Friendship (mittatà or sakkhi) is a close, loving and non-sexual relationship between two or more people and is the human relationship that the Buddha praised above all others. Most commonly he spoke of ordinary friends, those usually referred to as chums, mates or acquaintances, (mitta, sakha and sambhatta), people we like, we get on well with, socialize with but with whom our connection is not deep. Closer to us are what the Buddha called loving friends, heart friends or bosom friends (mitta sahada), or sometimes true friends (sahàya or samdiññha), those of whom we can say we really love. Typically, people have only one or two such friends, they are usually the same gender as themselves, and their relationship with such friends not uncommonly last a lifetime. Such friends may not see each other for years, then meet again and take up as if they only saw each other last week. Anurudha told the Buddha that the loving companionship between he and his friends meant that they were `different in body but one in mind' (kàyà eka¤ ca pana ma¤¤a cittaü, M.III,156).
In the Sigalovàda Sutta the Buddha enumerated what he considered the virtues of a loving friend. These include giving more of anything you ask for, reassuring you when you are frightened, being constant through thick and thin, rejoicing in your successes, looking after you when you are off your guard, discouraging you from doing wrong and encouraging you to do good, confiding in you and keeping the confidences you share. A loving friend might, should the need ever arise, risk his or her life for you (D.III,187). The Jàtakas says of a loving friend: `An ordinary friend will go seven steps for you, a loving friend will go twelve. If he does so for a fortnight or a month he is family, more than that and he is your second self' (Ja.I,365). These virtues imply kindness, unstinting generosity, loyalty, sympathetic joy and absolute openness and trust. One will, the Buddha said; `cherish and nurture such a friend as a mother does the child of her own breast'(D.III,188).
When two people's loving friendship includes a significant spiritual element they become what the Buddha called kalyàõa mitta and their relationship is called kalyàõa mittatà. A kalyàõa mitta is the ideal friend and kalyàõa mittatà is the supreme human relationship. Kalyàõa literally means `beautiful' or `lovely' although the Buddha was not referring to physical attractiveness but inner beauty, the beauty of integrity, kind-heartedness, virtue and love of the Dhamma.
The Buddha described a beautiful friend as being `loving, pleasant, a good mentor, experienced, committed, able to explain things well, having profound understanding, and being concerned with your welfare' (A.IV,32). And he spoke of beautiful friendship like this. `What is spiritual friendship? Concerning this, whether living in a village or town one consorts with, comes together with, associates and discusses with people, whether young or old, who are full of faith, virtue, generosity and wisdom. One emulates the faith of the faithful, the virtue of the virtuous, the generosity of the generous and the wisdom of the wise. This is called spiritual friendship' (A.IV,282).
While the Buddha emphasized that the Dhamma has to be `attained by the wise each for himself' (M.I,37) he also stressed that this cannot be done in isolation from others. Being self-confidently independent is important, but it needs to be balanced with the emotional sustenance that friendship offers. `Ananda said to the Lord, ßSpiritual friendship, intimacy and partnership are half of the holy life.û The Lord replied, ßNot so Ananda! Not so! Spiritual friendship, intimacy and partnership are all of the holy life. When one has a spiritual friend, a spiritual intimate, a spiritual partner it can be expected that he will develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Pathû.' (S.V,2). See Faithfulness.
Buddhism and Friendship, Subhuti, 2004.