One of the most famous suttas in the Pali cannon, the Upaddha Sutta, contains an exchange between the Buddha and Ananda about admirable friendship.
In the sutta Ananda says to the Buddha,
“This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”
The Buddha disagrees. He says that Ananda should not say that. The Buddha then goes on to say,
“Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.”
In the case of a monk, the Buddha says that if one has admirable friends than they will be able to make their way on the Eightfold Path.
Among lay people, the Buddha said that a person who befriends another person who is advanced in virtue will begin to emulate the conviction and virtue of that person. In that way, admirable friends nurture the good qualities of those they commune with.
In Zen, it’s often the teacher-student relationship. In Pureland, it may be hearing the Name. In some esoteric Buddhist practices, if one venerates a celestial Buddha or a Bodhisattva one may be letting the wholesome virtues of the being “rub off” on them.
Honen was an interesting case. His encounter with at least one admirable friend came in the form of a commentary by Shandao. One’s encounter can happen in many different ways and many different mediums.
Such a teaching can be found in other contexts as well.
In the Dragon Ball series, many of Goku’s friends have tried to kill him. It has practically become a trope for Goku’s good nature to influence his enemies, such as Piccolo and Vegeta, until they change their evil ways. Even the unrepentant Frieza, who hates everything that Goku represents, learned to put his trust in the saiyan during the Tournament of Power. During the same arc, its revealed that Goku’s strength comes from his relationships. His own development is nurtured by those he cares about.
The Dharma is found in many ways, but it tends to be found more easily when beings encounter one another. May we meet each other in friendship as we take our journey upon the Way.
Namo Amida Bu
Image from Pinterest. Dragonball series characters by Akira Toriyama.