What is a good person and what is a good friend?

In SN55.5 we get the line:

“Sir, the factors of stream-entry are associating with good people, listening to the true teaching, proper attention, and practicing in line with the teaching.”

“Sappurisasaṃsevo hi, bhante, sotāpattiyaṅgaṃ, saddhammassavanaṃ sotāpattiyaṅgaṃ, yonisomanasikāro sotāpattiyaṅgaṃ, dhammānudhammappaṭipatti sotāpattiyaṅgan”ti.

So if seems that a factor of steam entry is ‘associating with good people’ (sappurisasaṃsevo).

In SN45.2 we have the Buddha suggesting:

Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life.

Sakalamevidaṃ, ānanda, brahmacariyaṃ, yadidaṃ—kalyāṇamittatā kalyāṇasahāyatā kalyāṇasampavaṅkatā.

So I’m wondering how these two terms are related? That is, are we talking about the same thing when we talk about ‘associating with good people’ and ‘Good friends, companions, and associates’? And how should we understand these terms?

My problem is that often people talk about kalyāṇamitta as if they can be puthujjana (an ordinary person who has not yet realised any of the four stages of Awakening), so (in this model) we are all good spiritual friends to each other even if we have no realisations ourselves.

For me, this doesn’t seem correct. How can a friend who is not even a sotāpanna (stream-enterer) be a factor for sotāpatti (stream-entry)? And even more so, how can a friend who has not realised any of the four stages of Awakening be ‘the whole of the path’?

Many thanks for reading.

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I take the example from the bamboo acrobat simile and apply it to friendships.

And how do you look after others by looking after yourself? By development, cultivation, and practice of meditation. And how do you look after yourself by looking after others? By acceptance, harmlessness, love, and sympathy.

Thinking ‘I’ll look after myself,’ you should cultivate mindfulness meditation. Thinking ‘I’ll look after others,’ you should cultivate mindfulness meditation. Looking after yourself, you look after others; and looking after others, you look after yourself.

So if I am looking after myself–by following Buddhist practices to reach awakening–then I should be with someone who also looks after themselves and therefore can help me cultivate wholesome states. I don’t think that this necessarily means they have to be Buddhist even, the qualifications on who to keep around and who to avoid, their a whole list of things and ways to cultivate good qualities in MN 114 since it is shortened by ellipse I’ll put a copy from AN 9.6 on association here,

When I associate with this person, unskillful qualities decline, and skillful qualities grow.

The people who keep you company therefore should show you compassion and allow skillful qualities that lead to stream-entry to grow and the unskillful qualities to decline. The support of friends is very important in our lives, if you’re in social isolation you can probably tell that by now! That means their attainments aren’t as important as much as the qualities that they promote in you, this can also be found in the Sigalaka Sutta (DN 31).

You’re allowed to be an island unto yourself in Buddhism, so it’s not necessary to make sure you’re on the same page in every respect. I think that you can even be on different books as long as the material is similar and you’re cultivating qualities praised by the Buddha. You can see this in AN 7.62 where the Buddha praises good deeds, and AN 4.125 where the Buddha talks about the benefits of metta/brahmaviharas. But the key difference between the Buddha’s teachings and the results of generating pure metta is that it leads to weakening or removing greed, hatred, and delusion. The problem with pure metta is that once their good kamma runs out they are no longer able to stay in heavenly realms and will slide back down but those who understand the dhamma stay there until they reach awakening, all of this is explained in SN 46.54, Full of Love.

Look after yourself and your own actions cultivating what you know to be good, and associate with people who encourage you to keep doing good things and avoid doing bad things. Even if they don’t understand the dhamma, it’ll still help you along the path as long as you are determined enough to be an island of Buddhist understanding–dukkha, annica, anatta-- supported by those who are cultivating brahmaviharas. (People with strong faith in God can be amazingly strong at growing metta!)

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To compound my confusion, in MN8 we get a list of skillful qualities, and some of these seem quite exacting. Not the sort of qualities that we might expect from people who are puthujanna to be of help with, let alone non-Buddhists.

Others will be cruel, but here we will not be cruel.’

‘Others will kill living creatures, but here we will not kill living creatures.’

‘Others will steal, but here we will not steal.’

‘Others will be unchaste, but here we will not be unchaste.’

‘Others will lie, but here we will not lie.’

‘Others will speak divisively, but here we will not speak divisively.’

‘Others will speak harshly, but here we will not speak harshly.’

‘Others will talk nonsense, but here we will not talk nonsense.’

‘Others will be covetous, but here we will not be covetous.’

‘Others will have ill will, but here we will not have ill will.’

‘Others will have wrong view, but here we will have right view.’

‘Others will have wrong thought, but here we will have right thought.’

‘Others will have wrong speech, but here we will have right speech.’

‘Others will have wrong action, but here we will have right action.’

‘Others will have wrong livelihood, but here we will have right livelihood.’

‘Others will have wrong effort, but here we will have right effort.’

‘Others will have wrong mindfulness, but here we will have right mindfulness.’

‘Others will have wrong immersion, but here we will have right immersion.’

‘Others will have wrong knowledge, but here we will have right knowledge.’

‘Others will have wrong freedom, but here we will have right freedom.’

‘Others will be overcome with dullness and drowsiness, but here we will be rid of dullness and drowsiness.’

‘Others will be restless, but here we will not be restless.’

‘Others will have doubts, but here we will have gone beyond doubt.’

‘Others will be irritable, but here we will be without anger.’

‘Others will be hostile, but here we will be without hostility.’

‘Others will be offensive, but here we will be inoffensive.’

‘Others will be contemptuous, but here we will be without contempt.’

‘Others will be jealous, but here we will be without jealousy.’

‘Others will be stingy, but here we will be without stinginess.’

‘Others will be devious, but here we will not be devious.’

‘Others will be deceitful, but here we will not be deceitful.’

‘Others will be stubborn, but here we will not be stubborn.’

‘Others will be arrogant, but here we will not be arrogant.’

‘Others will be hard to admonish, but here we will not be hard to admonish.’

‘Others will have bad friends, but here we will have good friends.’

‘Others will be negligent, but here we will be diligent.’

‘Others will be faithless, but here we will have faith.’

‘Others will be conscienceless, but here we will have a sense of conscience.’

‘Others will be imprudent, but here we will be prudent.’

‘Others will be uneducated, but here we will be well educated.’

‘Others will be lazy, but here we will be energetic.’

‘Others will be unmindful, but here we will be mindful.’

‘Others will be witless, but here we will be accomplished in wisdom.’

‘Others will be attached to their own views, holding them tight, and refusing to let go, but here we will not be attached to our own views, not holding them tight, but will let them go easily.’

Interesting that among those is having ‘good friends’.

And then we later have the idea …

Truly, Cunda, if you’re sinking down in the mud you can’t pull out someone else who is also sinking down in the mud. But if you’re not sinking down in the mud you can pull out someone else who is sinking down in the mud. Truly, if you’re not tamed, trained, and extinguished you can’t tame, train, and extinguish someone else. But if you’re tamed, trained, and extinguished you can tame, train, and extinguish someone else.

And then at the end of that sutta the Buddha suggests that Cunda meditates alone.

Here are these roots of trees, and here are these empty huts. Practice absorption, Cunda! Don’t be negligent! Don’t regret it later! This is my instruction.”

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Are there types of puthujanna?

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Yeah. I guess so. But if I look at qualities like say …

Then if I don’t have a stream-enterer (at least) counted among my associates, then maybe I’m likely to get a very wrong understanding? Maybe?

If every one of my associates is still stuck in the mud, what hope is there that they can help?

If your understanding depends entirely and was absorbed whole from them, hypothetically that would be possible, imo. But that’s not how your or anyone’s understanding is built. Conditions are complex, views also tend to be complex; develop your skills to distinguish kusala (wholesome, skillful) from akusala (unwholesome, unskillful). Nourish the kusala, don’t nourish the akusala.

Perfectionism can be just an excuse for non-activity or non-engagement. Small steps forward are still steps. Avoiding or reducing steps backwards is also good. Eventually kamma catches up - good kamma, too. So help yourself, by helping others, and help others by helping yourself.

You have been born in an age in which texts and translations of the suttas, and Dhamma talks, and meditation instruction, are abundant; hooray! You probably have time in which you can sit, and certainly opportunities to develop sīla. Don’t waste this human life!

Of all the many qualities and actions in MN8, some probably pull you more than others. I suggest you work with those, rather than feel paralyzed by the list. Effort has effect.

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These three people are found in the world. What three? There is a person you shouldn’t associate with, accompany, or attend. There is a person you should associate with, accompany, and attend.There is a person you should associate with, accompany, and attend with honor and respect.

Who is the person you shouldn’t associate with, accompany, or attend? It’s someone who is inferior in terms of ethics, immersion, and wisdom. You shouldn’t associate with, accompany, or attend such a person, except out of kindness and compassion.

Who is the person you should associate with, accompany, and attend? It’s someone who is similar in terms of ethics, immersion, and wisdom. You should associate with, accompany, and attend such a person. Why is that?Thinking, ‘Since our ethical conduct is similar, we can discuss ethics, the conversation will flow, and we’ll both be at ease. Since our immersion is similar, we can discuss immersion, the conversation will flow, and we’ll both be at ease. Since our wisdom is similar, we can discuss wisdom, the conversation will flow, and we’ll both be at ease.’ That’s why you should associate with, accompany, and attend such a person.

Who is the person you should associate with, accompany, and attend with honor and respect? It’s someone who is superior in terms of ethics, immersion, and wisdom. You should associate with, accompany, and attend such a person with honor and respect. Why is that?Thinking, ‘I’ll fulfill the entire spectrum of ethical conduct I haven’t yet fulfilled, or support with wisdom in every situation the ethical conduct I’ve already fulfilled. I’ll fulfill the entire spectrum of immersion I haven’t yet fulfilled, or support with wisdom in every situation the immersion I’ve already fulfilled. I’ll fulfill the entire spectrum of wisdom I haven’t yet fulfilled, or support with wisdom in every situation the wisdom I’ve already fulfilled.’ That’s why you should associate with, accompany, and attend this person with honor and respect.

These are the three people found in the world.

A man who associates with an inferior goes downhill,
but associating with an equal, you’ll never decline;
following the best, you’ll quickly rise up,
so you should keep company with people better than you.”
AN3.26

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Then what am I to make of SN45.2 in the OP? In that sutta Ananda expresses just what you express (that there are other factors going on) and is corrected by the Buddha with:

Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life.

Do you see my problem with the two suttas in the OP now?

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Thank you @anon87721581. Very good, straight forward advice in that sutta.

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Do you understand why a noble person would interact with an ordinary worldlng? Clearly, they do. Why, considering the advice of AN3.26?

Imo, identity view ceases for an arahant; but at some previous point it has to weaken, and change (imo) to develop sīla, let alone concentration, stillness.

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Thanks @ERose, sorry that I’m having difficulty in understanding what you’re saying. :frowning: But with your help I’ll get there, I hope.

Yes. I understand that. They do it out of kindness and compassion:

You shouldn’t associate with, accompany, or attend such a person, except out of kindness and compassion.

So are you suggesting that we all should associate with people who are inferior to us out of kindness and compassion, even if we haven’t attained any realisations (sotopanna or above) and are therefore subject to backsliding?

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I am not. :slight_smile:

What does this suggest?

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Well, this is what I’m having a problem with. What it suggests to me is that in order for someone to be a good friend, companion and associate (kalyāṇamitta) to those who are below a sotopanna they need to be at least a sotapanna themselves.

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Not even practicing towards becoming a sotapanna?

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That is the usual understanding of kalyāṇamitta and the one that I’ve been using for years. But that is the definition that I’m questioning I guess. The trouble is that without the sotopanna attainment in a group, then there is a good likelihood of confusion and backsliding. Hence:

So how can one realistically call oneself a kalyāṇamitta without at least the sotopanna attainment?

In the absence of certain knowledge from someone who has certain knowledge to share, I’d settle for gentle encouragement over no support at all, and I’d be grateful for that support.

However:

Ah … I get it; it looks different when one looks at oneself. Assuming that you and I have neither attained stream entry, I’d find it much easier to accept spiritual friendship from you than I would find offering it to you. … Perhaps this is the typical Western self-putdown popping up again?

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I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m beginning to think that the term kalyāṇamitta is a bit like the term Sangha. It generally means something different now to what it meant in the EBT world.

When I first encountered Buddhism, Sangha meant anyone who was a Buddhist or part of a community of Buddhists. After learning a bit about the EBTs, Sangha took on a different meaning. It either meant you were an ordained member of the 4 fold assembly (bhikkhuni-sangha and bhikkhu-sangha) or in a different context you had attained at least sotopanna (ariya-sangha).

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I think we have to accept that Buddhist words have slightly different meanings in different Buddhist traditions. Just like lay words do. eg Do you thing hamburger means ‘minced beef’, ‘a flat round cake of minced beef which has been fried or grilled’, or ‘a sandwich consisting of a cooked patty of ground or chopped beef, usually in a roll or bun’.

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Yes. That’s fine. I’m just trying to understand what kalyāṇamitta means from an EBT perspective, because it seemed to be different from what I’ve been taught. I’m on the right forum, right? :wink:

PS. A Hamburger is someone from Hamburg. What you are talking about there are different definitions of a beef burger :wink:

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I have also wondered this.

Which discourse number is this? Thanks in advance.

To be honest, I also had/have this same question. Technical questions like this seem fundamentally important because the directly affect the way in which someone goes about practicing.

For example, if the Buddha’s advice to find good friends is referring to “anyone who has good qualities,” then based on this information, then I would want to find beings everywhere to the extent that they have good qualities and try to make friends with them.
But if good friends refers to “those who have attained at least the first stage of Nibbana,” then based on this information, I would want to go look very specifically for members of the Noble Sangha.

How can we follow the Buddha’s advice if we are not exactly sure what exactly he meant when he said what he said?

Based on the post, I thought the OP was very well grounded in the EBT’s so I didn’t get any sense of “typical western self-putdown” in this post.

This seems to be yet another case in which studying and having a clear understanding of what the Buddha actually says has very real practical implications for how one is to practice.

For example, I am looking for kalyanamittas here:

If I were to search in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya, should I be looking for those who are relatively harmless and beneficial beings or should be looking for those who have attained at least the first stage of Nibbana (i.e. Sangha)?

The answer to the OP’s question could shed some light and clarity on such issues, I think.

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