"What is a good friend? We can easily find a definition of the word 'friend' in the dictionary, but I would like to think about it in Buddhist terms. Nichiren Daishonin states,
"Therefore, the best way to attain Buddhahood is to encounter a good friend. How far can our own wisdom take us?
... In Nichiren Buddhism, the term 'friend' is translated from the Japanese Chi Shiki
which literally means 'knowledge'. ... Traditionally, Buddhism was transmitted not by documents or books but orally, through word of mouth. In Buddhism, someone who leads others to enlightenment is called a 'good friend', and the opposite, an 'evil' or 'bad friend' is someone who leads people away from enlightenment. So while books support learning, such things as real wisdom and enlightenment, can only really be developed through meeting a good friend. ...
At one point, Ananda, one of Shakyamuni's disciples, asked the Buddha, 'It seems to me that by having good friends and advancing together with them one has already halfway attained the Buddha way. Is this way of thinking correct?' ... Shakyamuni replied, 'Ananda, this way of thinking is not correct. Having good friends and advancing together with them constitutes not half the Buddha way, but all of the Buddha way.'
... The Lotus Sutra teaches that every person has unlimited potential and a unique mission. In becoming a good friend, we too can develop the desire and ability to recognise the potential of others and make effort to maintain the conviction of the importance of each person' capability and mission. If we fall into the belief that someone will never change or develop, or that somehow they won't be able to hear our encouragement or understand us, the problem does not lie with them it lies with us.
In today's society, it is quite rare for people to truly seek good friends, with whom they can polish their character. People normally choose friends who they find easy to hang around with or someone who agrees with their opinion. We can easily get on well with such people, but ... they do not necessarily function as 'good friends'. Likewise, we don't usually view the people who we find difficult as friends at all - let alone 'good friends', but actually those who we find most challenging can function as powerful forces for us to polish our humanity. ... In the same vein Nichiren Daishonin [said his] best allies in attaining Buddhahood were [those who tried to kill him],
'I am grateful when I think that without them I could not have proved myself to be the votary of the Lotus Sutra.'
Nichiren Daishonin shows us that even those people who cause us the severest difficulty can be transformed into 'good friends'. There is no need to try to avoid or run away from them.
... [W]hen we are confronted with the people we find challenging and through our effort ... see their great qualities [and thus] transform the dynamic of our relationship with them. In doing so, we develop the ability to embrace and appreciate the lives of even those who are most different from ourselves. The dual result is that we develop our capacity to become a 'good friend' to others and our lives become broader and richer.
When we are in the company of someone who we know deeply believes in our potential and will never give up on us, we all have the urge to strive even that little bit harder. All people, in the depths of their lives, seek this kind of encouragement. Let's remind ourselves that as members ... we are never alone, we have good friends all over the world and in turn we can become good friends to many more."
From 'Good Friends' by Yasu Hirayama, from an article in 'Art of Living', a UK Buddhist magazine, published February 2009, Issue no 92.