The Buddha has spoken many times about giving up bad friends, we can find it in the Dhammapada, in the beautiful Maha Mangala Sutta and many other places.

My first point is: If we abandon bad friends, how will they improve? What role compassion plays here?

My second point is: It is very hard these days to completely abandon bad friends, we have social networks, professional networks, smartphones etc., we are connected like never before, it is very hard for a lay person to live only with good friends around, except if maybe he/she becomes a recluse, so what should one do? Just set limits?

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    at 1: I don't know the exact source, but in the sutras there is (at least...) one text where it is recalled that "bad company" keeps you away from attaining better state(? my english might be wrong here with the buddhist terms) - so if you prevent to train and realize the pre-requisites: how likely is it that you can realize calmness, and metta? So there is a concurrent pair of behave. And it's your turn to take your time and observe yourself how much you can give to your "bad friends" and how much you need for your part. Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 20:15
  • You have a good point and I agree. If you ask me, the hardest part is to give up bad friends in our current society, in the time of the Buddha you would simply avoid such people, but now we have too many interactions, for example: Socializing with friends from our workplace, people from our building, old friends from school... it didnt exist at that time
    – konrad01
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 20:39
  • This actually became a big sectarian argument in historical Buddhism-- people posited Icchantika, people who are incapable of ever being enlightened. Other people took the radical position that everyone is enlightened, but need to realize it is so, to get full benefit. In the later system, there are no bad friends in the sense of Icchantika. Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 2:03
  • "A crystal, when placed on a piece of cloth, takes on the color of that cloth, whether white, yellow, red or black. In the same way, the friends with whom you keep company the most often, whether suitable or unsuitable, will greatly influence the direction your life and practice take." Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
    – Rabbit
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 12:53

6 Answers 6


The answer to this question may also depend on the individual and how advanced they are in Buddhist practice. If a person is solid in faith and regular in practice and can truly be that good example for friends that may help lead those friends to the Dhamma that is one thing. If the individual is newer to Buddhism and the keeping of precepts and right speech and needs lots of time to themselves to establish a regular meditation practice and learn about their new path then friends and social activities can be a distraction. In fairness, a person in the second scenario should explain to their friends why they can't be as available as they've been in the past, or why they are no longer willing to participate in certain activities. Good friends will understand and give you that time you need. Bad friends may not respect your commitment and may continually try to persuade you back to your old ways. It's not compassionate to yourself or even the bad friend to accommodate that. Leaving a bad friend with more time on their hands (because you are not around) may give them more time to think and may be the wake up call they need.

As far as socializing in real life and online, you have to set limits and priorities or the days and weeks and months will simply fly by aimlessly. As a practical suggestion, I find Airplane mode on the my phone very handy when I want to use my phone based meditation timer but not be distracted by texts and notifications. :)

  • lol! I do the exactly same thing with the airplane mode :) some apps are very useful when you need to set a time for meditation
    – konrad01
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 13:01

First, how bad is "bad"? Second, what are your limits? Third, can you really help? Fourth, is walking away a form of help? Fifth, what does your need of "bad" people say about your path?

First, how bad is "bad"? Does it mean people who are not as far along the path? Does it mean those who don't care for the dharma? Does it mean toxic people? Knowing the specific problem can help you know whether you should help or not. Also, don't assume that just beacause they carry the label of Buddhist or are in your Sangha that they are on the same path. Some of the most toxic people I met were in my Sangha.

Second, what are your limits? Boundless compassion is great, but usually there are limits to where we are at the moment. We want to challenge those limits, but we don't want to go overboard and end up dragging ourselves down.

Third, can you really help? Most people don't want to be helped -- they identify with their pain, consider it themselves and thus cherish it above most else. Confronting that pain becomes an attack on their identity, and the reaction can be ugly. Further, some people just want someone to exploit and they can string you along, making you think you are helping so you stick around.

Fourth, is walking away a form of help? It can be. If you stick around and try to help, you may simply be reinforcing their behavior, by providing them with what they want: attention. By walking away, they lose the platform and may get the message that they will lose other people, or that they are noxious in the eyes of others. This might just make them re-evaluate what they've been doing. After all, they do what they do because on some level they think it's "working", so maybe they need to see it's not "working"?

Fifth, what does your need of "bad" people say about your path? That you need to associate with such people due to social networking means there is a worldly pay-off to associating with them. That's fine, but it's important to note that it's not dharma at this point. Being immersed in the world builds up webs of dependencies which can easily enmesh us, and part of it is the possible domino effect of associating with certain individuals. How you choose to live your life is a decision only you can make, but it may not hurt to keep your eyes open to what you are really doing; it may help you balance the dharma and the worldly more effectively.

Conclusion: Just wanting to help is not enough, we need to wisely apply our efforts. Failure to do so leads to what some Buddhists call "Idiot Compassion". Don't let the harsh-sounding phrase scare you off -- and I recommend visiting that link, as it's relevant to this situation.


It won't be a problem as long as you are being the example and the inspiration to them. You can be one of four types of Kalyana Mittas and guide them to the right path. It will only become a problem, if you start emulating them and start taking their advice.


Friends are important in buddhism. Good friends (kalyana-mitra) are Buddhist teachers, not just some pleasant companions. From this I derive that bad friends (papa-mitra) should be not just some non-prefect associates, but really evil company (like gangsters, thieves) or wrong teachers (of some evil, for karma, teaching).


I think this is quite complex area and we cannot have correct or incorrect answers. anyway I am trying to give my opinion here.

If you refer the Maha-mangala Sutta, the first advice is related to this topic. It goes

Not consorting with fools, consorting with the wise, paying homage to those worthy of homage: This is the highest protection.

here "fools" refers to those lacking in wisdom and live unskillfully. This is essentially those who lead ignoble lives that contradict basic moral values and decency and/or takes one away from the correct Path.

In the other hand Upaddha Sutta states

Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.

By keeping the above teaching in mind I am trying to address your points.

Point one:
If the "bad friends" is a person like someone, describe as fools in the "mangala Sutta", I think first step is keep our ground and not allow him/her to drag us down. We can have compassion and kindness to the "bad fried" and let him/her know about your position. If he/her is a really friend, he/she will understand it treat you with respect. Further, it also help them to think about themselves. However if they still trying to drag us down, my personal feeling is to avoid them. Otherwise it will do a great harm for us.

Second Point:
Although it is quite easy to have friends in these days, I do not think that we have enough real fried (As mentioned in the "Upaddha Sutta"). We can keep contact with any person through social media very easily. Keeping the contacts and having a real fired is totally different thing.

Anyway to conclude this I would like to give two Dhammapada verses:

329: If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone.


330: Better it is to live alone; there is no fellowship with a fool. Live alone and do no evil; be carefree like an elephant in the elephant forest.


Konrad and those interested,

of course the path is not easy to do and it consists of letting go for long term benefit. The good in regard of this path is, that it actually benefits not only oneself but also all others, which therefore includes your bad "friends" as well.

As even the Bodhisatta, having free one wish, wished:

Once, when the Bodhisat was born as a man called Akitti Pandita, the King of Devas promised to grant him any boon he asked. Akitti Pandita begged that he might never meet, see or talk with fools. The King of Devas was surprised and asked him the reason for this strange request. Replying, he explained that fools or the unwise ones i.e. people who do not understand discipline, always lead their friends to bad ways and teach them to do wrong, because they do not know the right way them selves. If discipline or good ways are spoken in their presence, they become angry, for they cannot understand, they lose their temper and quarrels arise. If discipline or good ways are spoken in their presence, they become angry, for they do not understand them. Therefore he prayed that he might never speak, meet or come in contact with fools.

Mangala Suta-Uannana

Once possible firm in Dhamma, having become good independent, one may, if seeing benefit and having possibility, return to "bad friend" and maybe help them further. For now, like suggested in the airoplanes, adult should take on the emergency mask first.

"Bhikkhus, the misery from the decrease of relations is nothing in comparison to the decrease of wisdom. Bhikkhus, of decreases the decrease in wisdom is miserable.

"Bhikkhus, the increase of relations is nothing in comparison to increase of wisdom. Therefore you should train, we will increase in wisdom.

Good companionship

As the Buddha told, if not finding people better or equal in regard of real treasures, it's better to walk alone.

For more and detail, this links may maybe provide a lot of satisfaction and cleatancy:

Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, "This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie."[1]

"Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.

Upaddha Sutta

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange]

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