In a previous lifetime, Ananda was once a newly appointed king who had so many people in his court asking favors of him, that he came and asked a wise cultivator, who was a previous incarnation of the Buddha, “How can I recognize whether someone is a friend or a foe?”
- When they see you, they neither smile,
- Nor do they welcome you or look towards you.
- Generally, they prefer to say no to you.
- They honor your enemies,
- And do not care for your friends.
- They stop those who praise you from doing so,
- And they praise and encourage those who slander you, especially those who slander you behind your back.
- They do not tell you their secrets,
- But they betray your secrets, telling them to others.
- They never speak well of you,
- And they never praise your wisdom.
- They do not rejoice at your welfare,
- But only rejoice when people speak ill of you.
- If they receive some delicacies, they will not think of sharing them with you.
- They never pity you,
- And they do not publicly state that they are friends with you.
“If you see or hear someone perform any of these sixteen deeds,” the Buddha told the king, “then he or she is your foe, and not your friend.” The Buddha then continued by giving the king a corresponding list of deeds that indicate someone is your friend:
- When they see you, they smile.
- They think of you when you are absent, and they delight in seeing you when you return, welcoming you with their voice.
- They often say yes to you.
- They never honor your enemies,
- And love to serve your friends.
- They stop those who slander you from doing so,
- And they commend those who praise you.
- They tell you their secrets,
- And they will never betray your secrets.
- They always speak well of everything you do,
- And they love to praise your wisdom.
- When they hear of your good fortune, they are happy,
- And they suffer when others speak ill of you.
- Should they receive some delicacy, they immediately think to share it with you.
- They pity you,
- And if you are hurt, they would cry for you, saying, “Oh, my poor friend.”
To this list, I might add that a friend will not speak ill of you to others behind your back, and will only point out your flaws to you privately, in person.
Although it can be helpful to know who our friends are and who our enemies are, it is important to remember that, from the Buddhist’s perspective, we should not grasp at either friends or foes.
Someone wonders what if there are people who sometimes do the deeds of a friend, and sometimes those of a foe? In this case, you may have to trust your gut feeling as to which of their actions are most significant. And ultimately, time will tell who is a true friend and who is a true foe. There is a Vietnamese proverb: “You need to stay up late to know how long the night is.” In other words, when you know someone long enough, you will become very familiar with how they act, which ultimately is the best indicator of their true character.
Another person asks: “According to Buddhism, isn’t everyone your friend?” Answer: “No! The demons are not your friends. If you recognize a demon, run!” Very often your closest friends, those who you depend on the most, turn out to be demons that obstruct your cultivation.
When you recognize your enemy, do you run? Actually, that’s not what a good cultivator would do. Rather, one should draw near one’s enemies and try to help them become better people. For instance, do you want to know how to help those who are two-faced and deceptive? You have to draw near them and be prepared to let them hurt you.
The Buddha himself is a good example of this. Just before the he became enlightened, and after the he defeated the demon king’s armies, the demon king sent his beautiful daughters to tempt the Buddha. But the Buddha quickly turned them away by pointing out that they are no more than “stinking skin bags”. As a result, the demon king became curious how the Buddha could remain unmoved by all his attacks and temptations, and he went to visit the Buddha, wondering whether the Buddha knew something that he did not. The Buddha took this opportunity to speak Dharma for the demon king, who was then able to attain First Stage Arhatship. Here we see how, by patiently enduring his attacks, the Buddha was eventually able to help the demon king. Thus, sometimes you have to let people hurt you before you can teach them. There is a price to pay for helping others.