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Ask A Buddhist: When Friends Disagree

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By Ven. Thubten Semkye

When confronted by someone with very prejudiced views recently, a good friend of mine, I said nothing at the time.  I was later given the advice to confront her about it and let her know that her views countered my beliefs of cherishing all sentient beings.  I am Buddhist. Was this right?  I lost a friend over it.  She reacted very harshly back at me.   I feel I was not given good advice. Thank you.

Hi Gena,

Sounds like this was a meaningful friendship. I’m sad to hear you lost it, although I believe that true friends can disagree and still support one another overall. It’s worth examining the nature of that particular friendship.

Without knowing the details of your specific situation, I will give you a general response.

Skillful Means

It’s good to reflect on how you approached your friend to discuss your difference in views. The words you used to describe the exchange—”confronted” and “her views countered my beliefs”—gives me a clue. While wishing to honor your own values, your approach may have lacked skill.

The way in which we share our values and beliefs often determines how people respond to them. It’s important that we free our minds from pride, attachment to being right, and judgement before speaking. If we neglect to do this, our minds may be so full of our own feelings and thoughts that we can’t listen with our heart to what the other person says. That easily leads to their not feeling heard or respected and brings on their angry reaction.

Friends

How close was this friendship and how much do you wish to restore it? That will determine how you move forward.

We have different levels of friendship throughout our lives. Some come and go; some stay with us for decades. They are formed for many different reasons—social, emotional, work related, familial, and cultural. We are social beings and want connection. Our friendship circles address those needs at various levels of depth and shared experience.

We are fortunate if we have a few friendships founded on shared values and ideals. These connect us at a deep level regardless of the more superficial day to day interests. The qualities of these friendships sustain over time.

Trust, for example, is the willingness to be transparent both in pointing out each other’s faults with kindness and acknowledging them. In a deep friendship, trust is strong enough for us to challenge each other if we are going down a wrong path or become overwhelmed by afflictions and confusion.

Honesty and forgiveness are also qualities of deep friendships. As life brings with it ups and downs, so it goes with friendships. It’s good to be able to let go and not sweat the small stuff, to work through our misunderstandings. These are important components of a true friendship.

There is also a kind of autonomy in deep friendships. We can have different interests and friend-circles apart from each other to support our growth and journey. We don’t need to always have the same views, interests, and emotional needs.

As we practice the Dharma, our lives begin take a different course as we turn towards the values, spiritual interests, and endeavors more aligned with Buddha’s teachings. Some friends may join and support us in our spiritual journey; some may not.

As we search for the qualities of trust, honesty, and forgiveness in our friends, we also need to develop them inside ourselves. Having these qualities will draw like-minded people to us.

Steps to Take

It might be helpful to bring this person to heart, put yourself in their place, and bring compassion to each part of their life experience. Try to see in a neutral way how their life experience, habits, and conditionings impact their feelings and ideas. You can use this practice for yourself too. It helps to bring clarity on how our habits impact our life expression.

Reflect on your friend’s virtues or positive qualities and recall times you have seen them express them. Note where your friend’s core values are in common with your own. This will help you determine whether this friendship is worth restoring. If so, make an effort to meet your friend and discuss the situation. Begin the discussion with telling them that you value the friendship and want to understand their feelings and share yours. Then listen.

Did you receive wise advice? Did the permission give you advice without your asking for it or did you ask for help? In either case, it is our responsibility to evaluate other people’s suggestions and determine if they are wise or not.

 

Ven. Thubten Semkye

About Ven. Thubten Semkye

Ven. Thubten Semkye was Sravasti Abbey's first lay resident.
A founder of Friends of Sravasti Abbey, she accepted the position of chairperson to provide the four requisites for the monastic community. Realizing that was a difficult task to do from 350 miles away, she moved to the Abbey in spring 2004.
Although she didn’t originally see ordination in her future, after the 2006 Chenrezig retreat when she spent half of her meditation time reflecting on death and impermanence, Ven. Semkye realized that ordaining would be the wisest, most compassionate use of her life. She became the Abbey’s third nun in 2007. See her ordination photos. In 2010 she received bhikshuni ordination at Miao Fa Chan Temple in Taiwan.
Ven. Semkye draws on her extensive experience in landscaping and horticulture to manage the Abbey’s forests and gardens.

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