The Art of Meaningful Friendship

By editor - 5.7 2017

(Notes from a class given by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa on 2nd July 2017 at the home of Narottam Prabhu and Manjari Mataji)

Basic Principle 1: Every relationship has an expiry date attached to it:


Translation: In this material world, which advances like a river that carries away the living entity, all people become friends, relatives and enemies in due course of time. (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 6.16.5)

It is wise therefore, to stay a bit detached in general.

Basic Principle 2: You can’t be friends with thousands of people.

Don’t listen to what Facebook tells you. The simple sociological fact is that friendship is not possible with thousands of individuals. The contacts in our so-called Friend list may be our fans, followers, admirers or envious trolls, but let’s not confuse them all for friends.
Who’s a friend in the truest sense? Someone who makes our heart experience sneha. What is sneha?darśane sparśane vā ’pi
śravaṇe bhāṣaṇe ’pi vā
yatra dravaty antaraṅgaṁ
sa sneha iti kathyate

Translation: When the inner self melts on seeing, touching, hearing or conversing with an individual, one is said to be experiencing sneha, affection. (Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāram)

Śāstra says that success in the domain of friendship is attained when we have at least 5 such intimate friends:

pañcabhiḥ saha gantavyaṁ
sthātavyaṁ pañcabhiḥ saha
pañcabhiḥ saha vaktavyaṁ
na duḥkhaṁ pañcabhiḥ saha

Translation: One should travel with five friends, stay with five friends and converse with five friends, thereby avoiding all distress. (Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāram)

Ideal example of this verse are the six goswamis of Vrindavan. Each one of them had five goswamis to associate with.

Stage 1: Before making friends.

(a) Understand that friendship in this world is usually between equals.mṛgāḥ mṛgaiḥ saṅgam upa-vrajanti
gāvaś ca gobhis turagās turagaiḥ
mūrkhāś ca mūrkhaiḥ sudhayaḥ sudhībhiḥ
samāna-śīla-vyasaneṣu sakhyam

Translation: Deers roam around with deers; cows with cows; horses with horses; fools with fools and intelligent with intelligent. Friendship is between individuals of similar disposition and habits (Pañcatantra 1.305)

Thus, if we see some friendship in this world between unequals, it is to be treated as exceptions, not the rule.

(b) Even in devotee circles, it is recommended that one make friends with like-minded, affectionate sādhus:

sva-yūthān eva saṁśrayet

Translation: Take shelter only in one’s like-minded group. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.229, emphasis added)

(c) One of the mistakes is to think that — “I will get more friends if I become great/important/well-known”. Celebrities are often the loneliest people. Success does not attract friends. It attracts admirers and trolls. Friends are usually those individuals who share a common goal and common weaknesses.

(d) Let’s take our time before we declare someone a friend. Drupada prematurely declared Droṇācārya to be his friend early in life and had to regret later. (Full story)
(e) If we have finally spotted a potential friend, we should take a vow in our minds. This vow will help us sustain the friendship from our side for a long time:

icchec ced vipulāṁ maitrīṁ
trīṇi tatra na kārayet
vāg-vādaṁ artha-sambandhaṁ

Translation: If you desire abundant, long-lasting friendship then do not perform the following three acts — (1) trying to win an argument against the friend, especially in public, (2) entering into any sort of financial contracts/business deals with the friend and (3) flirting with their spouse. (Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāram)

Stage 2: While entering into a friendship.

(a) Please include them in all your important events/celebrations etc. The incident of Dakṣa and Śiva shows that not inviting a person who’s important in our lives can cost us dearly.
(b) Remember birthdays/anniversaries. Use Google Calendar for more than five friends.
(c) Now is a good time to perform the first two among the six exchanges of love as suggested by Srila Rupa Goswami in Nectar of Instruction, Verse 4. These two exchanges are — dadāti (give some gift, without expecting anything in return) and pratigṛhṇāti (accept a gift if given by the friend). The best gifts are inexpensive yet packed with lots of affection.

Stage 3: After entering into a friendship.

(a) Now the remaining four loving exchanges between friends can begin:
— guhyam ākhyāti (confidentially revealing one’s vulnerabilities, worries, joys, sorrows etc.)
— pṛcchati (asking for the friends opinion and also giving opinions when asked)
— bhuṅkte (eating food offered by the friend)
— bhojayate (offering food to the friend)

(b) It is extremely important to note that a person who cannot keep our secrets can never be our friend.

The term mantra usually means ‘a secret incantation’, but according to Nīti-śāstra, a mantra means — ‘a confidential thought that one has kept in one’s mind’.

This confidential thought is only revealed to a qualified mantrī (a close friend and advisor). All good friends are supposed to be mantrīs. Cāṇakya’s nīti-śūtras says the following:

mantra-mūlāḥ sarvārambhāḥ — All great activities begin with a confidential thought in the mind.

mantra-rakṣaṇe kārya-siddhir bhavati — Success is achieved only if the mantra is kept confidential.

sarva-dvārebhyo mantro rakṣitavyaḥ — The confidentiality of the mantra is to be protected in all ways.
mantra-kāle na matsaraḥ kartavyaḥ — A friend should not be envious while hearing a mantra (and should never reveal it to others).
ṣaṭ-karṇād bhidyate mantraḥ — A confidential thought gets exposed as soon as it reaches six ears. (This means that the confidential thought should stay always between the two ears of the speaking friend and the two ears of the listening friend. As soon at the thought reaches a third person, it has reached six ears and is now exposed).(c) As a good friend, we should know how to keep secrets. These secrets are something which can cause immense public embarrassment to our friends if revealed. These are weaknesses that have been confidentially confided in us. Whatever the fault it is, we must hide it. Śrī Rāmānujācārya says:vaiṣṇavānāṁ ca janmāni
nidrālasyāni yāni ca
dṛṣṭvā tāny aprakāśyāni
janebhyo na vadet kvacit

Birth-defects, oversleeping, laziness, and other faults, if present in a vaiṣṇava should never be spoken to others. One should especially never disclose such things publicly (Prapannāmṛta, 65.50)

(d) A good friend will stand up to defend their friends in need. Keeping neutral in situations of distress never helps anyone. Krishna himself took sides with the Pāṇḍavas. Only the impersonal brahman is truly unbiased. Let us not be like the impersonal brahman. Our friends expect us to stand up for them when they need us. We must by all means, take sides:karāv iva śarīrasya
netrayor iva pakṣmaṇī
avicārya priyaṁ kuryāt
tan-mitraṁ mitra ucyate

Translation: Just as hands rise spontaneously to protect the body in the event of an attack, and just as eyelids protect the eyes spontaneously, so too does a friend protect other friends spontaneously without thinking too much about it. Such a friend is indeed a true friend. (Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāram)

(e) If our friend is at fault, we should publicly protect them, but privately we should reveal our honest thoughts to them without worrying. It is the duty of an individual to rescue a friend who may have gone astray:pāpān nivārayati yojayate hitāya
guhyaṁ ca gūhati guṇān prakaṭīkaroti
āpadgataṁ na ca jahāti dadāti kāle
sanmitra-lakṣaṇam idaṁ pravadanti santaḥ

Translation: Saintly souls say that a true friend performs the following acts — (1) Rescuing the friend from an incorrect path (2) Engaging the friend on a beneficial path (3) Protecting secrets and taking them to the grave (4) Expressing good qualities of the friend in front of others (5) Not abandoning the friend in times of distress and (6) giving what is needed by the friend at the correct time. (Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāram)

Finally: One can easily distinguish between so-called pretending friends and true friends in situations of distress.

mitraṁ prīti-rasāyanaṁ nayanayor ānandanaṁ cetasaḥ
pātraṁ yat sukha-duḥkhayoḥ saha bhaven mitreṇa tad-durlabham
ye cānye suhṛdaḥ samṛddhi-samaye dravyābhilāṣākulās
te sarvatra milanti tattva-nikaṣa-grāvā tu teṣāṁ vipat

Translation: A friend is like blissful nectar for the eyes. He gives great joy to the heart. He takes our happiness and distress as his own. Such friends are indeed rare to find. Other so called “well-wishers” who gather around us in friendly weather only out of some selfish expectations are finally put through the litmus test when we face situations of distress. (Hitopadeśa, 1.214)