Virtuous Friendship

Forerunners of the Middle Way
Initial Stage of Practice 1:
Skilful Words of Others and Virtuous Friendship


As mentioned in the previous chapter, right view is a crucial component of the Path. It is the beginning point of practice and the first stage of Buddhist spiritual training. Right view needs to be gradually developed, purified, and freed from bias, until it is transformed into direct realization. The establishment of right view is thus of vital importance.

In the Tipiṭaka the cultivation of right view is described as follows:

Monks, there are two factors conducive to the arising of right view: the teachings of others (paratoghosa) and wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra).1

A. I. 87.

Two factors conducive to the arising of right view:

  1. Paratoghosa: the ’proclamations’ of others; external influence or inducement, e.g.: other people’s teachings, advice, explanations, and transmissions; advertisements, information, news, written material, and schooling. Here, it refers specifically to wholesome teachings, in particular to the transmission of Dhamma teachings, and to the knowledge and counsel received from virtuous friends (kalyāṇamitta). This is an external, social factor. It can be described as the way of faith (saddhā).

  2. Yoniso-manasikāra: wise reflection; analytical reflection; reasoned or systematic attention. To know how to reflect on things in an objective way, to apply reasoned thought, to inquire into the origin of things, to trace the entire trajectory of phenomena, and to analyze an object or problem in order to see it according to truth and according to its interrelated causes and conditions, without allowing personal craving or attachment to interfere. This is an internal, spiritual factor. It can be described as the way of wisdom (paññā). {564}

The following passage emphasizes the importance of these two factors in spiritual training:

For a monk who is still in training … I do not see any other external factor that is so helpful as good friendship.

For a monk who is still in training … I do not see any other internal factor that is so helpful as wise reflection.2

It. 9-10.

These two factors are mutually supportive. Ordinary people, whose wisdom is not yet proficient, rely on the teachings and guidance of others, and if these teachings are presented skilfully they can often progress quickly. Nonetheless, they must also train in an ability to think correctly for themselves if they are to reach the final goal.

Those people who are proficient in wisdom are able to use wise reflection, but they may need to rely on the teachings of others for guidance at the beginning stages of practice and as a support to accelerate their spiritual training.

The establishment of right view by way of the first factor (paratoghosa; the teachings of others) begins with and relies primarily on faith. When one applies this factor to a system of training one must determine how to best receive advice and encouragement, that is, one requires a teacher who has superior attributes and abilities, and who uses effective means of teaching.

For this reason the definition of paratoghosa in training highlights the principle of virtuous friendship (kalyāṇamittatā).

The second factor – yoniso-manasikāra – is a principle of wisdom, and so in training one needs to determine how best to support such wise reflection.

When combining these two factors, virtuous friendship is considered an external factor and wise reflection an internal factor.

Finally, if one associates with bad friends and thus receives false teachings, and one applies unwise, incorrect reflection (ayoniso-manasikāra), the result is the opposite: one develops wrong view (micchā-diṭṭhi). {565}

Way of Faith and Confidence

The proclamations of others (paratoghosa) giving rise to right view are those teachings which are virtuous and correct, reasonable and useful, and which explain the truth, especially those teachings stemming from a sense of love and well-wishing.

Virtuous teachings spring from a virtuous source: from a good, virtuous, and wise person, who is referred to as a ’righteous man’ (sappurisa) or a ’learned person’ (paṇḍita). (See Note Righteous and Learned) If such a righteous or learned person performs the duty of teachings others and engendering right view, he or she is referred to as a beautiful or virtuous friend (kalyāṇamitta).

Righteous and Learned

When the term sappurisa is paired with the term ariya, the commentators offer various definitions: ariya refers to the Buddha, while sappurisa refers to Silent Buddhas and disciples of the Tathāgata, or to all disciples; alternatively, these two terms have the same meaning (e.g.: MA. I. 21, 24; SA. II. 252, 254; NdA. 76, 79; DhsA. 349, 353).

When sappurisa occurs on its own, it refers to the Buddha and all the aforementioned individuals (e.g.: DA. III. 1020, 1058; AA. III. 63).

The term paṇḍita can be used in reference to the Buddha and all the aforementioned individuals (e.g.: KhA. 128; SnA. I. 300).

Generally speaking, the terms ariya, sappurisa, and paṇḍita have overlapping meanings and are occasionally used interchangeably. But if one is to speak strictly according to the Buddha’s words, the term paṇḍita refers to someone who has reached the two ’benefits’ (attha) described in earlier chapters (there are also some additional technical definitions for paṇḍita), and the term sappurisa refers to a person with the specific attributes described below.

If one is in search of right view one does not need to wait until a righteous or virtuous person seeks one out. On the contrary, one should strive to find such a person – to consult with, listen to, request teachings from, associate with, and study with the wise. This is called association with the righteous or virtuous.3

Regardless of who initiates the contact, once there is mutual influence and acknowledgement the person is said to have a virtuous friend and to participate in a virtuous friendship (kalyāṇamittatā).

The definition of a virtuous friend is not restricted to the common meaning of a good friend, but it refers to a person who is well-equipped to teach, advise, explain, encourage, and guide, and to act as a role model in the correct path of spiritual training. The Visuddhimagga offers examples, including the Buddha, the arahant disciples, teachers, mentors, and wise, learned individuals, who are capable of teaching and providing consultation, even those people who are younger than oneself.4

In the formal development of wisdom, the presence of a virtuous friend is classified as part of the stage of faith (saddhā). In the wider system of spiritual training, good companionship encompasses a whole range of factors, including: the presence of teachers, mentors, and parents; the attributes and skills of one’s teachers; the principles, methods, techniques, and means of teaching; books and other forms of media; role models, for example a ’great being’ (mahāpurisa) or someone who is accomplished in the Dhamma; and those wholesome and beneficial social and environmental factors conducive to wisdom development. {566}

Importance of Good Companionship

Monks, just as the dawn’s light is the precursor to the rising of the sun, so too, for a monk good friendship is the forerunner and precursor for the arising of the Noble Eightfold Path. When a monk has a good friend, it is to be expected that he will develop and cultivate this Noble Eightfold Path.

S. V. 29-30.

This is the entire holy life, Ānanda, that is, good friendship, good companionship … for when a monk has a good friend … it is to be expected that he will develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path.

By relying on me as a good friend, 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, grief, and despair are freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair.

S. V. 2-4.

Monks, just as the dawn’s silver and golden light is the precursor to the rising of the sun, so too, for a monk good friendship is the forerunner and precursor for the arising of the seven factors of enlightenment. When a monk has a good friend, it is to be expected that he will develop and cultivate the seven factors of enlightenment.

S. V. 78.

No other thing do I see, O monks, which is so responsible for causing unarisen wholesome states to arise and arisen unwholesome states to wane as good companionship. In one who has good friends, wholesome states not yet arisen will arise and unwholesome states that have arisen will wane.

A. I. 14.

No other thing do I see, O monks, which is so conducive to great blessings…

A. I. 16.

which is so conducive to the stability, the non-decline, the non-disappearance of the true Dhamma as good companionship.

A. I. 18.

As to external factors, I do not see any other factor that is so conducive to great blessings as good companionship.

A. I. 17; cf.: S. V. 102.

For a monk who is in training, who has not yet reached the fruit of arahantship and who aspires toward the unsurpassed security from bondage, I do not see any other external factor that is so beneficial as good companionship. When a monk has a good friend, he will eliminate the unwholesome and cultivate the wholesome.

It. 10.

When a monk has a good friend … it can be expected that:

  1. He will be virtuous, restrained and careful in respect to the Pāṭimokkha, perfect in conduct and resort….

  2. He will [have the opportunity to listen and to engage in talk] according to his wishes on various subjects that refine his character and purify the mind, that is to say, talk on fewness of wishes … on the application of energy, on virtue, concentration, wisdom, liberation, and on the knowledge and vision of liberation. {567}

  3. He will be persistent and energetic in abandoning the unwholesome and in perfecting the wholesome. He will be diligent, steadfast and strong, not neglecting the duty in regard to wholesome qualities.

  4. He will be equipped with wisdom, possessed of noble wisdom, which discerns the rise and fall of phenomena, gains penetrative insight into defilements, and leads to the complete end of suffering.

A. IV. 352-3, 357-8; Ud. 36-7.

These teachings cited above emphasize the importance of good companionship for monks, because it was given by the Buddha to bhikkhus as the audience. There are, however, many general teachings and sayings by the Buddha, especially those given to householders, highlighting the importance of association with virtuous people, for example: good companionship is one factor conducive to realizing immediate, everyday benefits (diṭṭhadhammikattha);5 associating with evil people is a path to ruin (apāya-mukha);6 contact with and proper conduct towards friends is one aspect of the teaching on the six directions;7 the criteria for choosing friends according to the attributes of true and false friends;8 association with honest people is one of the four vehicles (cakka) leading to prosperity,9 one of the four virtues conducive to growth (vuḍḍhi-dhamma),10 and one of the four factors of stream-entry (sotāpattiyaṅga);11 and good friendship is one of the ten virtues making for self-reliance (nāthakaraṇa-dhamma).12 The Jātaka tales, which apply to people of all walks of life, especially to laypeople, contain numerous stories and sayings pertaining to association and fellowship with others.13

Furthermore, there are teachings on this subject scattered throughout the Suttanta Piṭaka, for example: {568}

Not to associate with fools,
But to associate with the wise
And to honour those who are worthy of honour:
This is the supreme blessing.

Kh. 3; Sn. 46-7.

The sort of person you seek out –
that is the sort of person you yourself become.

It. 67-9; J. IV. 435; J. VI. 235.

Even if you do no evil but associate with one who does,
You are suspected of evil and your bad reputation grows.

It. 67-9.

One who associates with bad companions is soon corrupted.

A. I. 125-6.

When one wraps rotting fish in kusa grass,
The grass takes on a foul odour:
So it is when one associates with fools.

When one wraps agarwood incense in the leaf of a tree,
The leaf becomes fragrant:
So it is when one associates with the wise.

It. 67-9; J. IV. 436; J. VI. 236.

The wise teach those things which should be promoted;
They do not encourage stupidity.

J. IV. 241.

One should view a wise person,
Who points out faults
And speaks reprovingly,
Like one who reveals a treasure;
Let one associate with such a wise person;
By doing so one will improve, not decline.

Let him advise, instruct,
And dissuade one from evil;
Truly cherished is such a person by the good,
While dismissed is he by the bad.

Dh. verses 76-7.

The wise live together happily,
Like a group of family members.

Dh. verse 207.

Walking together seven steps,
One is considered a friend;
Walking together twelves steps
One is considered a comrade;
Living together for a month or fortnight,
One is considered a relative;
Longer than that it is as if the person is oneself.

J. I. 365.

It is fortunate to have many relatives and companions,
Like a large grove of trees in the middle of the forest;
A tree growing in isolation, no matter how large it grows,
Can be felled by the wind.

J. I. 329.

If you find a companion who is governed by wisdom,
You should travel with him contented and mindful….

If you do not find a companion governed by wisdom,
You should travel alone … and refrain from evil.

Dh. verses 328-30.

Let one associate with a friend who is learned,
Great in goodness, intelligent and discerning,
And a champion of the Dhamma.
When one has recognized the aspired-to goal
And has eliminated doubt,
Travel alone like a rhinoceros’s horn.

Sn. 9-10.

Timely listening to the Dhamma… timely discussion of Dhamma:
This is the supreme blessing. {569}

Kh. 3; Sn. 47.

Just as one who has mounted a flimsy raft
Would sink upon the mighty ocean,
So too a virtuous person sinks
By consorting with a lazy person.
Thus one should avoid such a person –
One remiss, devoid of energy.
Keep company with the wise,
Those who are calm, noble, resolute, and attentive,
Their energy constantly roused.

S. II. 158-9; It. 70.

From these quotes one is able to see that the teachings on association with others given by the Buddha to monks aim primarily at the highest goal or ultimate reality (paramattha), and clearly focus on establishing transcendent right view. The teachings given to general people or to laypeople, on the other hand, emphasize basic, everyday benefits (diṭṭhadhammikattha) combined with profound, spiritual benefits (samparāyikattha). These latter teachings focus on mutual help and assistance, and on generating mundane right view, that is, a belief in the law of kamma – to recognize one’s responsibility in regard to good and bad actions. For the most part, they do not emphasize transcendent right view, of seeing phenomena as they truly exist. These higher, transcendent principles are implicit in the mundane teachings, however, and the Buddha would introduce them as befitting the circumstances. People are at different levels of spiritual maturity; the Buddha would prepare people by gradually laying a foundation for them.14

Attributes of a Virtuous Friend

The specific attributes of a virtuous friend, distinguishing such a person as a ’righteous person’ (sappurisa) or a ’wise person’ (paṇḍita), are as follows:

There are seven distinguishing qualities (sappurisa-dhamma) of a virtuous person:15

  1. Dhammaññutā: one knows essential principles and causes; one knows the laws of nature; one knows essential teachings, guidelines, and responsibilities, which are the cause for successful and effective action in accord with one’s goals, for example: a monk is familiar with those teachings that he must study and practise, and a ruler knows the righteous principles of leadership and governance.

  2. Atthaññutā: one knows objectives and effects; one knows the meaning and purpose of specific teachings, codes of practice, and duties; one knows the desired fruit of specific actions, for example: a monk knows the meaning and purpose of those things he studies and practises, and he recognizes the good which is the goal and essential meaning of life.

  3. Attaññutā: one knows oneself; one knows one’s own attributes, disposition, station, strength, knowledge, skills, abilities, and virtues as they really are; this knowledge is conducive to appropriate and effective behaviour. For example, a monk knows his own level of faith, moral conduct, learning, generosity, wisdom, and insight.

  4. Mattaññutā: one knows moderation; one knows what is adequate and sufficient, for example: one knows moderation in regard to eating and to spending one’s wealth; a monk knows moderation in regard to receiving the four requisites. {570}

  5. Kālaññutā: one knows time; one knows which times are suitable to perform specific activities; for instance, one knows when to study, when to work, and when to rest.

  6. Parisaññutā: one knows society; one knows the locality, the meeting places, the community; one knows the manners, moral codes, customs, and other suitable practices in regard to specific communities.

  7. Puggalaññutā: one knows persons; one knows the differences between people in regard to their dispositions, abilities, and virtues; this knowledge helps determine how one relates appropriately to each individual. For example, one knows whether one should associate with someone or not; one knows how to deal with, employ, praise, criticize, and teach others in an effective way.

A paṇḍita is a wise person, someone who conducts his or her life with wisdom. There are many ways in which the Buddha described such a person’s attributes, for example:

Monks, by his deeds a fool is marked, by his deeds a wise man is marked. Both are revealed clearly by way of their actions.16 By three things the fool can be known: by bad conduct of body, speech and mind. By three things the wise person can be known: by good conduct of body, speech and mind.

A. I. 102.

Monks, there are these three characteristics of a fool, signs of a fool, ways of behaving of a fool. What three? Here a fool is one who thinks bad thoughts, speaks bad words, and does bad deeds.

A. I. 102-103; M. III. 163.

Monks, by three things a wise person can be known: he poses an issue with due consideration, he solves an issue with due consideration, and whenever another person solves an issue with due consideration, with gentle and well-spoken words, reasonable and to the point, he expresses delight.

A. I. 103-104.

Monks, there are two kinds of fools: he who shoulders a burden that does not befall him, and he who shirks a burden that befalls him.

Monks, there are two kinds of wise persons: he who shoulders a burden that befalls him, and he who takes not up one that does not befall him.

A. I. 84.

A foolish monk desires undue praise, distinction from other monks, authority in the monasteries, and honour among families.

’Let both laymen and monks think that only by myself was this deed accomplished; in every work, great or small, let them be subject to me.’ Such is the ambition of the fool; his envy and pride only accumulate.

Dh. verses 73 and 74.

The good are unattached to all conditions; the righteous do not speak with a desire for sense pleasures; whether affected by pleasure or pain, the wise show neither elation nor dejection. {571}

Neither for the sake of himself nor for the sake of another does a sage do any wrong; he desires not son, wealth, kingdom, or personal success by unjust means; he is virtuous, wise, and upright.17

Dh. verses 83 and 84.

Whether he is shown honour or not, his concentration is unshakeable; he abides vigilant and alert. Such a person meditates consistently and makes constant effort; he possesses insight with subtle understanding, delighting in the destruction of clinging. They call him a superior man.18

S. II. 232.

Irrigators channel water, fletchers straighten arrows, woodworkers craft wood, the wise train themselves.

Dh. verse 80.

Swans, cranes, and peacocks, elephants and spotted deer, all are frightened of the lion, regardless of their own bodies’ size.

In the same way among human beings, a young person endowed with wisdom is considered great, not the fool with a well-built body.

S. II. 279-80; J. II. 144.

A man of little learning grows old like an ox; his muscles develop, but his wisdom does not.

Dh. verse 152.

One is not named an elder merely because one’s hair is grey; ripe is he in age, yet old-in-vain is he called.

One possessed of truth, rectitude, harmlessness, self-mastery, and restraint is indeed a sage; purged of impurities, he is indeed called an elder.

Dh. verses 260 and 261.

Small streams flow noisily; great waters flow silently. The hollow resounds while the full is still. A fool is like a half-filled pot; the wise person is like a lake full of water.

Sn. 138-9.

The fool who knows he is a fool is at least a little wise; the fool who thinks that he is wise is called a fool indeed.

Dh. verse 63.

Whichever meeting is void of good people is not called a council; whoever does not speak truth is not among the righteous. But having abandoned lust, hate and delusion, and speaking the truth, one is indeed a superior person.

S. I. 184.

A person who is wise and grateful, faithful and reliable, who associates with virtuous friends and is dedicated to helping those in difficulty – such a one is called a superior person. {572}

J. V. 146.

Monks, there are these four occasions. What four?

  1. The occasion when an action is both unpleasant and after it is accomplished it is unprofitable.

  2. The occasion when an action is unpleasant but after it is accomplished it is beneficial.

  3. The occasion when an action is pleasant but after it is accomplished it is unprofitable.

  4. The occasion when an action is both pleasant and after it is accomplished it is beneficial.

Of these occasions, in a case when an action is both unpleasant and unprofitable, one deems action inadvisable for two reasons, for it is both unpleasant and unprofitable.

In a case when an action is unpleasant but beneficial, one may know who is a fool and who is wise in the matter of personal strength, effort and perseverance. For the fool has no such consideration as this: ’Though this is an occasion when action is unpleasant, yet when it is accomplished it is beneficial.’ Accordingly he does not act, and his inaction brings him loss. But the wise man considers: ’Though this is an occasion when action is unpleasant, yet when it is accomplished it is beneficial.’ Accordingly he acts and the result is to his profit.

In a case when an action is pleasant but unprofitable, one may know who is a fool and who is wise in the matter of personal strength, effort and perseverance. For the fool does not consider thus: ’Though this act is pleasant, yet it brings loss.’ Accordingly he acts and the result is loss. Whereas the wise man reflects: ’Though this act is pleasant, yet its results bring loss.’ He therefore acts not and the result is to his profit.

In a case when an action is both pleasant and beneficial, one deems action advisable for two reasons, for it is both pleasant and beneficial.

A. II. 118-19.

The steadfast one, by attaining the desired good, is called a person of wisdom.19

S. I. 87, 90; A. II. 46; A. III. 48-9; It. 16-17.

Whoever grows in faith, virtuous conduct, learning, generosity, and wisdom: such a person is righteous, possesses discriminative knowledge, and obtains the true benefits of this world for himself.

A. III. 80.

Monks, by relying on an honest person four blessings are to be expected. What four? One grows in noble virtue, one grows in noble concentration, one grows in noble wisdom, and one grows in noble liberation. {573}

A. II. 239.

Here, bhikkhu, he in this world who is wise, of great wisdom, thinks not to harm himself, thinks not to harm others, thinks not to harm both alike. Rather, he thinks of those things beneficial to himself, thinks of those things beneficial to others, thinks of those things beneficial to both alike; indeed, he thinks of those things beneficial to the whole world. In this manner is one called a wise person, of great wisdom.

A. II. 179.

When, O monks, a superior man is born into a family he exists for the good, welfare and happiness of many people. It is for the good, welfare and happiness of his parents, of his wife and children, of his dependants, workers and servants, of his friends and colleagues, of his ancestors, of the king, of the devas, of ascetics and brahmins. This is similar to how a great rain cloud brings all the crops to growth and exists for the good, welfare and happiness of many people.20

A. IV. 244-5.

In the case that someone associates with such a wise or virtuous person, or else this person initiates the sharing of knowledge and goodness with others, he or she is referred to as a ’virtuous friend’ (kalyāṇamitta). A virtuous friend engenders right understanding and wholesome faith in others, by teaching, advising, and imparting knowledge. He or she acts with kindness and compassion, helping to cultivate right view and correct practice in others.

Besides the distinctive attributes of a wise person outlined in the quotations above, it is possible to describe a virtuous friend – someone who should be sought out and associated with – by considering the qualities mentioned in the definition of virtuous friendship (kalyāṇamittatā).

Virtuous friendship is defined as ’consorting, associating, and affiliating with, and a devotion and dedication to, someone who has faith (saddhā), morality (sīla), (great) learning (suta), generosity (cāga), and wisdom (paññā).’21

In some passages only four of these qualities are mentioned, excluding learning, which is considered to be less important than the other four factors. Other passages suggest that when one lives in a specific locality one should associate closely, converse, and consult with those people who are endowed with faith, virtue, generosity, and wisdom; one should take these people as role models and emulate their spiritual qualities.22

A virtuous friend should also possess the seven basic virtues referred to as the ’qualities of a virtuous friend’ (kalyāṇamitta-dhamma):23

  1. Piyo: ’endearing’; the ability to ’access another’s heart’, create a sense of intimacy and confidentiality, and make it easy for students to ask questions.

  2. Garu: ’venerable’; acting appropriately in regard to one’s status as a teacher; creating a feeling of ease, reliability, and safety. {574}

  3. Bhāvanīyo: ’inspiring’; being highly intelligent, having true knowledge, and constantly training and improving oneself; praiseworthy and exemplary; being spoken about and thought of by one’s disciples with inspiration, confidence, and delight.

  4. Vattā: ’effective at speaking’; being a skilful speaker and good counsellor, able to explain things so that others understand, and aware of what and how to speak in specific circumstances; giving skilful advice and admonishment.

  5. Vacanakkhamo: ’a patient listener’; ready to listen to the questions and suggestions of others, even those that are trifling; able to endure insults and criticisms, without getting fed up or losing one’s temper. (See Note Enduring Criticism)

  6. Gambhīrañca kathaṃ kattā: ’able to expound on profound subjects’; able to teach and explain complex and profound matters so that others understand.

  7. No caṭṭhāne niyojaye: ’not spurring on to a useless end’; not encouraging one to follow harmful or inappropriate ways.

Enduring Criticism

In the Pali Canon this term vacanakkhamo refers to someone who can endure the blame and criticism of others and is prepared to modify and improve himself.

Ven. Sāriputta is praised as the paragon of those people endowed with this virtue (e.g.: S. I. 64).

The commentaries explain how some people are able to admonish others, but as soon as they themselves receive admonishment they become angry; Sāriputta, however, was able to both admonish others and to humbly receive admonishment.

There is a story of a seven-year old novice pointing out to Sāriputta that the border of his inner robe was hanging low; Sāriputta listened politely and went to set his robe in order (SA. I. 123).

Although the following passages by the Buddha do not explicitly claim to describe the attributes of a virtuous friend, the virtues mentioned can be considered as companion qualities of a virtuous friend:

Monks, a monk endowed with six qualities is capable of acting for the benefit and welfare of himself and others. What six? Here, a monk:

  1. Is quick to comprehend all wholesome states.

  2. Recollects the Dhamma teachings that he has heard.

  3. Contemplates the essential meaning of those recollected teachings.

  4. By clearly understanding the meaning (attha) and fundamental principles (dhamma), he practises correctly.24

  5. Has pleasing and lovely speech, consisting of sophisticated, articulate, and lucid language, and enabling the listener to clearly understand the gist of the subject.

  6. Is able to instruct, rouse, encourage, and gladden his companions in the holy life.

A. IV. 296, 328.

There are, O monks, three types of persons found in the world. What three? There is one who should not be associated with, consorted with, or approached; one who should be associated with, consorted with, and approached; one who should be honoured and revered, associated with, consorted with, and approached.

Of what nature is the person who should not be associated with, consorted with, or approached? In this case a certain person is inferior in the way of morality, concentration and wisdom. Such a person should not be associated with, consorted with, or approached, except out of consideration and compassion. {575}

Of what nature is the person who should be associated with, consorted with, and approached? In this case a certain person is like oneself in respect to morality, concentration and wisdom. Such a person should be associated with, consorted with, and approached. Why is that? With this idea: ’As we are equal in morality, concentration and wisdom, our discussions will be on morality, concentration and wisdom; our discussions will proceed in unison and will lead to our happiness.’ For this reason one should associate with, consort with, and approach such a person.

Of what nature is the person who should be honoured and revered, associated with, consorted with, and approached? In this case a certain person is superior in the way of morality, concentration and wisdom. Such a person should be honoured and revered, associated with, consorted with, and approached. Why is that? With this idea: ’In this way I shall complete the body of virtuous conduct … the body of concentration … the body of wisdom that is as yet incomplete, or by way of wisdom in this respect I shall sustain the body of virtuous conduct … the body of concentration … the body of wisdom that is complete.’ For this reason one should honour and revere, associate with, consort with, and approach such a person.

A. I. 124-5.

Although the Buddha repeatedly warned against associating with bad, immoral people, note that in the passage above he presents an exception, when one associates with such a person out of kindness and compassion and with a desire to help. In any case, those who wish to help such a person should first consider their own readiness beforehand.

Some of the teachings on the attributes of a virtuous friend emphasize everyday, immediate benefits (sometimes also connected to higher, spiritual benefits), for example the teaching on true and false friends in the Siṅgālaka Sutta:

See here, householder’s son, there are these four types who can be seen as foes, as false friends: the swindler is one, the great talker is one, the flatterer is one, and the troublemaker is one.

  1. The man who is a swindler can be seen to be a false friend for four reasons: he takes everything for himself, he wants a lot for very little, he helps his friends only when he is in danger, and he seeks his own ends.

  2. The great talker can be seen to be a false friend for four reasons: he talks of things that have passed away, he talks of things that have not yet come to be, he offers assistance with useless things, and when his friends are in need he makes up excuses owing to some obstacle.

  3. The flatterer can be seen to be a false friend for four reasons: he assents to bad actions, he [equally] assents to good actions, he praises you to your face, and he disparages you behind your back.

  4. The troublemaker can be seen to be a false friend for four reasons: he is a companion when you indulge in alcohol, when you roam the streets at unfitting times, when you frequent places of revelry and entertainment, and when you indulge in gambling.

See here, householder’s son, there are these four types who can be seen to be true friends, good-hearted friends: a supportive friend is one, the friend in happy and unhappy times is one, the friend who points out what is good is one, and the friend who is considerate is one. {576}

  1. The supportive friend can be seen to be a true friend in four ways: he looks after you when you are heedless, he looks after your possessions when you are heedless, he is a refuge when you are in danger, and when some business is to be done he lets you have more than you ask for.

  2. The friend in happy and unhappy times can be seen to be a true friend in four ways: he tells you his secrets, he guards your secrets, he does not let you down in times of misfortune, he would even sacrifice his life for you.

  3. The friend who points out what is good can be seen to be a true friend in four ways: he keeps you from wrongdoing, he supports you in doing good, he informs you of things you did not previously know, and he points out the path to heaven.

  4. The considerate friend can be seen to be a true friend in four ways: he does not rejoice at your misfortune, he rejoices at your good fortune, he stops others who speak against you, and he commends others who speak in praise of you.

D. III. 185-8 (excerpt)

A similar passage is found in the Aṅguttara Nikāya:

Monks, a friend who possesses seven factors should be followed. What seven? He gives what is difficult to give; he does what is difficult to do; he patiently endures what is difficult to endure; he reveals his own secrets; he keeps his friends’ secrets; he does not abandon one in misfortune; he does not despise his friends when they are destitute.

A. IV. 31.

The general principles of friendship are outlined in the teaching on the six directions:25

See here, householder’s son, there are five ways in which a man should minister to his friends and companions as the northern [lefthand] direction:

  1. By gifts and generosity (dāna).

  2. By kindly, loving words (piyavācā).

  3. By assistance and support (atthacariyā).

  4. By offering constant friendship; by being a friend in good times and bad (samānattatā).

  5. By speaking honestly and sincerely (avisaṁvādanatā).

Note that the first four of these factors comprise the teaching referred to as the four ’bases of social solidarity’ (saṅgaha-vatthu). This teaching presents a principle of mutual assistance and of uniting people in harmony. These factors are a way of expressing goodwill between people. These two teachings, on the six directions and on the bases of solidarity, are virtually identical and they show how Buddhism encourages people to befriend one another or to respond to others as friends.

Of these four factors, the offering of constant friendship – the ability to adapt to others, to not be conceited, and to be a friend in good times and bad – is essential and goes to the heart of friendship. As described earlier, the Buddha distinguishes the friend in happy and unhappy times as one of the four ’true’ friends.26 {577}

The bhikkhus, or renunciants in general,27 should act as virtuous friends for the laypeople. The responsibilities for a bhikkhu in relation to a householder, according to honouring the zenith in the teaching on the six directions, are identical to the attributes of a true friend. The attribute of a true friend: ’one who points out what is good’ can be rephrased in this context as ’bhikkhus are true friends as they point out what is good.’ The duties of the monastic sangha towards the laity, however, contain an additional two factors, amounting to six factors in total:28

  1. To discourage them from doing evil.

  2. To encourage them to do good.

  3. To assist them with benevolence.29

  4. To inform them of things they have not previously known or heard.

  5. To explain and clarify those things they have heard.30

  6. To point out the way to heaven (to teach a way of life leading to happiness).

The responsibilities of the monastic sangha in relation to the laity are set down as follows:

Monks – brahmins and householders are very helpful to you, as they support you with the requisites of robes, almsfood, lodgings and medicine for the sick. And you, too, should be very helpful to brahmins and householders, by teaching them the Dhamma beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle, and beautiful in the end; by expounding the holy life both in spirit and in letter, utterly complete and pure. In this way, monks, in mutual dependence the laypeople and those gone forth live the holy life for the purpose of escaping the flood, for making a complete end to suffering.

In mutual dependence householders and the homeless both practise to achieve the true Dhamma: the unsurpassed security from bondage.

It. 111-12.

The following passage affirms the Buddha’s emphasis on assisting the laity (by using righteous means):

Yes, headman, the Tathāgata in many ways praises support for families, the protection of families, compassion for families.

S. IV. 324.

Having said this, while performing the duty of a virtuous friend in a compassionate and honest manner for the laity, the monastic sangha must be careful to preserve the unique attributes of an independent lifestyle and the life of a renunciant. It is important to avoid fraternizing too much with the laypeople, which can cause harm for both parties. It can hinder individual spiritual progress and deprive the laypeople of a refuge. If the monks are overly engaged in the world, the laity will only have people who are as muddled and harried as they are to rely on; they will not have an anchor to help release them from confusion and turmoil.

This inappropriate relationship in which the monks become as caught up in worldly affairs as the laity, and in which they are unable to help lead the laypeople to inner freedom, is referred to as ’getting ensnared by (other) human beings’: {578}

And what, monks, is getting ensnared by human beings? Here, a monk lives overly associating with laypeople; he rejoices with them and grieves with them, he is happy when they are happy and sad when they are sad, and he involves himself in their affairs and duties (he acts as a busybody). This is called getting caught by human beings.31

S. IV. 180-81.

When engaged in the direct instruction of others, a virtuous friend should follow the teachings emphasizing purity, kindness, and sincerity:

First, there is the group of five factors known as the ’qualities of a teacher’ (dhammadesaka-dhamma):32

  1. To teach gradually and sequentially (anupubbikathā): to teach a subject matter in stages, beginning with easy aspects and ending with more profound aspects; to teach in a progressive, integrated, and reasoned way.

  2. To explain causality (pariyāya-dassāvī): to clarify each aspect and point of a specific subject matter; to be versatile in one’s teaching, pointing out causal relationships.

  3. To teach with kindness and well-wishing (anudayatā): to teach with a heart of lovingkindness, aiming for the welfare of one’s students.

  4. To refrain from seeking material rewards (anāmisantara): to teach others without aiming for material gain, financial rewards, or personal advantages.

  5. To not hurt oneself or others (anupahacca): to make the mind impartial; to teach according to the gist and formal principles of a specific subject matter; to focus on the theoretical and practical meaning of a matter; to not exalt oneself while showing contempt for others.

The following passage describes both pure and impure teachings:

Monks, a monk teaches the Dhamma to others with the thought: ’Oh, may they listen to the Dhamma from me! Having listened, may they gain faith in me! Having gained faith, may they show their devotion to me!’ Such a monk’s teaching of the Dhamma is impure.

Monks, a monk teaches the Dhamma to others with the thought: ’The Dhamma that is well expounded by the Blessed One is to be realized directly by oneself, timeless, inviting one to come and see, to be brought within and realized, to be experienced individually by the wise. Oh, may they listen to the Dhamma from me! Having listened, may they clearly understand the Dhamma! Having clearly understood, may they practise accordingly!’ Thus he teaches the Dhamma to others because of the intrinsic excellence of the Dhamma; he teaches the Dhamma to others out of compassion and sympathy, out of tender concern. Such a bhikkhu’s teaching of the Dhamma is pure. {579}

S. II. 199.

In a similar way, the teaching on the six directions in reference to the duties of teachers towards their students contains similar attributes. Here, the emphasis is not so much on purity, but rather on kindness and sincere commitment:33

  1. To counsel and train students in virtue.

  2. To provide students with a clear understanding of relevant subjects.

  3. To provide students with a complete education in various branches of the arts and sciences.

  4. To recommend and praise the students’ virtues and abilities to friends and colleagues.

  5. To provide students with security in all directions (to instruct them on how to truly apply their knowledge and make a living).

Finally, there are two qualities of a virtuous friend which should be given special emphasis and which distinguish the excellence of such a person: first, one is truly able to do that which one teaches, or one has arrived at a specific realization about which one is able to teach others; second, one is free; one is not stuck in confusion or tied up with the same attachments as those people one guides. In reference to the first quality, there are many teachings by the Buddha, for example:

Let one first establish oneself
In what is proper and good;
Then instruct others.
A learned person should be taintless.
You should act as you teach. Dh. verses 158-9.

Generally, these teachings on distinction focus on conduct or ethics, but if a person has attained a specific realization by way of the mind or by wisdom, and then acts as a virtuous friend, this is the best. If it is not possible to find such a person, then one should seek someone who has progressed farther on the spiritual path, or is at least equal in this respect.

Occasionally, a very learned person, who possesses knowledge through reading texts or other forms of study, can facilitate Dhamma realization in someone else despite he himself having not yet attained such a realization.34 Similarly, it can happen that two people at equal stages of spiritual maturity discuss and review the Dhamma together and as a consequence they simultaneously arrive at a realization of truth.35

One of the great benefits of having a virtuous friend is that he or she acts as a role model. As a result one is confident that those things one practises and aspires to are truly feasible and achievable, and by accomplishing these things one receives true and worthy results. Moreover, a virtuous friend has greater knowledge, understanding, and experience, and is thus able to recommend methods which facilitate or speed up one’s practice.

A virtuous friend who has achieved the fruits of spiritual practice can provide these benefits or blessings fully, generating profound faith and motivation in others. It is therefore natural to wish for a virtuous friend with a complete set of these attributes.

The second quality of freedom contains two aspects: a person’s lifestyle and a person’s inner spiritual freedom. {580}

This quality of freedom is vital and is connected to the descriptions above on monks who fraternize with the laypeople. If someone is shackled by the same bonds and fetters as others, or is caught in the same whirlpools and turbulent waters, he will not be able to help himself, let alone help release or liberate others.

Someone who is subject to social constrictions and struggles to obtain things in a worldly way and with worldly values, is under pressure to make a living and support his family. He needs to fight for his own survival and that of his family, in the same way as other people. Whenever there is trouble in society, it will be difficult for him to find time to devote himself to save others or to lead them in a new direction. His attempts to help tend to fall in the category of ’paddling around in a small pond’. When this person lacks freedom both in lifestyle and inwardly it is even more difficult to achieve success in helping others.

It is for this reason that the Buddha established the monastic sangha as an independent community, which has a way of life free from the constraints of the wider society and is guided by the disciplinary code of the Vinaya.

When this independent way of life is combined with individuals whose minds are liberated, the sangha becomes a powerful force in generating virtuous qualities in the wider society and acts as a refuge for the public, enabling other people to also discover various levels of freedom.

On the subject of assisting others, the Buddha gave the following teaching:

Cunda, that one who is himself sinking in deep mud should pull out another who is sinking in deep mud is impossible. That one who is not himself sinking in mud should pull out another who is sinking in mud is possible.

That one who is himself untrained, undisciplined, with defilements unextinguished, should train another, discipline him, and help extinguish his defilements is impossible. That one who is himself trained, disciplined, with defilements extinguished, should train another, discipline him, and help extinguish his defilements is possible.36

M. I. 45.

The Buddha aimed to ensure for the stable and long-lasting independence of the monastic sangha. In this context, the following teaching can be determined as a code of ethics for renunciants:

A renunciant should not be overly busy, acting indiscriminately; he should not be the man of someone else. Not in dependence on another should he live, nor go about treating the Dhamma as a commodity.37

Ud. 66.

This matter can be summed up by looking at the peerless attributes of the Buddha himself, who was the supreme virtuous friend. The Buddha was endowed with both qualities: he was truly accomplished and had realized those things he taught; and he was free, liberated from both social constraints and from the oppression of mental defilement. {581}

Monks, just as a blue, red, or white lotus is born in the water and grows up in the water, but having risen up above the water, it stands unsullied by the water, so too the Tathāgata was born in the world and grew up in the world, but having risen above the world, he dwells untarnished by the world.38

S. III. 140-41.

See here, Bāhuna, the Tathāgata is free, detached, and released from ten things and thus dwells with a boundless mind. What ten? Here, the Tathāgata is free, detached, and released from physical form … feeling … perception … volitional formations … consciousness … from birth … old age … death … from all suffering … and from all mental impurity, and thus dwells with a boundless mind. In the same way, a blue, red, or white lotus is born in the water and grows up in the water, but having risen up above the water, it stands unsullied by the water.

A. V. 152.

The Blessed One is awakened himself and thus teaches the Dhamma for the sake of awakening. The Blessed One has trained himself and thus teaches the Dhamma for the sake of training. The Blessed One is at peace himself and thus teaches the Dhamma for the sake of peace. The Blessed One has crossed over himself and thus teaches the Dhamma for crossing over. The Blessed One is completely quenched himself and thus teaches the Dhamma for extinguishment.39

D. III. 53-4; M. I. 235.

The following three characteristics of the Buddha’s teaching style, which are referred to as the ’Buddha’s mode of teaching’, can be used as general principles of self-assessment for those people who act as virtuous friends and instruct others:40

  1. The Buddha teaches the Dhamma through direct knowledge. He teaches those things worthy of realization that he himself has realized in order that others too may realize these things. This principle focuses on the teacher – on the fact that he or she truly understands or has realized the subject being taught.

  2. The Buddha teaches the Dhamma with a sound basis. He teaches and explains in a coherent way, so that the persons listening are able to contemplate the subject and understand it by applying their own wisdom. This principle focuses on the pupils or the listeners. The teacher instructs in a way that provides the listeners with the freedom or the opportunity to reflect, apply discernment, develop wisdom, and penetrate the truth by themselves. The teacher merely presents facts, information, reasoned arguments, or suggestions in order to bring aspects of truth to light and to stimulate contemplation in the listener.

  3. The Buddha teaches the Dhamma with real, wondrous results. He teaches those things which are true – which are acknowledged by those wise persons and lovers of truth who contemplate them. He teaches those things that are realizable; practitioners will attain those fruits corresponding and appropriate to their application in practice. This principle focuses on the teaching, which is in accord with truth or ’truly so’; it is verifiable, effective, and worthy; it is not trivial, futile or followed in vain; it produces real results for those who practise it – the fruits of practice match the effort made by the practitioner and by accompanying conditional factors.

If one is unable to find a virtuous friend who is realized and truly free, it can still be useful to follow and learn from someone who possesses great learning, despite the fact that he or she has not yet reached the gist of the teaching. {582}

In this case, such a person is like a cowherd who looks after the cows belonging to someone else, or like a blind person who carries a lantern – a person with good vision is thus able to see.41 A person with good vision here refers to someone endowed with wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra).

This is not only the case with someone who has vast knowledge and is a highly skilled teacher – even the speech of a simpleton or someone who parrots the wise words of others can provide food for thought. A person with wise reflection may hear these words and consequently attain realization.42

In these circumstances, however, the vital factor rests with the listener, that is, he or she possesses the internal spiritual factor of wise reflection, which will be discussed in a following chapter.

Responsibility of a Virtuous Friend

In the context of spiritual training, the participation and support by a good companion in various activities is an external condition. An important factor here is the mutual influence people have on each other in the area of thoughts, opinions, attitudes, values, and understanding, which collectively are called ’views’ (diṭṭhi).

If these ideas, attitudes, values, and forms of understanding are incorrect and harmful, they are known as ’wrong view’ (micchā-diṭṭhi), while if they are correct, wholesome, and beneficial they are called ’right view’ (sammā-diṭṭhi).

A person who encourages someone to have wrong view is a bad friend (pāpa-mitta), while a person who encourages someone to have right view is a good and true friend (kalyāṇamitta).

Often a person’s mentors at home or school, for instance a person’s parents and teachers, have less influence than the friends the person plays and associates with. But it also happens frequently that a person’s friends living nearby have less influence than the people who live far away (both in physical distance and in time) and who possess the power to reach a person’s heart: the ’companions’ who travel via the mass media, say through channels of entertainment and books, including biographies of great people, whose qualities one emulates.

The factor allowing someone to exert an influence on others, or the bridge between the external companion and another person’s mind, is belief, confidence, admiration, and inspiration, which together are referred to as ’faith’ (saddhā).

When faith is generated, one can be influenced by another even though he or she lives far away and is not a close associate. Some people may live close to home, but if one has no confidence in them they will have little influence. Therefore, those who have the responsibility of instructing others and imparting right view should first generate faith and confidence in others.

A basic principle in spiritual training is for a virtuous friend to act as a catalyst for faith: association with wise and honest people is a condition for the arising of faith.

Although one may be good and wise, if one is unable to generate faith and confidence in others, one still does not qualify as a ’virtuous friend’ (kalyāṇamitta), nor has a true connection with others been established. When faith is generated and another person is receptive, one can help guide the person’s thoughts and behaviour (initially the person may simply imitate one’s behaviour), or one can engender a correct form of thinking, which is another level of spiritual practice. The decisive factor determining whether one fulfils the responsibility of a ’virtuous friend’ is whether the person one associates with arrives at right view. {583}

A technical and doctrinal explanation of right view (sammā-diṭṭhi) will be presented in a following chapter.43 As an introduction it is useful here to point out that the virtuous and correct views, opinions, values, and forms of understanding which are collectively called ’right view’ have many details and particulars, and may be explained in many different ways. An examination of the formal teachings, however, reveals that these views, etc. can be distilled into two kinds:

  1. Beliefs, views, perspectives, and forms of understanding which are correct, wholesome, and rational, and which are related to matters of ethics, to good and bad behaviour and to the corresponding fruits of such actions, epitomized by the saying ’ones reaps as one sows.’ Further examples of this kind of view are a trust in virtue, say the merits of one’s mother and father, and a belief in line with a religious teaching, say the teaching on the next life. In brief, one can define this as a view in accord with Dhamma or a belief in the law of kamma, which engenders a sense of responsibility in regard to one’s actions. The precise term for this view is kammassakatā-ñāṇa – the knowledge of being an owner of one’s deeds.

    This is mundane right view (lokiya-sammādiṭṭhi), arising from an understanding of cause and effect and instilled by teachings passed down in one’s community. It generates righteous, virtuous behaviour and leads to a peaceful, well-ordered society.

  2. Views and forms of understanding about the world, about life, or about conditioned phenomena which accord with truth, which accord with the true nature of phenomena and with the natural law of causality. By this understanding a person recognizes how to relate to things in the world correctly.

    For example, one understands that all conditioned things arise from the convergence of interconnected factors; they exist according to the interrelationship of causes and conditions, and therefore they are unstable, impermanent, and unsustainable. Their associated factors are in a constant state of conflict and pressure; these things are not truly independent, they cannot be truly owned by anyone, and they are ultimately not subject to anyone’s desires and wishes. When things exist in this way, how should we relate to them? Is it appropriate to be totally engrossed with conditioned things or to dedicate one’s life to pursuing them? Every human being too is a conditioned phenomenon and subject to the same natural laws; we are all companions in old age, sickness, and death. As a consequence, how should we relate to one another?

    This form of understanding arises through proper discernment, reflection and consideration of things, in accord with reality and with the causal nature of things. It is called ’right view aligned with transcendent understanding’. Although at the beginning it is still a mundane form of understanding, it is on the path to and will develop into transcendent right view (lokuttara-sammādiṭṭhi).

The first kind of right view is called kammassakatā-sammādiṭṭhi or kammassakatā-ñāṇa: the knowledge of how people are the owners of their intentional actions (kamma). This is the ability to recognize and distinguish one’s own volitional actions. This knowledge generates a sense of responsibility in respect to one’s actions. It is right view on the level of righteous conduct (dhamma-cariyā) or in relation to the wholesome courses of action (kusala-kammapatha). It is a benefit or a goal on both the immediate, mundane level (diṭṭhadhammikattha) and the refined, spiritual level (samparāyikattha), and it is the basis for the supreme good (paramattha).

The second kind of right view is classified as ’insight right view’ (vipassanā-sammādiṭṭhi). In the Pali Canon it is referred to as saccānulomika-ñāṇa: ’knowledge consistent with truth’ or ’knowledge in line with truth’. It leads to awakening; it leads directly to the supreme good.

It is evident here that the essential kind of right view, leading to the highest goal of Buddhism, is the second kind, of knowledge in line with truth. {584}

All Buddhists, regardless of whether they aim directly for this highest goal or not, should be careful not to stop at the first kind of right view. Rather, they should advance to the second kind, by cultivating this form of wisdom, at least to an initial degree.44 This is because this kind of right view reduces and alleviates greed, hatred and delusion; it helps to establish an improved relationship to the world, it makes the mind clear and bright, and it increases happiness. It reduces oppression, conflict and distress in the world more effectively than by using the method of restraint and control that is inherent in a moral discipline. It benefits both an individual and society as a whole.

When one analyzes the sequence of events, one sees that the association with good persons, or to have a virtuous friend, leads to the opportunity to hear the Dhamma – to receive teachings – either directly or indirectly. When the teaching of Dhamma truly conforms to the principles of truth and goodness, and the teaching is presented in a well-reasoned, coherent way, faith will arise in the person who receives the teaching:

Association with a wise person (to have a ’virtuous friend’) →
to listen to the Dhamma →

Here we come to a vital point in spiritual training or practice: the connection between an external, social factor and an internal, personal factor. The external factor is ’learning from others’ (paratoghosa), here meaning to have a virtuous friend (kalyāṇamitta). On its own it results in faith and leads only to ’mundane right view’ (lokiya-sammādiṭṭhi).46 {585}

If one only reaches this stage then one’s spiritual training is incomplete and one will not reach the highest goal of Buddhism. When one abides only at the level of faith, one still relies on one’s teachers – one’s ’virtuous friends’ – and one’s behaviour is still one of following an example or of imitation. One has not yet gained deep knowledge and clear vision; one has still not reached complete liberation.

The solution is to find a bridge to arrive at the internal, personal factor of wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra). A person should summon and generate wise reflection to replace faith, because wise reflection leads to transcendent right view, to true knowledge, and to the supreme goal of Buddhism.

The external factor of a virtuous friend enables this link to the internal factor of wise reflection, and it is considered a responsibility of a virtuous friend to help others generate wise reflection within themselves. A good teacher should not settle for the target of generating faith in the student, but should use this faith to ’light the spark’ of wise reflection.

A good teacher uses faith as a link in teaching the Dhamma: having instilled confidence he or she teaches the Dhamma so that the listener or pupil rouses wise reflection: the ability to reflect and to see all things according to the truth and in line with causality.

Once wise reflection has been generated, the natural process of awakening unfolds until it reaches its culmination. During this time the virtuous friend may help support and guide this wise reflection by offering regular Dhamma teachings.

When the external factor is linked to the internal factor – when learning from others supports wise reflection – the unawakened person who is receptive to teaching is able to advance in Dhamma training and practice (unless one is a prodigy who initiates wise reflection spontaneously or one is a simpleton who is unable to think for oneself).

In Buddha-Dhamma, a virtuous teacher does not assist others in order to foster devotion or a personal attachment, as such a relationship may only lead to copying the teacher’s beliefs and conduct. A virtuous friend acts not so that others form a personal relationship with the teacher, but acts merely as a medium, to help others connect to their own lives and their surroundings – to point out how they may reflect upon things according to truth and discover for themselves how to relate to the world correctly. The process is expanded thus:

Association with a wise person (to have a ’virtuous friend’) →
to listen to the Dhamma →
faith →
wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra).

In the teaching on wisdom development, or among the factors leading to stream-entry, however, the Buddha does not mention faith. It may be that in this context he considered faith to be a minor or subsidiary factor, and that it does not require emphasis. {586}

The process of wisdom development, or the process involving the factors leading to stream-entry, is illustrated thus:47

Association with a wise person (to have a ’virtuous friend’) →
listening to the Dhamma →
wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra) →
practice conforming to truth.

Although they do not explicitly mention wise reflection, the following sutta passages describe the style of instruction of virtuous friends, who provide an independence to their pupils, allowing them to realize the truth by themselves:

Māgaṇḍiya: I have such confidence in Master Gotama. Now is Master Gotama capable of teaching me the Dhamma in such a way that I might rise up from this seat cured of my blindness?

The Buddha: Then, Māgaṇḍiya, associate with virtuous people. When you associate with virtuous people, you will hear the true Dhamma. When you hear the true Dhamma, you will practise in accord with the true Dhamma. When you practise in accord with the true Dhamma, you will know and see for yourself thus: ’These are the diseases, tumours, and piercing darts [of the mind]; but here these diseases, tumours, and darts cease without remainder. [That is] with the cessation of one’s clinging comes cessation of becoming. With the cessation of becoming … sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair cease. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.’

M. I. 512.

Brahmin Dhotaka: I bow down and honour you, Sir, he who possesses the eye of wisdom, the All-Seeing One. Please, Man of Sākya, free me from confusion!

The Buddha: See here, Dhotaka, I am not able to free anyone in the world from confusion. When you have clearly understood the sublime Dhamma, you will cross over the ocean of defilements by yourself.

Sn. 204-5; Nd. II. 20-21.

In the case that a virtuous friend has fulfilled the initial responsibility of recognizing the vital independence of other practitioners, it is then important for him or her to emphasize the personal duties of these practitioners, so that they benefit in the optimum way from this independence.

The Buddha therefore performed another responsibility of a virtuous friend, that of enjoining his disciples to perform their personal duties well, as can be seen by the numerous teachings he gave on listening to the Dhamma, conversing on the Dhamma, and seeking guidance and advice. For example:

Monks, when listening to the true Dhamma, a person endowed with five qualities is capable of entering upon the fixed course [consisting in] rightness in wholesome qualities. What five?

  1. He does not think disparagingly about the subject being discussed.

  2. He does not think disparagingly about the speaker.

  3. He does not think disparagingly about himself.

  4. He is not distracted; he listens to the Dhamma with one-pointed attention.

  5. He reflects wisely.48 {587}

A. III. 174-5.

The vital quality here is wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra), which is the agent giving rise to knowledge and understanding. This quality does not only pertain to listening to the Dhamma or to verbal instruction. Rather, it should be applied to every aspect of one’s life and in every circumstance, including to one’s perception of sense impressions and to one’s interaction with phenomena.

Wise reflection as a primary agent in spiritual development, taking over from the instruction received from a virtuous friend, is the subject of a following chapter. But before finishing this section on the influence by others (paratoghosa), it seems appropriate to speak some more on the subject of faith (saddhā), which is a key factor in the discussion so far. The focus here will be on the proper role and practice of faith in the course of bringing suffering to cessation.49

Appendix 1: Four Bases of Social Solidarity (saṅgaha-vatthu)

  1. Dāna: giving; generosity; charity.

  2. Piyavācā: kindly speech.

  3. Atthacariyā: life of service; beneficial conduct.

  4. Samānattatā: even and equal treatment.

This key teaching on the four bases of social solidarity is found frequently in the Pali Canon.50 One example of the importance the Buddha gave to mutual assistance and to social harmony is the story of Hatthaka Āḷavaka, whom the Buddha praised as one of the two ’mastheads’ of the assembly of laymen, and who was declared foremost among those who support and protect a following by means of the four bases of social solidarity.51

In the Siṅgālaka Sutta, when the Buddha describes honouring the six directions within the ’noble discipline’ (ariya-vinaya), he concludes with these four bases of social solidarity.52

The commentaries define the term rājā (’king’, ’majesty’) as someone who gladdens the people by way of the four bases of solidarity,53 and state that these four bases of solidarity are a form of ’sublime conduct’ (brahmacariya).54

The last factor – samānattatā – can cause some problems in interpretation because the origin of this word is unclear and it is translated in different ways. The term samāna means ’even’, ’equal’, or ’common’, and thus the term samānattatā is often translated as ’equal to oneself’ or ’in common with oneself’ (i.e. to do onto others as one would wish them to do onto you). The commentaries generally translate this latter term as ’in good times and in bad’ (i.e. to be constant), or as equality and impartiality, expressed for example by eating or sitting together;55 it is related to the term samāna-kicca, which means ’to work together’ or ’to help one another accomplish a task’.56

The commentary to the Paṭisambhidāmagga gives an alternative definition for samānattatā, stating that it means ’proper discrimination’ or ’to place oneself in a correct relationship’, i.e. to act appropriately in respect to another’s status, as lower, equal, or higher than oneself.57 The Jātaka commentaries offer yet another definition, stating that it means ’to be consistent’: not to act one way in private and another way in public, for example to be respectful to one’s parents irrespective of whether one is at home or in a public gathering.58

At the highest level, the Buddha acknowledged the equality among those of similar states of realization.59

Appendix 2: Commentarial Analysis of Right View (sammā-diṭṭhi)

The commentaries provide a more detailed analysis of right view, dividing it into five kinds:60 kammassakatā-sammādiṭṭhi, jhāna-sammādiṭṭhi, vipassanā-sammādiṭṭhi, magga-sammādiṭṭhi, and phala-sammādiṭṭhi.61 The first three kinds are mundane; the last two are transcendent. Of the two kinds of right view mentioned in section 5 above (’The Responsibility of a Virtuous Friend’), the first is equivalent to kammassakatā-sammādiṭṭhi, while the second is classified as vipassanā-sammādiṭṭhi. Both of these kinds of right view are thus mundane. The difference is that vipassanā-sammādiṭṭhi leads to magga-sammādiṭṭhi and phala-sammādiṭṭhi, which are transcendent, and therefore it is referred to as ’right view on the path to transcendence’.

A familiar example of kammassakatā-ñāṇa (or kammassakatā-sammādiṭṭhi) is the factor of right view in the teaching on righteous conduct (dhamma-cariyā) or the ten wholesome courses of action (kusala-kammapatha).62 This is a form of right view found both within and outside Buddhism, and it existed even before the time of the Buddha, that is, it is a part of all religious teachings that espouse the doctrine of kamma. (No matter what teaching is upheld, in whichever religious tradition, if this teaching accords with truth, Buddhism acknowledges and accepts it.) For more on this subject see the commentaries to the Vinaya Piṭaka and the Majjhima Nikāya.63 The second of these two commentaries reiterates that both kammassakatā-ñāṇa and saccānulomika-ñāṇa are mundane forms of right view. Saccānulomika-ñāṇa is ’knowledge consistent with truth’ or ’knowledge in line with truth’;64 it is equivalent to vipassanā-ñāṇa.65

Furthermore, a passage from the commentary to the Majjhima Nikāya presents a different division of fivefold sammādiṭṭhi, namely: vipassanā-sammādiṭṭhi, kammassakatā-sammādiṭṭhi, magga-sammādiṭṭhi, phala-sammādiṭṭhi, and paccavekkhaṇa-sammādiṭṭhi.66 Here, jhāna-sammādiṭṭhi is removed and replaced by paccavekkhaṇa-sammādiṭṭhi. Jhāna-sammādiṭṭhi is also a form of mundane right view, but it pertains to those individuals who have achieved jhāna and is not directly related to the subject at hand. Paccavekkhaṇa-sammādiṭṭhi (right view stemming from reflection) is equivalent to ’right knowledge’ (sammā-ñāṇa) and pertains to those individuals who have realized path and fruit; it too is classified as a mundane form of right view.


See also: M. I. 294. Likewise, there are two opposite factors giving rise to wrong view (micchā-diṭṭhi): (incorrect) teachings of others and a lack of wise reflection: A. V. 187-8.


Cf.: S. V. 101-102.


There are many Pali words for such association: sappurisa-saṁseva, sappurisūpasaṁseva, sappurisūpassaya, sappurisūpanissaya, sappurisa-sevanā, or paṇḍita-sevanā.


See: Vism. 97-101; this text provides examples in the context of training in meditation.


A. IV. 281.


D. III. 184; A. IV. 283-4.


D. III. 190-91.


D. III. 185-6. This is a significant and comprehensive teaching.


Virtues leading one to prosperity are like wheels which lead a vehicle to its destination; these four qualities are also referred to as ’virtues of great assistance’ (bahukāra-dhamma): D. III. 276; A. II. 32.


Factors for wisdom development; principles for developing wisdom; A. II. 245-6. These virtues are greatly beneficial for all people: A. II. 246.


Factors leading to stream-entry: S. V. 347.


This teaching was given to bhikkhus, e.g.: D. III. 266-7, 290; A. V. 23-4.


The most prominent of these include: the two red-breasted parakeets who are siblings (Sattigumba Jātaka: J. IV. 432; JA. IV. 430); the exceptionally flavoured mangos (Dadhivāhana Jātaka: J. II. 106; JA. II. 101); the horse and its trainer (Giridatta Jātaka [also called the Somadatta Jātaka]: J. II. 98; JA. II. 164); an elephant transforms its disposition (Mahilāmukha Jātaka: J. I. 188; JA. I. 185); the pigeon and the crow (Kapota Jātaka: J. I. 244; JA. I. 241; J. III. 225; JA. III. 224; Lola Jātaka: J. II. 363; JA. II. 361); the jackal and the lion cub (Manoja Jātaka: J. III. 323; JA. III. 321); the chicken and the hawk (Kukkuṭa Jātaka: J. IV. 56; JA. IV. 55). See also: Mittāmitta Jātaka (J. II. 131; JA. II. 130; J. IV. 197; JA. IV. 196); Vyaggha Jātaka (J. II. 357; JA. II. 355); Kuntinī Jātaka (J. III. 135; JA. III. 134); Mahāsuvarāja Jātaka (J. III. 491; JA. III. 490); Kusanāḷi Jātaka (J. I. 443; JA. I. 440); Kuruṅgamiga Jātaka (J. II. 153; JA. II. 152); Mahā-ukkusa Jātaka (J. IV. 291; JA. IV. 288). There are also many sayings in reference to association with people inserted in Jātaka stories which are not directly related to this subject.


Examples of such teachings for the general public include: having people come to terms with death by contemplating the truth of impermanence and instability, and discouraging people from indulging in material gain, prestige, pleasure, and praise.


D. III. 252, 283; A. IV. 113-14; another group of qualities for a righteous person containing eight factors occurs at: M. III. 23. ’Righteous conduct’ (dhamma-cariyā) or the ten wholesome ways of conduct (kusala-kammapatha) are sometimes referred to as sappurisa-dhamma (A. V. 279); occasionally the ten qualities of an adept (asekha-dhamma), or the ten right states (sammatta), are referred to as sappurisa-dhamma (A. V. 245); sometimes a sappurisa is defined as a person endowed with the Eightfold Path (S. V. 19-20). The Buddhist teachings on a righteous person and an unrighteous person (asappurisa) are numerous; here only a selection have been presented to illustrate the essence of these teachings.


Apadāne sobhati paññā; I have translated this phrase according to AA. II. 169.


The commentaries interpret the phrase ’unattached to all conditions’ as ’abandoning delight and attachment (chanda-rāga) in all things’ (DhA. II. 156).


In the Thai Pali edition the phrase ’abides vigilant and alert’ is replaced by ’dwells with measureless concentration’.


The desired good is twofold: good visible in this very life and the good of the future life.


A similar passage exists at A. III. 46-7.


See: Dhs. 228.


See, e.g.: A. IV. 281-2.


A. IV. 32. The commentaries describe an additional eight ’attributes of a virtuous friend’ (kalyāṇamitta-lakkhaṇa), namely: faith, morality, learning, generosity, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom (UdA. 221; ItA. I. 65).


Dhammānudhamma-paṭipanno: he practises secondary principles of Dhamma in accord with primary principles, that is, he practises aspects of Dhamma correctly according to their formal principles as well as their true objective.


D. III. 190. (Specific to this passage, the term piya-vācā is sometimes written as piya-vajja or peyya-vajja; the meaning is the same.)


The teaching on the saṅgaha-vatthu is a very important one; for more on this teaching, see Appendix 1.


Trans: the author here uses the scriptural expression ’ascetics and brahmins’.


D. III. 191.


Added factor.




This is sometimes referred to as ’there arises intimacy in the household’ (S. III. 11; Nd. I. 198-9); other times it is referred to as ’caught up in the household’ (Nd. I. 387); it is part of the worry connected to a sympathy for others (Vbh. 356-7).


See: A. III. 184. These are not literal definitions from this sutta passage.


D. III. 189-90.


The texts liken such a person to a cowherd who looks after someone else’s cattle: he simply counts the cows without ever savouring the fivefold dairy products (see: Dh. verse 19; DhA. I. 155).


E.g.: S. III. 126-32.


Referred to at: Nd. I. 31-2; Nd. II. 21.


The phrase ’should not be overly busy, acting indiscriminately’ is translated from the Pali: na vāyameyya sabbattha, which literally means: ’should not make an effort everywhere’ or ’should not make an effort in all matters’. The commentaries explain this phrase as ’should not make an effort in all kinds of unskilful activities’, for example by acting as a messenger or a scout, like a royal official (UdA. 334). ’Should not be the man of someone else’ means to not be someone’s servant or subordinate.


Cf.: A. II. 38-9.


The expressions ’completely quenched’ and ’extinguishment’ are translated from the phrase: ’He has attained parinibbāna himself and thus teaches the Dhamma for attaining parinibbāna.’


M. II. 9-10; A. I. 276; Nd. I. 271-2. One finds contradictory translations of this passage; for example, different editions of the Tipiṭaka in Thai contain varying translations. It is helpful to compare this passage with the teachings at: D. I. 193, 198-9, 239; M. II. 33; DA. II. 379, 555; MA. III. 273; SA. III. 254; UdA. 326; NdA. II. 355.


See: Thag. verses: 1024-1033 (in reference to the first analogy, see footnote 84 above).


For examples, see the stories at: SA. I. 273; SnA. II. 398.


See chapter 16 on the wisdom factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.


On the Buddha’s words pertaining to mundane and transcendent right view, see the subsequent chapters on the factors of the Eightfold Path. For a commentarial analysis of right view see Appendix 2.


This is one part of a sequence presented at A. V. 114. In Pali it reads: sappurisa-saṁsevasaddhamma-savanasaddhā. At A. V. 145-9 there is a passage describing a process of relinquishment, which includes the teaching: ’When one has a virtuous friend one is able to eliminate a lack of faith, narrow-mindedness, and indolence.’ Later texts like the Visuddhimagga apply this teaching to explain the nature of faith, stating: ’Faith may have a factor of stream-entry, like association with the virtuous, as a proximate cause’ (Vism. 464; DhsA. 119; NdA. I. 55).


Citing UdA. 107. For the connection between wise reflection and transcendent right view, see the same reference.


The virtues conducive to the growth of wisdom (paññāvuḍḍhi-dhamma; factors conducive to wisdom development) are sometimes abbreviated to the four factors for growth (vuḍḍhi; vuḍḍhi-dhamma). They are equivalent to the four factors of stream-entry (sotāpattiyaṅga): sappurisa-saṁseva, saddhamma-savana, yoniso-manasikāra, and dhammānudhamma-paṭipatti (practice in accord with the Dhamma). Many of the sources of these teachings have been cited earlier, including: D. III. 227; S. V. 347, 404, 410-11; A. II. 245-6; cf.: D. II. 214. These virtues are found in teachings throughout the Tipiṭaka, as if the Buddha was looking for opportunities to mention them. Another potent teaching in this context occurs at Kh. 7.


This sutta passage is followed by two similar passages, in which some of the factors above are replaced by the following factors: ’he is wise, not a dimwit’; ’he does not listen with contempt’; ’he does not listen with a sense of competitiveness’; ’he does not listen by looking to find fault, with a heart hardened towards the speaker’; and ’he does not presume to understand that which he has not yet understood.’ These three suttas also describe the opposite qualities to those mentioned in each passage. These positive qualities are found in many passages throughout the Tipiṭaka.


Trans.: see the following chapter on faith.


D. III. 152-3, 232; A. II. 32-3, 248; A. IV. 219, 363-4; J. V. 330-31.


A. I. 25-6.


D. III. 191-2. The commentaries claim that the Buddha taught this sutta as a disciplinary code for laypeople (gihi-vinaya).


JA. I. 135.


JA. I. 136.


DA. III. 928; AA. III. 65; AA. IV. 115; PsA. I. 299.


Nett. Ṭīkā: Nidesavāravaṇṇanā, Hārasaṅkhepavaṇṇanā; Nett. Vibhāvinī: Nidesavāra-atthavibhāvanā, Soḷasahāraniddesavibhāvanā.


PsA. I. 299.


JA. V. 332.


See: A. IV. 363-4.


Trans.: this appendix comprises material from footnote 1203 of the Thai version of Buddhadhamma.


E.g.: AA. II. 24, 162; AA. III. 281.


E.g.: A. V. 267-8; Vbh. 328; ItA. II. 25.


VinA. I. 244 and MA. I. 196.


Vbh. 328.


DA. III. 984; VbhA. 415; VinṬ.: Pārājikakaṇḍaṃ, Sikkhāsājīvapadabhājanīyavaṇṇanā; VismṬ.: Khandhaniddesavaṇṇanā, Paññāpabhedakathāvaṇṇanā.


MA. IV. 135.