A Perspective: On Friendship

Neeraj Alavelli
10 min readAug 2, 2020

“On Friendship” reminds me of a beautiful and subtle poem from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. Wherein the author extols the virtues of true friendship. In this article, I have extensively referred to this classic, and I am deeply grateful to the great soul — once called by the name Kahlil Gibran — for the pathfinding work The Prophet.

Your friend is your needs answered.

For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

— The Prophet

Source: newsd.in

Friendship is one of those relationships which latches to our life from the very beginning and stays on till the end. How many people board that ship and how many of them stay in it and for how long— is a matter of your nature, time, circumstances and destiny.

With the advent of the digital world, we get to seamlessly check out on our friends through various mediums.

But, unfortunately, the Paradox of our times is that we may have thousands of friends on Facebook, but may not have even one friend to talk face-to-face. Our phone may have hundreds of contacts of friends, but hardly a handful of friends are in contact. We are all connected but still feel lonely at times.

Most friendships these days have become circumstantial & need-based and no wonder why friendships, by and large, have become feeble and fake. So, what has gone so wrong? Can we fix it by understanding “Friendship” better? Can the joy of friendship be experienced in these digital times?

Understanding the Kinds of Friendships

Generally, we call everyone — Neighbours, Colleagues, Classmates etc everyone as a “Friend”. Whereas, the English word friend has several counterparts in the great language of Sanskrit like mitr, bandhava, sakha, suhṛt etc. But what all we have now are Facebook Friends, WhatsApp Mitrs & SnapMates and so on… XD

Mitra(a social friend) — A beneficial friend, generally of same trade or occupation.

Bandhava(a circumstantial/formal friend) — An associate — Neighbours, Classmates, Schoolmates, Travelmates etc. You call them a friend, but it is merely give-and-take and nothing much substantial. More the number of bandhus you have, bigger your Network.

Sakha(a true friend) — This term actually means a friend. They are those who don’t want to just be bandhus; but invest time and energy into you. They don’t compete with you, rather they complement you. They stay with you on your life’s journey. Mentors are a good example of Sakhas.

Priyasakha(a beloved friend) — Priyasakhas are even rarer. They are those who love to spend time with you and whose company helps you grow. Spending time in their company charges you up.

Suhṛt(a most-intimate to heart best friend) — One in million kind of friend. Someone who is most intimate to your heart. He is the first person you turn towards whenever something major happens in your life — whether a major achievement or a calamity.

In another verse I came across, the classification is given in an opposite order:

atyágasahano bandhuh sadaevánumatah suhrd,
ekakriyam bhavenmitram samapránáh sakhá smrtah

Someone who can’t bear the separation from you is a Bandhu, someone who is always well-wishing for you is called Suhṛt, Those who work with you or in the same occupation are Mitras, and those who are like-minded as you are Sakhas Going by this, Suhṛts become innumerable.
*I couldn’t find a source of this verse, so I am not sure of its authenticity.

At large, we have people/friends who either push you up or pull you down and some no-impact people.

You’ll come across people who envy you and try to pull you down behind the mask of a friend. And then there are those who thrust you lower either intentionally or unintentionally by misguiding you. These two kinds of people must be dealt with carefully.

Understanding the kinds of friends we have can help you invest better in your relationships and thus is a crucial aspect of Life Management. Otherwise, your investments in your friends go undirected and inefficient.

We can have any number of Mitrs & Bandhus. But you must have good number of Sakhas and Priyasakhas — the ones who help you grow and have your back in times of need. And it is your great fortune if you can have one or two Suhrds. Find those Sakhas, Priyasakhas & Suhrds; Recognize, Reciprocate and Invest in your relationship with them.

Building Friendship

A verse from an Indian Scripture goes as follows

dadāti pratigṛhṇāti guhyam ākhyāti pṛcchati

bhuṅkte bhojayate caiva ṣaḍ-vidhaṁ prīti-lakṣaṇam

~Upadeśāmṛta (The Nectar of Instruction) by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī

Which says that — there are 6 activities of friendship — Giving & Accepting gifts, Revealing one’s mind in confidence, Inquiring confidentially, Accepting food from them, and Offering them your food.

As I see it, the first four activities have become rarer in friendship these days. Many people neither willing to Give nor Accept Gifts. Considering it to be a liability. But Friendships grow by giving gifts gratefully and accepting gifts gracefully.

And for the 3rd and 4th activities, most of our conversations are either filled with small talk, gossips or requesting favours leaving a very little space for heart-to-heart talks and to share secrets.

Any of the channels of communication we use today aren’t very conducive to share your heart. Face-to-Face conversations & Letters outdo Phonecalls, Video Chats, Messages greatly when it comes to sharing your heart. So, take time for in-person meetings and when that is not possible try writing letters. You’ll find the effect of it yourself.

And for the 5th & 6th activities — Parties are the mode of exchanging foods now — which have become obligatory & exploitative these days.

Parties these days aren’t in the mood of giving but in the mood of enjoying. With social meat-eating and alcoholism becoming the new norm in today’s society, most parties can’t do away with them. And such parties don’t have any positive impact on relationships on long-run — they only help in socializing temporarily.

Any Healthy Relationship germinates only from the seed of good intentions. And once a relationship buds and grows, it must be nurtured with the manure of appreciation and gratitude and must be maintained with care, respect, love and affection.

Just like a tree, you cannot expect fruits from the tree when it is just a plant. It needs to be cared for patiently while it grows and once it grows into a full-fledged tree, it will care for you with its shade and nurture you with its fruits.

Similarly, friendships must be grown with patience and energy. And when they grow into trees, they provide you shade from the scorching heat of Life’s upheavals and share the fruits of Joy and Growth with you.

Communication in Friendship

For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared with joy that is unclaimed

Best of Friendships need not be those with daily conversations, Good Mornings and Good Nights. But they are those in which the friend is always in your mind and in your prayers. Such friends can go on without any conversation for weeks. But when they converse, years happen in minutes.

If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.

With most of our communication restricted to Social Media, all those who we call friends only get to know the highlight reel of your life. But, remember to have at least a few friends who share and support you in your lows. Life is a Series of Crests and Troughs, if you are serving someone only with your crests, they would rather be called customers rather than friends.

Quality of Friendship

For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures

As I mentioned earlier, most of the so-called friendships today are toxic and time-wasting.

Don’t have friends just to evade boredom. Don’t have friends just to share gossips. Have friends with whom you can grow together. Have friends who make your life better.

Purpose of Friendship

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.

For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

The purpose of friendships shouldn’t all-in-all be about “enjoying together” they must be about serving together and growing together. And in that sweetness of Friendship, you’ll find joy — long-lasting and meaningful.

We can’t see our own faults, so true friends are those who act as a mirror and show your faults — so that you can rectify them. But these days such friendships are rare — due to the fear of breaking the friendship and ego clashes. So, most friends restrict with fake-appreciation or flattery.

A real friend must help you with self-awareness, help you on your path of self-realization and take you nearer to God.

Parting with friends:

When you part from your friend, you grieve not;

For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

Thanks to the technological advancement that we mostly don’t get to completely part with our friends, as we stay “in touch” online — Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and the list goes on. And now with the pandemic, even farewells have become online. So, parting with friends isn’t a concern to most of us.

But, absence actually strengthens relationships, it is during their absence that we generally be able to appreciate their presence.

Now, I don’t ask you to block your friends or to deactivate your social media accounts. What you can do instead is to take time to consciously meditate on all the positive contributions of your friends. I personally write a Gratitude Journal regularly to recognize the contributions of my friends in my life.

But, there comes a time when the online contact will be unreachable — and so will any other mode of communication will be. That is when time takes away one of the two friends. To handle such partings with grace, this verse from the Mahabharata gives a great insight.

yathā kāṣṭhaṃ ca kāṣṭhaṃ ca sameyātāṃ mahodadhau।
sametya ca vyatīyātāṃ tadvat bhūtaḥ samāgamaḥ॥

~ Mahabharata — Shanti Parva 12.28.36

Translation: Just as two logs of wood floating on the great ocean, come together, float together, and drift away with time, even so, living entities come together in the huge ocean of existence and are again (when the time comes) separated.

A similar verse comes in the Ayodhya Kanda of Ramayana

So, are relationships deemed to end in heartbreak? Is there any way to find an eternal and loving friend? Here is a perspective from the ancient Indian scriptures which answers the question.

The One Eternal Friend of All

In the beginning, I have mentioned the word suhṛt, which means an intimate best friend who invests in you and is always with you. It is really your great fortune if you have one or two such friends.

From the Bhagavad-Gita, we can know that we all have one such suhṛt.

bhoktāraṁ yajña-tapasāṁ
sarva-loka-maheśvaram
suhṛdaṁ sarva-bhūtānāṁ
jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati ~ BG 5.29

Translation: A person in full consciousness of Me, knowing Me to be the ultimate beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attains peace from the pangs of material miseries.

This is an interesting verse, which is also called “Universal Peace Formula”; in which Supreme Lord Śri Kṛṣṇa declares that he is the universal enjoyer and universal proprietor but still is the suhṛt of each and every living entity. Which is evident from the fact that atma — the soul resides in the Prana air (one of the 5 Life Airs) — which is in the Heart region. And the Paramatma — The Supersoul eternally accompanies the soul — Thus becoming the most intimate friend nearest to your heart.

Also, even more directly Kṛṣṇa states hṛd-deśe ’rjuna tiṣṭhati in BG 18.61 that he resides the heart region of every living entity as Paramatma — The Super Soul. Making him the eternal suhṛt of everyone.

Connecting with our Supreme Eternal Friend

The Supreme Lord who is transcendentally present in our heart is always eagerly waiting for us to turn towards him and connect with him. Which God Consciousness or Kṛṣṇa Consciousness.

One can connect to the lord by simply chanting his name. Which is the yuga-dharma for this age of kali as stated in the Bhagavata Purana.

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

~ Matthew 6:9

So, I humbly request all the readers to take up the chanting of holy names — of whichever name you perceive God by and experience the greatest Spiritual Bliss.

I personally chant the 16-word Hare Krishna Mahamantra — Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare|
Hare Rāma Hare Rāma Rāma Rāma Hare Hare||

Which is especially prescribed for the Kali-yuga in the Kali-Santarana Upanisad (Text 5-6)

For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Hope this article helps you make and maintain great Friendships which add value and meaning to your life.

All the uncited quotes in this article are taken from the poem “Friendship” from the book “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. If you haven’t read it ever, I recommend you to read it whenever you can, at least this one poem. The book is available for free to read on Amazon Kindle.

I am super excited for the recently published book “The Magic of Friendships” by one of my favourite authors Mr Shubha Vilas, once I finish reading it I hope to come up with a sequel to this article with more profound insights. So please Stay Tuned to “A Perspective”.

Thanks for staying with me till the end.
Please feel free to respond with your thoughts and highlight your favourite points and show your appreciation through claps.

And finally, A Very Happy Friendship Day!

If you liked reading this piece, you may also like reading some of my other writings listed here.

Thanks!

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Neeraj Alavelli

Senior Engineer @ TCS | IIT (BHU) CSE Batch of '21 Bibliophile | Writer | Thinker | Traveller | Altruist | Spiritualist | Devotee