In Part 1 of History of Buddhism, a discourse was introduced to lay devotees called Advice to Sigālaka1. This discourse contains all the necessary advice to lay devotees on how to lead one’s life. In fact, if a lay devotee practices all that is stated in the discourse, the level of morality will be higher than another lay devotee who only follows the 5 precepts. This is because this discourse covers not only personal morality, it also teaches how to interact with the people around you, including your parents, family and colleagues. Hence, Refuge In Dhamma deems this discourse as the most important one for lay devotees.

For this series, it is very important to read in sequence for easy understanding and not to skip any article as they are closely linked to one another.

In Part 3 of the discussion of this discourse, we will be discussing about types of friends.



One morning, near Rājagaha, a person called Sigālaka was revering the 6 directions: east, south, west, north, below, and above. The Buddha was staying in the Bamboo Grove at that time and when he went for his alms round, he saw this person and asked him the reason for doing this ceremony. Sigālaka told the Buddha that he was following his father’s instructions before he passed away. Then, the Buddha proceeded to teach him the correct way to revere the 6 directions.

Fake friends

As discussed in Part 2 of this series, friends are important. The effect friends have on people are big enough for the Buddha to dedicate a separate section to warn about fake friends who are out to take advantage of others. The Buddha taught that there are 4 types of fake friends whom one should steer away from. They are: takers, talkers, flatterers and spenders.



Takers can be recognised by the following characteristics:

a) Only taking

Ever receive calls from a ‘friend’ to pick the person up and never hear from this person for any other matters? This is the typical fake friend who only takes. You are kept in the contact list because you own a car and the ‘friend’ is too lazy to take public transport, too stingy to pay for taxi and has no readily available friends to ferry the person around. Another scenario is the “friend” always not paying for meals and keeps “owing” others meals or money.

Although these scenarios can happen to anyone with friends of any gender, this is especially true for guys who are currently pursuing a girl with love interest. The guy has to make efforts to impress the girl and she takes advantage of the situation to make use of the suitor. In this situation, it has gone beyond friendship so the outcome will be even worse as there are emotional investments involved. Therefore, it is best to recognise the person’s personality quickly and not be blinded by emotions.

b) Asking for a lot while giving little

This type of takers may be slightly better than the one above but the person still cannot be considered a true friend. The person may be so stingy or calculative that every single action is a transaction with which there must be a “profit” to gain. It will not be wise to befriend such a person as there will be little to no help offered when you encounter difficulties.

c) Performing duties out of fear

As this is a characteristic of takers, it goes without saying that the fear is not being able to get any more out of a “friendship”. If a taker manages to befriend a rich person and the interest is playing golf, then the taker will even resort to learning to play golf just to be able to join the rich person for games. Therefore, it is not erroneous to say that it is very difficult for rich people to find true friends.

d) Offering service in order to gain something

A typical example is gold digger. A gold digger refers to someone, usually a girl, who enters into a relationship for material gains rather than love. Gold diggers will always want branded and expensive gifts in the relationship and may even encompass all the above characteristics. There is a high chance that this relationship will be over if the gold digger finds another person who is richer.



Talkers can be recognised by the following characteristics:

a) Reminding of past favours

Talkers may have done a favour in the past, regardless small or big, and it will always be brought up whenever they need help. There will be endless requests to return the favour.

b) Promising future favours

If no favours have been done in the past, talkers will resort to promising future favours for the help rendered now. However, it is very doubtful whether the talker will actually keep their promises.

c) Giving empty words of kindness

Whenever something bad happens, talkers may offer condolences but they are usually not sincere. There also will not be any offering of help.

d) Pleads personal misfortune when called on to help

Talkers will never provide any actual help. They will ignore help requests and if unavoidable, give all types of excuses not to help. Even if they do not reject giving help explicitly, they will give empty promises and disappear at the earliest opportunity.



Flatterers can be recognised by the following characteristics:

a) Supports both bad and good behavior indiscriminately

When advice is being sought from flatterers, they will not give good ones. Instead, they will just follow along with your line of thought without any consideration for consequences. This is detrimental to the person seeking help because thoughts are distraught in difficult situations and if advice are given following a confused mind, it will only make matters worse.

If a person in a good situation seeks advice from flatterers, it will also lead to downfall. A person in good situations may overestimate their abilities and come up with plans that are not feasible. By flattering this person and following the inflated line of thought, it will only expand the ego even further causing highly unrealistic expectations and when everything falls apart, the person will fall hard and may never recover from it.

b) Praises you to your face but puts you down behind your back

Backbiting is a very bad habit to have, regardless whether it is done to friends or others. If a person is unhappy with another for whatever reasons, having a face-to-face talk will solve the issues more amicably instead of deepening the grudges.

This is especially bad for friends because when someone is considered a friend, there will be trust involved and some personal information will be shared. When flatterers betray this trust by backbiting the person, they may even spread the personal information to others, most probably with a negative take. Whatever the outcome of this backbiting, the person will have trusting issues when facing other friends.

Therefore, if it is a known fact that a person is fond of backbiting others, it is best to keep distance from this person.



Spenders will accompany you when:

a) Consuming intoxicants;
b) Roaming the streets at night;
c) Frequenting festivals;
d) Gambling.

Spenders do not stop their friends from spending money. In fact, they are happy that there is someone else to accompany them to do the same activities in spending money.

There is one more activity that is missing from the scriptures. During the Buddha’s time, this activity may not be prevalent but it can be an addicting activity now in the 21st century. The activity is shopping. Shopping can be as bad as gambling in depleting one’s finances and be plunged into crippling debt nowadays. There are sales all the time and with the abundance of shopping platforms online, shopping has never been easier to access. To make matters worse, governments around the world are encouraging their citizens to spend to “boost the economy” and shopping platforms together with banks offer so many fanciful ways to get credit that people can overspend without even realising it until it is too late.

If a “friend” is always encouraging you to spend your money, maybe it is time to evaluate whether this person is a true friend.

Verse for fake friends

The friend who is all take,
The friend of empty words,
The friend full of flattery,
And the reckless friend;

These four are not friends, but enemies;
The wise understand this
And keep them at a distance
As they would a dangerous path.
Advice to Sigālaka (Translated by Kelly, Sawyer, Yareham)

Good-hearted friends

The Buddha taught that there are 4 types of good-hearted friends whom one should try to befriend. They are: helpers, friends who endure in good and bad times, counselors, and compassionate friends.



Helpers can be recognised by the following characteristics:

a) Protects you and your properties when you are vulnerable

There are times when a person runs into difficult situations and the family is also involved so no one is able to render any help. The only help may need to come from friends and helpers will try their best to assist you to overcome these times.

One example is the person being in a scam situation. Helpers can give advice to prevent the person from getting too deep into the scam or if the scam has already happened, they can give assistance to help recover the lost assets.

b) Being a refuge when you are afraid

Good and true friends can provide confidence and assurance when a person is facing some trying situations and is afraid. Not only will they hear the person out, they will also provide sound advice and this can help lower the person’s fear and boost the confidence.

c) Provides more than requested

Just providing help when requested is difficult enough, not to mention a person going out of the way to provide help or providing more help than requested. If there is good fortune of having such a person as a friend, there will not be any fear of betrayal.

Friends who endure in good and bad times

Friends for good and bad times

When friends display the following characteristics, you know for sure they are friends who will stick with you through thick and thin:

a) Tells you secrets and guards your secrets closely

It can be scary telling secrets to others, even family and friends, as you do not know what these people will do with your personal secrets. However, sometimes there is a need to share due to various reasons like relieving the built-up stress. At such a time, you will need to find a trustworthy person to share the secrets. Such people can be friends for life as they will reciprocate by telling their secrets as well.

b) Not abandoning you in misfortune, and even dying for you

This type of friend is similar to helpers mentioned above. However, the difference lies in the fact that there is limit to how much helpers can help. In extreme cases, there may be some friends who are willing to sacrifice themselves to help you, especially in a disaster. Such friends are truly worthy of the name, Noble friends.



Counselors can be recognised by the following characteristics:

a) Restrains you from wrongdoing;
b) Guides you towards good actions;
c) Tells you what you ought to know;
d) Shows you the way to heaven.

Having counselors as friends may be boring to some people as they stop you from doing “fun” activities like frequenting festivals and drinking alcohol. However, they are true friends who can lead you to a quality life and possibly even going to heaven after death. Therefore, if you have friend who nags at you a lot, consider what the person is nagging at. Is it just nitpicking or is the person pointing out your wrongdoings? If it is the latter, it will serve you best to listen to your friend and change your behaviour accordingly.

This is especially true if your friend is a Buddhist who reads and practices a lot. A Buddhist who only reads will not be able to walk the talk while a Buddhist who only meditates will be clueless on morality and other Buddha’s teachings. Hence, if the person reads and practices, the chances of the person being a good moral compass and doubt clarifier is very high. Counselors themselves are also following 1 of the paths in the Noble Eightfold Path: Right Effort, by possessing the qualities stated above. This is one of the prerequisites to developing good morality. Therefore, such a person is worth holding on as a friend for life.

Compassionate friends


Compassionate friends display the following characteristics:

a) Not rejoicing in your misfortune and delighting in your good fortune

Not rejoicing in others’ misfortune refers to compassion and delighting in others’ good fortune refers to altruistic joy. These are 2 factors in the Heavenly Abodes that the Buddha taught. It was taught that possessing any one factor of the Heavenly Abodes will enable the person to be reborn in a good place after death, possibly even the heavens.

If a person possesses both qualities at the same time, this person is truly a good-hearted friend. Compassionate friends will also be helpers and stick with friends through thick and thin. It is very difficult to find friends who belong to 1 of the 4 categories stated in this article, much less one who possesses qualities from 3 categories. Therefore, such a friend should be cherished and be treated similarly.

b) Preventing others from speaking ill of you and encouraging others to praise your good qualities

This quality falls in line with 1 of the paths in Noble Eightfold Path: Right Speech. For a person to possess this quality, it means that the person also tends to think of the good aspects of most things as it is not possible for a person with bad thoughts to speak good words.

With both qualities, it can be seen that compassionate friends are the opposite of flatterers. You will feel safe with compassionate friends as you know they will not backbite you and they are sincere in their well-wishes.

Verse for good-hearted friends

The friend who is a helper,
The friend through thick and thin,
The friend who gives good counsel,
And the compassionate friend;

These four are friends indeed,
The wise understand this
And attend on them carefully,
Like a mother her own child.

The wise endowed with virtue
Shine forth like a burning fire,
Gathering wealth as bees do honey
And heaping it up like an ant hill.
Once wealth is accumulated,
Family and household life may follow.

By dividing wealth into four parts,
True friendships are bound;
One part should be enjoyed;
Two parts invested in business;
And the fourth set aside
Against future misfortunes.
Advice to Sigālaka (Translated by Kelly, Sawyer, Yareham)


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