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Kalyāṇa-mittatā (Pali; Skt.: -mitratā) is a Buddhist concept of "spiritual friendship" within Buddhist community life, applicable to both monastic and householder relationships. One involved in such a relationship is known as a "good friend," "virtuous friend," "noble friend" or "admirable friend" (kalyāṇa-mitta, -mitra).
Since early Buddhist history, these relationships have involved spiritual teacher-student dyads as well as communal peer groups. In general, such is a supportive relationship based on shared Buddhist ethical values and the pursuit of enlightenment.
(read the extract of the Sutta below)
In the Pali Canon's Upaddha Sutta (SN 45.2), there is a conversation between the Buddha and his disciple Ananda in which Ananda enthusiastically declares, 'This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.' The Buddha replies:
'Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.'
The Buddha elaborates that, through such friendships, one develops each of the path factors through seclusion, dispassion and cessation. Further, the Buddha states that through spiritual friendship with the Buddha himself followers have gained release from suffering.
According to Dr. R.L. Soni, canonical discourses state that "companionship with the wise" leads to the following developmental progression: "listening to good advice, rational faith, noble thoughts, clear thinking, self-control, good conduct, conquest of the hindrances, gaining of wisdom and the consequent liberation."
More broadly, in Itivuttaka 1.17, the Buddha declares:
'With regard to external factors, I don't envision any other single factor like admirable friendship as doing so much for a monk in training, who has not attained the heart's goal but remains intent on the unsurpassed safety from bondage. A monk who is a friend with admirable people abandons what is unskillful and develops what is skillful.'
In terms of householders, the Buddha provides the following elaboration in the Dighajanu Sutta (AN 8.54):
'And what is meant by admirable friendship? There is the case where a lay person, in whatever town or village he may dwell, spends time with householders or householders' sons, young or old, who are advanced in virtue. He talks with them, engages them in discussions. He emulates consummate conviction in those who are consummate in conviction, consummate virtue in those who are consummate in virtue, consummate generosity in those who are consummate in generosity, and consummate discernment in those who are consummate in discernment. This is called admirable friendship.'
Post-canonical Pali texts
In the first-century CE exegetic Vimuttimagga ("Path of Freedom"), Arahant Upatissa identifies the need to find a "good friend" or "pre-eminent friend" in order to develop "excellent concentration." The good friend should understand the Tipitaka, kamma, "beneficient worldly knowledge" and the Four Noble Truths. Citing AN 7.36, Upatissa says that a "good friend" should have the following seven qualities:
"Loveableness, esteemableness, venerableness, the ability to counsel well, patience (in listening), the ability to deliver deep discourses and the not applying oneself to useless ends."
In the fifth-century CE Visuddhimagga ("Path of Purification"), Buddhaghosa also mentions the need to find a "good friend" in the context of finding one who will be your "giver of a meditation subject."As did Upatissa, Buddhaghosa refers to the seven qualities of AN 7.36 and adds that only the Buddha has all these qualities. If the Buddha is not available to be the good friend, then one of the eighty great disciples is recommended; if one of them is not available, then one should find for a good friend who has destroyed all fetters through the attainment of all jhanas and the development of insight. Otherwise, in descending order, one may choose: a non-returner or once-returner or stream enterer or non-arahant who has attained a jhanic state, or one who knows the Tipitaka or two pitakas or one pitaka, or one who knows a nikaya and its commentaries and who is conscientious.
The teacher/student relationship
In traditional schools of Buddhist thought, a spiritual friendship is a friendship not between one's peers, but a friendship between a student and their spiritual teacher. From the aforementioned suttas, we can see that the Buddha believed it vital for spiritual growth to have a spiritual friend. This friendship is built on a deep respect for the teacher's knowledge and the student's potential, and, through this respect and friendship, the two individuals learn constructive behaviour. Constructive behaviour in Buddhism is to think, speak, and behave in a constructive way towards life, leading to personal happiness, and, then, to enlightenment.
Within the Vajrayana tradition, the teacher/student relationship is considered of extreme importance to guide the student on the proper tantric path and to avoid the harmful consequences of misunderstanding and incorrect practice.
Extracts of the actual Sutta:
DN 31Sigālovada Sutta: The Discourse to Sigāla
"These four, young householder, should be understood as foes in the guise of friends:
(1) he who appropriates a friend's possessions,
(2) he who renders lip-service,
(3) he who flatters,
(4) he who brings ruin.
(1) "In four ways, young householder, should one who appropriates be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:
(i) he appropriates his friend's wealth,
(ii) he gives little and asks much,
(iii) he does his duty out of fear,
(iv) he associates for his own advantage.
(2) "In four ways, young householder, should one who renders lip-service be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:
(i) he makes friendly profession as regards the past,
(ii) he makes friendly profession as regards the future,
(iii) he tries to gain one's favor by empty words,
(iv) when opportunity for service has arisen, he expresses his inability.
(3) "In four ways, young householder, should one who flatters be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:
(i) he approves of his friend's evil deeds,
(ii) he disapproves his friend's good deeds,
(iii) he praises him in his presence,
(iv) he speaks ill of him in his absence.
(4) "In four ways, young householder, should one who brings ruin be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:
(i) he is a companion in indulging in intoxicants that cause infatuation and heedlessness,
(ii) he is a companion in sauntering in streets at unseemly hours,
(iii) he is a companion in frequenting theatrical shows,
(iv) he is a companion in indulging in gambling which causes heedlessness."
Thus spoke the Exalted One. And when the Master had thus spoken, he spoke yet again:
The friend who appropriates,
the friend who renders lip-service,
the friend that flatters,
the friend who brings ruin,
these four as enemies the wise behold,
avoid them from afar as paths of peril.
"These four, young householder, should be understood as warm-hearted friends:
(1) he who is a helpmate,
(2) he who is the same in happiness and sorrow,
(3) he who gives good counsel,
(4) he who sympathises.
(1) "In four ways, young householder, should a helpmate be understood as a warm-hearted friend:
(i) he guards the heedless,
(ii) he protects the wealth of the heedless,
(iii) he becomes a refuge when you are in danger,
(iv) when there are commitments he provides you with double the supply needed.
(2) "In four ways, young householder, should one who is the same in happiness and sorrow be understood as a warm-hearted friend:
(i) he reveals his secrets,
(ii) he conceals one's own secrets,
(iii) in misfortune he does not forsake one,
(iv) his life even he sacrifices for one's sake.
(3) "In four ways, young householder, should one who gives good counsel be understood as a warm-hearted friend:
(i) he restrains one from doing evil,
(ii) he encourages one to do good,
(iii) he informs one of what is unknown to oneself,
(iv) he points out the path to heaven.
(4) "In four ways, young householder, should one who sympathises be understood as a warm-hearted friend:
(i) he does not rejoice in one's misfortune,
(ii) he rejoices in one's prosperity,
(iii) he restrains others speaking ill of oneself,
(iv) he praises those who speak well of oneself."
Thus spoke the Exalted One. And when the Master had thus spoken, he spoke yet again:
The friend who is a helpmate,
the friend in happiness and woe,
the friend who gives good counsel,
the friend who sympathises too —
these four as friends the wise behold
and cherish them devotedly
as does a mother her own child.
The wise and virtuous shine like a blazing fire.
He who acquires his wealth in harmless ways
like to a bee that honey gathers,
riches mount up for him
like ant hill's rapid growth.
With wealth acquired this way,
a layman fit for household life,
in portions four divides his wealth:
thus will he friendship win.
One portion for his wants he uses,
two portions on his business spends,
the fourth for times of need he keeps.