Kalyanamitta in Pali means good or beautiful friends while kalyanamittata means good or beautiful friendship. This does not refer to physical beauty but rather the beauty of a person’s character or heart.
Ven Ananda once approached the Buddha and said that having good friends, companionship or brotherhood is half of the holy life. However, the Buddha replied that having good friendship is not half but rather the whole of the holy life. Bhikkhus who associate with kalyanamittas progress along the Noble Eightfold Path – a fact that applies to lay people as well. Such a person learns the Dhamma, develop mindfulness and have better control over his thoughts, speech and actions. He will be more diligent in practice and this will empower him to eradicate greed, hatred and delusion.
A good Buddhist friend tells about what is good and bad. He or she will keep you informed of Dhamma activities. A kalyanamitta doesn’t refer only to your peers but it could be your teacher or even your parents or siblings.
In Dighajanu (or Byagghapajja) Sutta (AN 8:54) that was expounded for lay people, the Buddha defines good friendship as that which exists when
- You associate with those of mature virtue, accomplished in faith, virtue, generosity and wisdom. I suppose these are people who have faith in the Buddha and in kamma, uphold at least the 5 Precepts, are charitable and practise meditation.
- You converse and discuss with them, not on frivolous topics but about Dhamma.
- You emulate them with regards to their accomplishment in faith, virtue, generosity and wisdom. This is most important.
On the other hand, bad friendship means associating with people who are not interested in doing good but are interested in bad or unwholesome actions. There are 4 vices that will deplete one’s wealth, i.e. excessive sexual desire, gambling, taking intoxicants and associating with undesirable friends.
So, it is very important to pick and choose your friends. A good friend will benefit you while a bad one leads you astray. In the Theragatha, verse 95 (attributed to Ven Cakkhupala Thera) says, “I would rather be blind and lost in the jungle, having to crawl on all fours, than walk with an evil companion”. In the Dhammapada (206), it is mentioned that to associate with the noble ones and not having to associate with the unwise brings happiness.
Sometimes however we have no choice but to associate with the undesirable (maybe due to our past kamma), for example, if the unwise happens to be our relative. I know of a case where this young and intelligent lady had taken up medicine after STPM (eqiuv. A levels) in a government university. However, she actually wished to renounce lay life, but her parents strongly objected to it. Since she couldn’t get their blessings, she had reluctantly abandoned the idea temporarily. Now, she has chosen to change her course to education instead, which she actually prefers. It is not to the liking of her parents though, who till now still cannot accept the daughter’s choice of life. This is a case of unavoidably having to associate with the spiritually unwise.
Therefore, to associate with the enlightened and learned brings happiness just like seeing the moon in the constellation. On the other hand, associating with the unwise brings pain and misery, even if sometimes, you don’t even realise that you are suffering. Such a person leads you down the wrong pathway. Therefore, be careful and be selective of whom you choose as your friends!