On the Meaning of Good Friendship

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On the Meaning of ‘Good
Friendship’ in Buddhism1
MÄRT LÄÄNEMETS

Ekadhammo, bhikkhave, bahūpakāro ariyassa
aṭṭhaṅgikassa maggassa uppādāya. Katamo ekadhammo?
Yadidaṃ—kalyāṇamittatā. Kalyāṇamittassetaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno pāṭikaṅkhaṃ—ariyaṃ aṭṭhaṅgikaṃ
maggaṃ bhāvessati, ariyaṃ aṭṭhaṅgikaṃ maggaṃ
bahulīkarissati.2
Kalyānamittasutta (Sn, 45:63)
(Bhikkhus, one thing is very helpful for the arising of the
Noble Eightfold Path. What one thing? Good friendship.
When a bhikkhu has a good friend, it is to be expected
that he will develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold
Path.)3
Abstract In this essay the principal concepts of a Buddhist educational theory and pactice, the ‘good friendship’ (kalyāṇamittatā)
and ‘good friend’ (kalyāṇamitra/kalyāṇamitta) are discussed in relation to their occurrence in some texts of the Pāli canon and two
Mahāyāna sūtras: the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra in Eight Thousand Lines (Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra) and the Supreme
Array Scripture (Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra). On the basis of excerpts from
reference books and source texts, the meaning and content of these
terms are analysed and compared and some conclusions are outlined.

1
This research was supported by the Estonian Science Foundation (grant no. 9256) and the
University of Tartu (2015 base fi nancing grant PFLKU14909).
2
https://suttacentral.net/pi/sn45.63 (14.09.2015).
3
https://suttacentral.net/en/sn45.63 (14.09.2015). All excerpts from the Pāli canon in this essay are from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations.

On the Meaning of ‘Good Friendship’ in Buddhism

166

Keywords Buddhism, Pāli canon, Mahāyāna sūtras, Perfection of
Wisdom Sūtra in Eight Thousand Lines, Supreme Array Scripture,
kalyāṇamitra/kalyāṇamitta, good friend, good friendship

Introduction
For Buddhists the relationship between teacher and disciple is highly
valued. Whichever school or tradition you take—for example the conservative monkhood of Theravāda, the dharma transmission of chan/zen
lineages, or the sacred practices of Tibetan Vajrayāna (all with enormous
text corpora)—you can find numerous doctrinal arguments for the inevitability of requiring a master if one is seeking spiritual progress, as well
as didactic stories about how outstanding teachers who have fully emancipated themselves from the bonds of a depressing mundane existence
take action to release others. In some traditions the institution of teacher
is even added to the fundamental Three Gems (triratna) formula and
actually precedes the original three: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Thus
in some trends in Buddhism the role of teacher is prioritized as incorporating the other three Gems. A living teacher represents the Buddha
here and now; they are delivering the teaching from Buddha (Dharma);
they are creating and guarding unity and solidarity with and within the
Sangha (followers past, present and future of Buddha’s Dharma). It is
teachers therefore who have a real transformative impact on the minds
of their disciples via direct interactions between them. Buddha, Dharma
and Sangha—the Three Gems—are considered part of the overall supportive spiritual environment traditionally defined as protection or shelter (śaraṇa).
There are several words used in the original languages of the Buddhist scriptures—Pāli and Sanskrit—that mean ‘teacher’ or ‘master’
(e.g. ācārya or dharma-ācārya, dharma-bhāṇaka, guru etc.), and all
have fixed equivalents in other Buddhist languages (e.g. Chinese and
Tibetan). There is one word however, especially widely used in the
Mahāyāna schools that means both a teacher par excellence (i.e. a supreme authority in all spiritual matters) and an universal instructor and
benefactor who guides and supports one in all mundane and spiritual

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Märt Läänemets

endeavours towards what is considered good and beneficial, whilst keeping one away from what is considered bad or harmful. This word is
kalyāṇamitra in Sanskrit and kalyāṇamitta in Pāli, which literally translate into English as ‘good friend’.
While writing this attempt to deal with the different Buddhist meanings of this important word, I kept in mind my friendship with Tarmo
Kulmar—a genuine kalyāṇamitra not only to me but to many others
as well—that has lasted since my early years as a junior student at the
University of Tartu in the early 1980s, and also the other teachers I have
been luckily enough to meet. I ask that they accept my deepest respect
and gratitude.
On the meanings and translations of the
word kalyāṇamitra/kalyāṇamitta
Kalyāṇamitra is a compound word consisting of two parts: kalyāṇa and
mitra. In Monier-Williams’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary there are many
equivalents for the first component kalyāṇa: ‘beautiful’, ‘agreeable’, ‘illustrious’, ‘noble’, ‘generous’, ‘excellent’, ‘virtuous’, ‘good’, ‘beneficial’,
‘salutary’, ‘auspicious’, ‘happy’, ‘prosperous’, ‘fortunate’, ‘lucky’, ‘well’
and ‘right’ as adjectives; and ‘good fortune’, ‘happiness’, ‘prosperity’,
‘good conduct’, ‘virtue’, ‘gold’ and ‘heaven’ as nouns; in some Sanskrit
texts kalyāṇa also appears as a proper name or part of one.4 For the second component mitra, the equivalents in the dictionary are: ‘a friend’,
‘companion’, ‘associate’, ‘a friend connected by a blood-relationship’
and ‘an ally’, but it is also used as the proper name of some gods and
deities.5
In Monier-Williams’s Dictionary the compound kalyāṇamitra
is defined as: ‘a friend of virtue’, ‘a well-wishing friend’ and ‘a good
counsellor’.6 It is important to remark here that the Dictionary only hints
to a couple of Buddhist sources that use the word kalyāṇamitra, from
which we can conclude that the compound was unknown in classical
and pre-classical Sanskrit and was adopted only by Buddhists; thus it is
a specifically Buddhist term.
http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/2014/web/webtc2/index.php
(13.09.2015).
5
Ibid. (13.09.2015).
6
Ibid. (13.09.2015).
4

On the Meaning of ‘Good Friendship’ in Buddhism

168

In Edgerton’s Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary, the word
kalyāṇamitra is explained as a ‘good friend, regularly said of one (not as
a rule a Buddha) who helps in conversion or religious progress’.7
In Nyanatiloka’s Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines, the definition of the Pāli word kalyānamitta is given—with references to the
main sources—as:
‘noble (or good) friend’, is called a senior monk who is the mentor and
friend of his pupil, “wishing for his welfare and concerned with his
progress”, guiding his meditation; in particular, the meditation teacher
(kammaṭṭhānācariya) is so called. For details see Vis.M. III, 28,57ff. The
Buddha said that “noble friendship is the entire holy life” (S. III, 18; XLV,
2), and he himself is the good friend par excellence: “Ānanda, it is owing to
my being a good friend to them that living beings subject to birth are freed
from birth” (S. III, 18).8

In Tibetan the standard translations of kalyāṇamitra are dge ba’i bshes
gnyen or dge ba’i grogs, both of which mean ‘virtuous companion’ or
‘virtuous associate’. In the Rangjung Yeshe’s Tibetan-English Dharma
Dictionary, dge ba’i bshes gnyen is defined as ‘spiritual friend, kalyāṇamitra, spiritual guide, guru, spiritual mentor; good friend, virtuous
friend, spiritual or religious teacher; abbr. as dge bshes; the words ‘bshes
gnyen, bshes gnyen dam pa or bsten bya slob dpon’ are also used as
synonyms.9
In Chinese, kalyāṇamitra is rendered as 善知識 shàn zhī shì (literally
‘good knowledge’) or 善友 shàn yǒu (literally ‘good friend’). Soothill
and Hodous’s Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms defines 善知識 as:
‘a good friend or intimate, one well known and intimate’; 善友 however,
in a slightly different way as ‘a friend of virtue, a religious counsellor’ or
‘a friend in the good life, or one who stimulates to goodness’.10
Finally, in the Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism we find the following
definition for kalyāṇamitra:
7
http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/BHSScan/2014/web/webtc2/index.php
(13.09.2015).
8
http://www.budsas.org/ebud/bud-dict/dic3_k.htm (13.09.2015).
9
http://www.nitartha.org/dictionary_search04.html (14.09.2015).
10
http://www.wisdomlib.org/buddhism/compilation/a-dictionary-of-chinese-buddhistterms/d/doc6764.html#page-368 (13.09.2015).

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Märt Läänemets

A ‘good friend’; any person who can act as a reliable spiritual friend or
adviser. In some forms of Buddhism such persons are normally one’s teachers and preceptors, but more widely and especially in the Mahāyāna, it can
be anyone who is sufficiently mature and experienced in the practice of
the Dharma. Early sources in particular, for example the Sigālovādasutta
emphasize the importance of keeping the right company and avoiding the
fellowship of those who are drunkards and gamblers.11

In modern translations, Buddhist books and books on Buddhism,
kalyāṇamitra/kalyānamitta is rendered in several ways by different
authors. I give here just a few of the most used examples without references: spiritual friend, spiritual benefactor, good friend, admirable
friend, noble friend, benevolent friend, beneficial friend, and teacher.
I myself preferred ‘benevolent friend’ in some earlier works12, but here
follow Conze and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s clearer and simpler translation ‘good
friend’.
In the following sections I present and discuss the concepts of
‘good friend’ and ‘good friendship’ as they appear in the Pāli canon
and in two of the most venerated Mahāyāna sūtras: the Aṣṭasāhasrikā
Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra and Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra. On the basis of a few
representative excerpts from the source texts, I have tried to demonstrate
how these concepts were understood and valued in different texts and
traditions of Buddhism and outline some conclusions.
‘Good friend’ and ‘good friendship’ in the Pāli canon
In the Pāli canon the abstract word kalyāṇamittatā (‘good friendship’)
appears time and again, especially in the context of Buddha explaining
the necessary conditions and prerequisites that precede one’s spiritual
maturing. ‘Good friendship’ means having ‘good friends’ as guides and
companions to support one’s efforts towards good and particularly to
accomplish Dharma.
One of the most well-known and widely cited examples of
kalyāṇamittatā as the highest value possible is from the Upaḍḍhasutta
(Sn 45:2). Here Buddha disputes his disciple Ānanda’s argument that
‘good friendship’ is just half of holy life (brahmacariyaṃ):
11
12

Keown et al. 2003: 135.
e.g. Läänemets 2012.

On the Meaning of ‘Good Friendship’ in Buddhism

170

“Venerable sir, this is half of the holy life, that is, good friendship, good
companionship, good comradeship.”
“Not so, Ānanda! Not so, Ānanda! This is the entire holy life, Ānanda,
that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship. When a
bhikkhu has a good friend, a good companion, a good comrade, it is to be
expected that he will develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path.”13

Here and elsewhere synonyms for kalyāṇamittatā occur, such as
kalyāṇasahāyatā (‘good companionship’) and kalyāṇasampavaṅkatā
(‘good comradeship’), but they must be considered a typical way in early
Buddhist discourse for better memorizing what was said, rather than
having any substantial meaning. What the Buddha is obviously stressing
here is that ‘good friendship’ and ‘good friend’ are by no means collateral items, but they are very basis of any spiritual effort and advancement.
In the Kalyāṇamittasutta (Sn 45:49), Buddha tells a simile where he
teaches that just as dawn is the precursor to the rising sun, ‘good friendship’ is the forerunner of the Noble Eightfold Path.:
Bhikkhus, this is the forerunner and precursor of the rising of the sun, that
is, the dawn. So too, bhikkhus, for a bhikkhu this is the forerunner and precursor for the arising of the Noble Eightfold Path, that is, good friendship.
When a bhikkhu has a good friend, it is to be expected that he will develop
and cultivate this Noble Eightfold Path.14

Who is one’s ‘good friend’ that guides them along the Noble Eightfold
Path? In the same Upaḍḍhasutta cited above, Buddha explains that their
first and utmost ‘good friend’ is nobody else but himself:
[…] by relying upon me as a good friend, Ānanda, 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, displeasure, and despair are freed from sorrow, lamentation,
pain, displeasure, and despair. By this method, Ānanda, it may be understood how the entire holy life is good friendship, good companionship, good
comradeship.”15

13
14
15

https://suttacentral.net/en/sn45.2 (14.09.2015).
https://suttacentral.net/en/sn45.49 (14.09.2015).
https://suttacentral.net/en/sn45.2 (16.09.2015).

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Further, ‘good friendship’ is defined by the Buddha as opposite to ‘bad
friendship’ (pāpamittatā) in the Dovadacassatāsutta (An 6:115):
“Good friendship is to be developed for abandoning bad friendship.”16

Also (An 1:94–95):
“Bhikkhus, I do not see even a single thing that leads to such great harms as
bad friendship. Bad friendship leads to great harms. Bhikkhus, I do not see
even a single thing that leads to such great good as good friendship. Good
friendship leads to great good.”17

In the Sovacassatāsutta (An 7:35), ‘good friendship’ is listed among seven qualities that lead to the success of a bhikkhu: (1) reverence for the
Teacher, (2) reverence for the Dhamma, (3) reverence for the Sangha, (4)
reverence for the training, (5) reverence for concentration, (6) being easy
to correct, and (7) good friendship.18
Finally, in the Mittasutta (An 6:67) a didactic list of six achievements
is given that a bhikkhu can accomplish while having ‘good friends’:
“Bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has good friends, good companions, and good
comrades, when he follows, resorts to, and attends upon good friends and
follows their example, (1) it is possible that he will fulfil the duty of proper
conduct, (2) it is possible that he will fulfil the duty of a trainee, (3) it is
possible that he will fulfil virtuous behavior. Having fulfilled virtuous behavior, (4) it is possible that he will abandon sensual lust, (5) lust for form,
and (6) lust for the formless.”19

We can see that in all the examples cited above, ‘good friendship’ is
treated specifically in the context of Buddha’s teaching that it is the very
basis of one’s development on the Noble Eightfold Path. Buddha himself
or (as assumed) somebody else who is already emancipated on this way,
is considered to be a good friend. Those who prevent one’s advancement
along the Noble Eightfold Path and encourage one not to develop good
16
17
18
19

Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012: 988.
Ibid.: 103.
Ibid.: 1021.
Ibid.: 968.

On the Meaning of ‘Good Friendship’ in Buddhism

172

qualities, but instead lead one to develop opposite (bad) qualities, are
bad friends.
There is one text however—the Dīghajāṇusutta (An 8:54)—where
‘good friendship’ is taught in another way due to the audience being different, i.e. not bhikkhus, but a lay person in the form of a young villager
from Koliyana called Dīghajāṇu. Here Buddha explains ‘good friendship’ in terms understandable to a commoner who has not yet entered
into the spiritual way or to whom the Noble Eightfold Path has not yet
arisen. On the request of Dīghajāṇu to teach “[…] Dhamma in a way
that will lead to our welfare and happiness in this present life and in
the future lives”, Buddha teaches him four things: accomplishment in
initiative, accomplishment in protection, good friendship, and balanced
living. Later he explains all four and gives a definition for ‘good friendship’:
And what is good friendship? Here, in whatever village or town a clansman
lives, he associates with householders or their sons—whether young but
of mature virtue, or old and of mature virtue—who are accomplished in
faith, virtuous behavior, generosity, and wisdom; he converses with them
and engages in discussion with them. Insofar as they are accomplished in
faith; insofar as they are accomplished in virtuous behavior; insofar as they
are accomplished in generosity, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in generosity; insofar as they are accomplished in wisdom,
he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in wisdom. This is
called good friendship.20

From these examples we see that the meaning of ‘good friendship’ in the
Pāli canon is not narrow and doctrinal, but universal. It comprises ethical rules for a harmonious social life between commoners not (yet) educated in Buddha’s doctrines, vinaya rules for the bhikkhu community
(Sangha), and rules for a spiritual life in the proper sense, i.e. developing
along the Noble Eightfold Path. ‘Good friends’ may be—depending on
subjects and circumstances—Buddha or advanced bhikkhus, but also
community members (commoners) whose knowledge, wisdom and good
manners are to be taken as an example for others to follow in order to
develop good qualities. The doctrine of ‘good friendship’ may thus be

20

Ibid.: 1194.

173

Märt Läänemets

understood as the very basis of social theory, practice and education
among early Buddhists, i.e. a positive model based on the experiences of
traditional human communities.
‘Good friendship’ in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
The Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (Perfection of Wisdom
Sūtra in Eight Thousand Lines) is universally considered as the oldest
Mahāyāna scripture. As developing Buddha’s teaching in an innovative
new way—but still based on the same fundamental principles that were
delivered in the Pāli canon and temporarily parallel to it the textual corpora (e.g., Āgamas of the Sarvāstiāda school)—it is not surprising that
the topic of ‘good friendship’ is not avoided in the Perfection of Wisdom
Sūtra. In Chapter 22 titled Kalyāṇamitra, Buddha discusses with his disciple Subhūti (his main disciple and interlocutor in most chapters of this
sūtra) the topic of a ‘good friend’. The initial part of this discussion runs:
The Lord: A Bodhisattva which sets out with earnest intention from the
very beginning tends, loves and honors good friends.
Subhuti: Who are these good friends of a Bodhisattva?
The Lord: The Buddhas and Lords, and also the irreversible Bodhisattvas
who are skilful in the Bodhisattva-course, and which instruct and admonish
one in the perfections, who demonstrate and expound perfection of wisdom.
The perfection of wisdom in particular is regarded as a Bodhisattva’s good
friend. All the six perfections, in fact, are good friends of a Bodhisattva.
These are one’s Teacher, one’s path, light, torch, illumination, one’s shelter,
refuge, place of rest, one’s final relief, island, mother, father, and these lead
one to this sublime revealing of undifferentiated awareness and this inherent pure cognition herein, to understanding, to full enlightenment. For it is
in these perfections this perfection of wisdom is accomplished.21

In the first sentence, a ‘good friend’ is dealt with in a rather traditional
way similar to in the Pāli canon. ‘Good friends’ of a bodhisattva are fully emancipated persons such as Buddhas and Lords (buddha-bhagavatas) and irreversible Bodhisattvas (avartanīyā bodhisattvā mahāsatvās).
Further the discussion is getting more interesting, as some new aspects
21

Edward Conze’s translation: Conze 1973: 236.

On the Meaning of ‘Good Friendship’ in Buddhism

174

of ‘good friendship’ are delivered. A crucial point here is that the ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ itself in particular is said to be the ‘good friend’ of
a bodhisattva. Who or what is this ‘Perfection of Wisdom’? Mäll states
that ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ (prajñāpāramitā) is a state of mind qualified as higher or ultimate (in Buddhist terms the completely awakened
mind which is the aim of a bodhisattva’s attempts), and also the texts that
represent such a state of mind. In Mäll’s own words:
[…] the Buddhist who participated in the creation of the Prajñāpāramitā
sūtras saw both meanings as equal: the text meant for him the objectivized
mind or the objectivized aspect of the mind, the ultimate state of mind—
the subjective aspect of the structure that was meaningful for him in the
Prajñāpāramitā sūtras.22

Most likely the ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ mentioned in the Kalyāṇamitra
chapter as the ‘good friend’ of a bodhisattva is the text of the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra and in particular the sūtra text written down, i.e.
the book (taking into account the fact that elsewhere in the sūtra the
importance of the ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ as a precisely written text is
stressed). The novelty of the statement lays in the fact that here not only
a certain person but also the texts—the Dharma itself—are seen as the
‘good friend’ of a bodhisattva. It may be understood as a turning point in
the transmission of Buddhist teaching from solely oral to using written
text as a medium.
It is also said that all ‘Six Perfections’—in addition to the Perfection
of Wisdom, the Perfection of Giving (dānapāramitā), the Perfection of
Morality (śīlapāramitā), the Perfection of Endurance (kṣāntipāramitā),
the Perfection of Vigour (vīryapāramitā), and the Perfection of Contemplation (dhyānapāramitā)—should be considered as ‘good friends’. All
are mental and behavioural patterns that must be obtained by a bodhisattva, but are also the subjects of learning (dharmas) presented in the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra that lead one towards the ultimate Perfection
of Wisdom (as ‘good friends’ in the human form do). ‘Good friends’ in
the form of written texts (books) must be respected in the same way as
‘good friends’ in human form for both are priceless sources of Dharma.

22

Mäll 2005: 62.

175

Märt Läänemets

‘Good friendship’ in the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra
The Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra or Supreme Array Scripture (following Douglas
Osto’s interpretation and rendering of the title23) is one of the best known
of the Mahāyāna sūtras. Leaving aside a description of its form, content
and main tenets—for it is done elsewhere24 —I focus here on some aspects of the topic of ‘good friendship’ that pervade this scripture, which
could fully justify it being called the “Good Friendship Scripture”.25
This sūtra is composed of a collection of pilgrimage stories. Not just
a loose collection, but purposely arranged and connected by the main
protagonist—the youth Sudhana—who seeks ‘Supreme Perfect Awakening’ (anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi) in order to start the ‘bodhisattva
career’ or ‘bodhisattva conduct’ (bodhisattvacaryā). Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of knowledge and wisdom, “the mother of all Buddhas” as he is
characterized elsewhere in the sūtra, recognizes in him a highly talented
young man full of potential, one with a ‘wholesome root’ (kuśalamūla).
Instead of educating Sudhana himself, Mañjuśrī gives him advice:
If you, noble son, want to accomplish the omniscience, the first concern,
the essential course of things is respect, reverence, and attendance to good
friends. Therefore, noble son, you should tirelessly seek for the attendance
to good friends.26

Further:
Hard to find, noble son, are beings who have settled their mind on supreme
perfect awakening. Even harder to find are those beings who, having settled their mind on the supreme perfect awakening, search all around the
bodhisattva conduct. Therefore, noble son, the bodhisattva should attain
full confidence in the good friends to attain the knowledge of the omniscient one. One should with tireless mind seek for good friends. He should
with eagerness look for good friends. He should with respect follow the

See Osto 2009.
Osto 2008; Läänemets 2012.
25
Kalyāṇamitra as a subtopic is discussed in a more detailed way in Läänemets 2012: 61–66.
26
Vaidya 1960: 46. Here and below, all excerpts from the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra are in my own
translation.
23

24

On the Meaning of ‘Good Friendship’ in Buddhism

176

instructions of good friends. He should with no hostility practice the skilful
means of the good friends.27

It is in full accord with the statement in the Pāli canon that “[…] good
friendship is the entire holy life.” Mañjuśrī insists that Sudhana makes
the effort to look for ‘good friends’ who can teach him how to obtain
the necessary knowledge and experience to start the bodhisattva career. Sudhana follows his instructions and one by one visits more than
fifty ‘good friends’, with each one transmitting to him their specific
knowledge and experience or the ‘gate to the bodhisattva’s insight’
(bodhisattvasamādhi-mukha). Through these gates Sudhana advances
step by step until he reaches the climax that is the total all integrating insight of the great bodhisattva Samantabhadra or ‘The Universally Good
One’. His name is another way to describe the ultimate state of mind
previously referred to as the Perfection of Wisdom or Supreme Perfect
Awakening.
In the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra, ‘good friends’ are teachers each selected
and recommended by the previous one according to Sudhana’s stage
of accomplishment. As such, this sūtra seems to have contributed a lot
to the forming of the meaning of kalyāṇamitra as an advanced teacher
(senior monk in later Mahāyāna). At the same time, in the Supreme Array Scripture the concept of a ‘good friend’ is universalized, i.e. in the
role of Sudhana’s ‘good friends’ appear many personalities of very different status and affiliations: from bhikshu to prostitute, peddler to king,
and children to great gods/goddesses. This demonstrates that the authors
of the scripture wanted to insist upon readers that a bodhisattva’s education must be universal and no branch of permitted knowledge or activities should be avoided in one’s genuine bodhisattva career.
Almost at every step of Sudhana’s pilgrimage the reader is reminded
of how important devotion and reverence to ‘good friends’ is, including via descriptions of Sudhana’s emotional outbursts of gratitude. An
important list of rules (Ten No’s) and fifty arguments on how a bodhisattva should think and behave towards ‘good friends’—containing a quintessence of the didactic principles of a bodhisattva’s education in early
Mahāyāna—are given later on in the sūtra:
27

Ibid.: 47.

177

Märt Läänemets

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

One should not tire of seeking good friends.
One should not be dissatisfied in seeing good friends.
One should not become complacent while questioning good friends.
One should not reverse from being happy in the company of good
friends.
One should not cease striving to respectfully attend to good friends.
One should not act against the advice or instructions of good friends.
One should not be hesitant while obtaining the qualities of good
friends.
One should not have doubts in the ways of emancipation shown by
good friends.
One should not malign the acts of good friends in order to make world
to develop their work.
One should not give up with body and mind increasing one’s faith in
good friends.

Why so?
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.

Listening to all the conducts of bodhisattvas depends on good friends.
Perfection of all virtues of bodhisattvas comes from good friends.
Streams of all vows of bodhisattvas comes from good friends.
All wholesome roots of bodhisattvas are produced by good friends.
All provisions of bodhisattvas are provided by good friends.
All views of bodhisattvas on the gates of dharmas are issued by good
friends.
All purifications of the gates to the paths of awakening of bodhisattvas
are generated by good friends.
All accomplishments of the studies of bodhisattvas are gained from
good friends.
All dharmas of the virtues of bodhisattvas are set up by good friends.
All purifications of the first intents of bodhisattvas are rooted in good
friends.
All the steadfastness of bodhisattvas is born of good friends.
All views on the gates of the oceanic mental command and intelligence
of bodhisattvas are guided by good friends.
All treasures of the means of purifications of bodhisattvas are sustained by good friends.
All views on the knowledge of bodhisattvas are generated by good
friends.
All distinguished features of the vows of bodhisattvas come from the
hands of good friends.
Concentration on one single object is considered most important by
good friends.

On the Meaning of ‘Good Friendship’ in Buddhism

178

17. All faith in the distinguished attainments of bodhisattvas is based on
good friends.
18. All foundations of the secrets of bodhisattvas come from the treasury
of good friends.
19. All dharmas of bodhisattvas are mined from the mines of good
friends.
20. All sprouts of the power of faculties of bodhisattvas are fostered by
good friends.
21. All the oceans of the knowledge of bodhisattvas are expounded by
good friends.
22. All treasuries of bodhisattvas are guarded by good friends.
23. All accumulations of merits of bodhisattvas are protected by good
friends.
24. All purities of the life of bodhisattvas are generated by good friends.
25. All clouds of dharmas of bodhisattvas come from the mouth of good
friends.
26. All entries into the path of emancipation of bodhisattvas are kept by
good friends.
27. All the awakening of buddhas are attained with the blessing of good
friends.
28. All conducts of bodhisattvas are cared for by good friends.
29. All developments of the virtues of bodhisattvas are illumined by good
friends.
30. All directions followed by bodhisattvas are shown by good friends.
31. All the greatness of will of bodhisattvas is told by good friends.
32. Power of the great friendliness of bodhisattvas is generated by good
friends.
33. Power of the great compassion of bodhisattvas is generated by good
friends.
34. All the sovereignty of bodhisattvas is cared for by good friends.
35. All limbs of the awakening are generated by good friends.
36. All charitable skills of bodhisattvas originate from good friends.
37. Sustained by good friends, bodhisattvas do not fall into bad ways.
38. Cared for by good friends, bodhisattvas do not turn away from the
Mahāyāna.
39. Minded by good friends, bodhisattvas do not oversteps the precepts of
the bodhisattvas.
40. Guarded by good friends, bodhisattvas do not come under the sway of
bad friends.
41. Protected by good friends, bodhisattvas do not deviate from the dharmas of bodhisattvas.
42. Cared for by good friends, bodhisattvas go beyond the stage of ordinary men.

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Märt Läänemets

43. Taught by good friends, bodhisattvas do not degenerate to the level
of śrāvakas (‘listeners’) and pratyekabuddhas (‘awakened ones for
themselves’).
44. Hidden by good friends, bodhisattvas rise above the world.
45. Educated by good friends, bodhisattvas become undefiled by the
worldly dharmas.
46. Attended by good friends, bodhisattvas become heedful and alert in
all conduct.
47. Roused by good friends, bodhisattvas do not turn off from their undertakings.
48. Cared for by good friends, bodhisattvas become invulnerable to the
defilements of the karmic deeds.
49. Based on the power of good friends, bodhisattvas become indestructible to all devils.
50. In association with good friends, bodhisattvas can develop all limbs of
awakening.28

Conclusions
‘Good friends’ and ‘good friendship’ have been universal principles of
Buddhism from the very beginning of the tradition. In early sources like
the Pāli canon and early Mahāyāna sūtras they are treated with great
attention. The concept of ‘good friendship’ is based on the early Buddhists’ understanding that any kind of spiritual education and transmission of knowledge and experience from mind to mind could only be
possible in a social context involving an immediate interaction of personalities. Following the textual sources referred to in this essay, I derive
some observations.
In the Pāli canon, ‘good friend’ in most cases means advanced advisor, senior Sangha member and (first of all) Buddha himself, whose
duty it is to instruct juniors in the spirit of Buddhist precepts to guide
them along the Noble Eightfold Path (Buddhist way of life). The need
for juniors to permanently attend to ‘good friends’ is always stressed. In
a wider sense, ‘good friendship’ means the universal personal network
which ensures transmission of ethical norms and knowledge that brings
good and benefits to the members of any community.
In the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra, the meaning of ‘good friend’ is developed meaning all kinds of agents and media including both advanced
28

Vaidya 1960: 363–4.

On the Meaning of ‘Good Friendship’ in Buddhism

180

teachers (buddhas and advanced bodhisattvas) and written or oral texts.
The Perfection of Wisdom text highlights the content or message (especially that labelled as Perfection of Wisdom) transmitted as the cause of
reverence, rather than social human relationships as emphasized in the
Pāli canon.
In the Supreme Array Scripture, ‘good friendship’ is universalized
into a semi-mystical partly supramundane institution that entering into
is an absolute cause and precondition of spiritual emancipation. The description however follows that of the Pāli canon in the sense that ‘good
friends’ are exclusively persons—including the divine ones like great
bodhisattvas, gods and goddesses—rather than the more abstract treatment found in the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra. Rich literary style and
powerful expression of the Supreme Array Scripture have made this
sūtra enormously popular in Mahāyāna countries and it has contributed
at most to transform the institution of ‘good friends’ into the canonized
form in later Mahāyāna.

References
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