and master the Noble Eightfold Path.
(If that’s not the best kind of life, call the best kind of life “X.” If so, for you to have a good comrade would be for you to have someone in your life who encourages you to master X.)
Do you have one? Perhaps, or perhaps not. If you don’t, don’t despair. Why?
Because, as Master Gotama points out to Ananda, you may rely on him to befriend you.
He says, “by relying upon me as a good friend, Ananda, beings subject to birth are freed from birth; beings subject to aging are freed from aging; beings subject to death are freed from death; beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair are freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair” [Bhikkhu Bodhi, tr.].
If you don’t already and would like to have Master Gotama as your good friend, why not? If you learn how to practice as he recommends and begin practicing, you will soon experience your troubles beginning to drop away.
It’s fine to doubt that, but please, for your own sake, don’t be so attached to your own opinions that you fail to test for yourself. If you suffer from loneliness, if you don’t have a good friend, you are in for the joy of your life!