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Good and Evil Friends

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“Having good friends and advancing together with them is not half the Buddha way but all the Buddha way.”[1]1. April 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 57.
—Shakyamuni

Buddhism is referred to as the “inner way,” finding both the causes and solutions to human problems within the hearts and minds of human beings themselves. However, it also acknowledges the power of external influences in steering us toward enlightenment and happiness on the one hand, or toward illusion and misery on the other.

A Buddhist concept that addresses this point is “good friends and evil friends.”

Making Everything and Everyone Our Good Friends in Faith

In Nichiren Buddhism, the premise of this concept lies in the teaching that everything and everyone, whether initially good or bad, can function as our good friends that help us deepen our faith. Rather than label people as good or bad, no matter the person or the situation in front of us, we must simply decide to positively respond and create the greatest value.

To do this, we need to strive to perceive even our most difficult circumstances and fiercest opponents as the fuel for overcoming our weaknesses, improving our character and proving the power of faith in Nichiren Buddhism.

SGI President Ikeda writes: “You can forge the path to a fulfilling and enjoyable life if you have the depth of faith to regard everything as a source for creating happiness and value. Conversely, if you see everything in a negative or pessimistic light, your life will gradually but inevitably be plunged into darkness. Buddhism teaches the subtle principle of one’s determination and, moreover, the power of faith” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, pp. 4–5).

Good Friends Are a Rarity

In Buddhism, good friends lead people to the correct teaching and guide them to develop their faith in and practice of this correct teaching.

Nichiren Daishonin says: “The best way to attain Buddhahood is to encounter a good friend. How far can our own wisdom take us? If we have even enough wisdom to distinguish hot from cold, we should seek out a good friend.

“But encountering a good friend is the hardest possible thing to do . . . Moreover, in this evil latter age, evil companions are more numerous than the dust particles that comprise the land, while good friends are fewer than the specks of dirt one can pile on a fingernail” (“Three Tripitaka Masters Pray for Rain,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 598).

Such rare and good friends in faith not only refer to people, such as teachers in Buddhism and fellow Buddhist practitioners, but also refer to the correct teaching of Buddhism itself and the harmonious community of believers that provides support and direction in Buddhist practice. Mentors are key, because they convey the correct teaching while demonstrating through their own example how to apply the ideals and philosophy of Buddhism amid the realities of daily life as they strive to lead countless people on the path to lasting happiness.

Evil Friends Can Be Hard to Detect

Evil friends, on the other hand, are those who intentionally cause people to fall into evil paths of suffering by attempting to obstruct their Buddhist practice and lead them away from the correct teaching.

Describing the sly and tricky nature of evil friends, Nichiren states, “Evil friends will employ enticing words, deception and flattery and speak in a clever manner, thereby gaining control over the minds of ignorant and uninformed people and destroying the good minds that are in them” (“On Reciting the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-2, 221).

The world today is filled with people whose views, beliefs and actions run counter to the heart of the Lotus Sutra to uphold life’s inherent dignity. Therefore, an all-important aspect of our Buddhist practice is to develop, through strong faith and practice, the wisdom to clearly perceive such influences and the courage to confront and resist people who function to sway us from our Buddhist practice.

Shakyamuni and His “Foremost Good Friend,” Devadatta

Good and evil in Buddhism are not separate and distinct; both exist in all people and things—in all phenomena. Therefore, a person is not exclusively good or exclusively evil.

The story of Shakyamuni and Devadatta is a prime example of how good can arise from evil.

Devadatta was once Shakyamuni’s disciple, but, because of his arrogance and jealousy toward the Buddha, he backslid in faith and plotted to destroy the Buddhist Order. He even went so far as to conspire to kill the Buddha. However, Shakyamuni triumphed over each of Devadatta’s plots.

Because of Devadatta’s malicious actions, Shakyamuni was able to clarify the essence of his teaching. And only because Shakyamuni thoroughly defeated the evil of Devadatta was he able to bring forth the greatest good and establish an indestructible foundation for Buddhism to spread far into the future.

Nichiren states: “Devadatta was the foremost good friend to the Thus Come One Shakyamuni. In this age as well, it is not one’s allies but one’s powerful enemies who assist one’s progress” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 770).

A person who can put their problems in the proper perspective, and tenaciously resolve them with an optimistic spirit to win, no matter what, can find the courage, wisdom and ingenuity to transform even their most powerful enemies into their “foremost good friends.” WT

Notes   [ + ]

1. 1. April 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 57.