Friends and Foes According to Buddhism - Part 1

Buddha with Disciples

Compiled by Jayaram V

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It is difficult to find true friends. It is even more difficult to recognize enemies who pretend to be your friends. Enmity arises not only from attitude but also from actions. Those who involve you in wrong actions are not realy your true friends. This is the message you will find in the following discussion. By the standards laid down in the Buddhist texts some of which are stated below, most of those whom you consider as your friends come under the category of your enemies. According to the Buddha, friends who encourage you to indulge in sinful actions or who trouble you with deception and dishonesty are definitely not your friends, but your enemies since they increase the burden of your karma and contribute to your moral and spiritual downfall. It is therefore important, especially for spiritual people who are by nature very sensitive, to know who your friend is and who is your foe. Jayaram V.


According to the code conduct prescribed in the Digha Nikaya, a laydisciple should be aware of who is a true friend and who is not, because such an awareness would help him avoid the common pitfall of getting into moral and spiritual trouble. It may also help him to shape his future welfare.

Four types of enemies

The Digha Nikaya identifies four types persons who should be viewed as enemies in the guise of friends. They are:

A grasping man.

A smooth spoken man.

A man who speaks only what you want to hear.

A man who helps you waste your money.

Four true friends

There are four types who should be looked upon as true friends. They are:

A man who tries to help you.

A man who is the same in happiness and sorrow.

A man who gives good advice.

A man who is sympathetic to ascetics and brahmans

Those who are foes in the guise of friends

"These four, young householder, should be understood as foes in the guise of friends:

- He who appropriates a friend's possessions,

- He who renders lip-service,

- He who flatters,

- He who brings ruin.

(1) "In four ways, young householder, should one who appropriates be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:

- He appropriates his friend's wealth,

- He gives little and asks much,

- He does his duty out of fear,

- He associates for his own advantage.

(2) "In four ways, young householder, should one who renders lip-service be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:

- He makes friendly profession as regards t- He past,

- He makes friendly profession as regards t- He future,

- He tries to gain one's favor by empty words,

When opportunity for service has arisen, - He expresses his inability.

(3) "In four ways, young householder, should one who flatters be understood as a foe in t- He guise of a friend:

- He approves of his friend's evil deeds,

- He disapproves his friend's good deeds,

- He praises him in his presence,

- He speaks ill of him in his absence.

(4) "In four ways, young householder, should one who brings ruin be understood as a foe in t- He guise of a friend:

- He is a companion in indulging in intoxicants that cause infatuation and - HEedlessness,

- He is a companion in sauntering in streets at unseemly hours,

- He is a companion in frequenting t- HEatrical shows,

- He is a companion in indulging in gambling which causes - HEedlessness."

Thus spoke the Exalted One. And whenn the Master had thus spoken, he spoke yet again:

- The friend who appropriates,

- The friend who renders lip-service,

- The friend that flatters,

the friend who brings ruin, these four as enemies the wise behold, avoid them from afar as paths of peril.

Sigalovada Sutta - The Layman's Code of Discipline

(Excerpts from Everyman's Ethics Four Discourses of the Buddha )

Sigala was the son of a Buddhist family residing at Rajagaha. His parents were devout followers of the Buddha, but the son was indifferent to religion. The pious father and mother could not by any means persuade their son to accompany them to visit the Buddha or his disciples and hear the noble Doctrine.

The son thought it practically useless to pay visits to the Sangha, as such visits may entail material loss. He was only concerned with material prosperity; to him spiritual progress was to no avail.

Constantly he would say to his father: "I will have nothing to do with monks. Paying homage to them would make my back ache, and my knees stiff. I should have to sit on the ground and soil and wear out my clothes.

And when, at the conversations with them, after so sitting, one gets to know them, one has to invite them and give them offerings, and so one only loses by it." Finally as the father was about to die, he called his son to his deathbed, and enquired whether he would at least listen to his parting advice. "Most assuredly, dear father, I shall carry out any order you may be pleased to enjoin on me," he replied.

"Well then, dear son, after your morning bath worship the six quarters." The father asked him to do so hoping that one day or other, while the son was so engaged, the Buddha or his disciples would see him, and make it an occasion to preach an appropriate discourse to him. And since deathbed wishes are to be remembered, Sigala carried out his father's wish, not, however, knowing its true significance.

Now it was the custom of the Buddha to rise from his sleep at four o'clock and after experiencing Nibbanic Bliss for an hour to pervade the whole world with his boundless thoughts of loving-kindness. It is at this hour that he surveys the world with his great compassion to find out what fellow being he could be of service on that day.

One morning Sigala was caught in the net of the Buddha's compassion; and with his vision the Buddha, seeing that Sigala could be shown a better channel for his acts of worship, decided: "This day will I discourse to Sigala on the layman's Vinaya (code of discipline).

That discourse will be of benefit to many folk. There must I go." The Buddha thereon came up to him on his way for alms to Rajagaha; and seeing him engaged in his worship of the six quarters, delivered this great discourse which contains in brief, the whole domestic and social duty of the layman.

Commenting on this Sutta, the Venerable Buddhaghosa says, "Nothing in the duties of a householder is left unmentioned. This Sutta is called the Vinaya of the householder. Hence in one who practices what he has been taught in it, growth is to be looked for, not decay." And Mrs. Rhys Davids adds: "The Buddha's doctrine of love and goodwill between man and man is here set forth in a domestic and social ethics with more comprehensive detail than elsewhere. And truly we may say even now of this Vinaya or code of discipline, so fundamental are the human interests involved, so sane and wide is the wisdom that envisages them, that the utterances are as fresh and practically as binding today and here as they were then at Rajagaha. 'Happy would have been the village or clan on the banks of the Ganges where the people were full of the kindly spirit of fellow-feeling, the noble spirit of justice which breathes through these naive and simple sayings.' Not less happy would be the village, or the family on the banks of the Thames today, of which this could be said."

Those who are warm-hearted friends

"These four, young householder, should be understood as warm-hearted friends:

- He who is a helpmate,

- He who is the same in happiness and sorrow,

- He who gives good counsel,

- He who sympathizes.

(1) "In four ways, young householder, should a helpmate be understood as a warm-hearted friend:

- He guards the heedless,

- He protects the wealth of the heedless,

- He becomes a refuge when you are in danger,

when there are commitments - He provides you with double the supply needed.

(2) "In four ways, young householder, should one who is the same in happiness and sorrow be understood as a warm-hearted friend:

- He reveals his secrets,

- He conceals one's own secrets, in misfortune

- He does not forsake one, his life even

- He sacrifices for one's sake.

(3) "In four ways, young householder, should one who gives good counsel be understood as a warm-hearted friend:

- He restrains one from doing evil,

- He encourages one to do good,

- He informs one of what is unknown to oneself,

- He points out the path to heaven.

(4) "In four ways, young householder, should one who sympathizes be understood as a warm-hearted friend:

- He does not rejoice in one's misfortune,

- He rejoices in one's prosperity,

- He restrains others speaking ill of oneself,

- He praises those who speak well of oneself."

True friend

Thus spoke the Exalted One. And when the Master had thus spoken, - He spoke yet again:

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Source: The Wheel Publication No. 14 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1985). Transcribed from the print edition in 1995 by Barry Kapke under the auspices of the DharmaNet Dharma Book Transcription Project, with the kind permission of the Buddhist Publication Society. Copyright © 1985 Buddhist Publication Society Only the part on friendship has been reproduced here from the essay. This work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted, and redistributed in any medium. It is the author's wish, however, that any such republication and redistribution be made available to the public on a free and unrestricted basis and that translations and other derivative works be clearly marked as such.

Image Attribution: The image of the Buddha used in this article is either in public domain or licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.