WHAT’S BUDDHISM GOT TO DO WITH IT?
I think it’s fair to say most people today no longer think of the Buddha as the fat, laughing bald man you see at the Chinese restaurant. You know, the one who’s belly you are supposed to rub for luck, like one of your dad’s perverted friends. At the same time, it seems to me many people still get the wrong idea about Buddhism. They think it has only to do with the lofty and perhaps unattainable goals of enlightenment and the transcendence of suffering known as nirvana.
However, I was delighted to learn recently just how practical the Buddha’s advice really was at times, especially concerning relationships. To that end, what follows is a list of four types of friends the Buddha felt should be avoided and the four that should be treasured (with my interpretations):
THE FOUR “BAD” TYPES OF FRIENDS
First, there is the greedy friend. This person gives little and expects much. He says to you, ” Sharing is caring” and when denied says “Oh, I thought you were my friend.” When caught at his game, his attempts at reparation are too little too late. They only come about when he fears that you will end the relationship. These clumsy attempts to make amends are meager at best, and probably at someone else’s expense.
Second, there is the friend who’s only service to you is her empty words. She does not ask after you, offers no genuine encouragement. Later, when you have become successful, she makes a big deal of saying ” I always knew she would make it big one day” and convinces herself she is your greatest supporter. Regarding the future she says, “I have big plans for you”. But, as soon as those words leave her lips she is nowhere to be found.
Third, is the friend who flatters you. He says “Bravo” no matter what you do and does not discourage you when you speak ill of others. The reason is that he is a terrible gossip himself. He would let you leave the house with lipstick on your teeth or egg on your beard and tell you “You look great”. But, when others laugh he will be laughing too, behind your back. You never know where you stand with him and must be forever on your guard against this “friend”.
Last, is the friend who is idle. She is your partner in crime. She says to you, “Hey, you don’t really feel like going to school today, do you? Let’s go to the casino!” She says stuff like this on a regular basis. She appears to want companionship, but a real friend would not try to hold you back as she does.
THE FOUR “GOOD” TYPES OF FRIENDS
The first of these treasured friends is the friend who helps you. He restrains those who would speak against you unfairly and looks after your property when you are not there to protect it. He says, “Any little thing you need, you come to me” and he means it. In fact, he almost regards it as an insult if you fail to do so. This friend is truly a nurturer of your very life force and a real gem.
The second treasured friend is the one who never abandons you, who is constant in happiness and adversity. You can tell her your troubles without fear of judgment and your secrets are safe with her. She takes nothing personally. She talks to you like a mother would, saying, “I may not always agree with you, but I will always be on your side”. She can truly be counted on because she would give up her life rather than betray you.
The third treasured friend is the friend of good council. He doesn’t necessarily give a lot of unsolicited advice, but he always encourages you when he sees you are on the right path. He only intervenes when someone is about to get hurt. He says to you, “Regarding this matter, this is what I have learned”. More often than not, he leads by example. Just by listening to this friend talk and watching him in action you can learn much about the way to live.
The last of these treasured friends is the friend who sympathizes. This friend has perfected the art of listening. She is sad over your misfortunes and truly happy when things go your way. She says, “I will always make time for you” for she is the epitome of unselfishness. She will send you a silly e-card on a Tuesday for no particular reason other than she felt you needed to laugh that day. This is a deeply intuitive friend who often knows what your needs are before you do.
I think perhaps the biggest myth about Buddhism is the idea that because everything is both unsatisfactory and impermanent that one must accept one’s lot in life and must never question anything that happens in it. But, it is clear from the Buddha’s teachings on relationships that we can practice “loving kindness” and all that other juicy Buddhist stuff without allowing others to waste our time and theirs with foolish behaviors that lead neither to nirvana nor enlightenment.
When I come across teachings like this I always try to observe the yogic practice of turning inwards and looking at myself. I am asking myself now, “How can I be a better friend?” It is a very humbling teaching when viewed this way, no?
I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject of friendships. I will post again soon. Meanwhile, I will be doing what I do and chillin’ at the zendo…