“Always love your friends from your heart and not from your needs.”

This is one of ten quotes that’s in the web page currently ranking highest on Google for searches on “Buddha quotes on friendship.” It’s not from the Buddha. Neither are any of the other nine quotes on the page.

I sigh with weariness.

A couple of the other top (fake) quotes turned out to have interesting origins, starting off life as a Bible verse, or as a poem on the topic of “restful, blissful ignorance,” or in a sermon by a proto-Nazi who referred to the Irish as “human chimpanzees.” But I’ve no idea what the origins of this one are. It sounds like something from a Hallmark card or a particularly cheesy self-help book. Either of those things might turn out to be the case, although I haven’t found any books that seem like good candidates for this quote’s origin story.

This just simply is not the kind of message you’ll find in the early Buddhist scriptures. There are certainly plenty of quotes, and I’ve compiled a list of those as a riposte to the one Google currently favors. You can see my list of ten genuine Buddha quotes on friendship here.

Talking to a householder called Sigālaka, the Buddha warned of the dangers of “friends” who merely want something from you:

One is a bottle friend; one says, ‘friend, friend’ only to one’s face; one is a friend and an associate only when it is advantageous.

That’s probably the closest you’re going to get to a scriptural quote on loving someone out of “need,” which is of course not really loving someone at all.

Similar to the concept of loving out of “need” is the Buddhist term piya, which means “dear, beloved, pleasant” and also “one who is beloved.”

That might sounds lovely, but piya, for the Buddha, was not a good thing. He saw affection as a source of suffering.

The way I understand this is that piya is the feeling of attraction we get when we find someone pleasant to behold or think of. They might be physically attractive or sexually desirable, for example.  This gives rise to pleasant feelings. We like those pleasant feelings and want more of them, and so we want more of the person who evokes them.

And so the Buddha said things like this (Dhammapada, 211):

Hold nothing dear [piya], for separation from the dear is painful. There are no bonds for those who have nothing beloved [piya] or unloved.

This might sound cold, but the Buddha advocated replacing piya (affection) with mettā (kindness, or love). Mettā is not based on “liking” someone, which is what piya is. Mettā is based on knowing that another person, like oneself, is a feeling being, prone to happiness and suffering, and preferring to be happy.

If you empathetically understand that another person’s happiness and unhappiness are as real to them as yours are to yourself, then you’ll naturally have their best interests in mind. You’ll want to act in ways that benefit them.

Mettā, is a warm, nurturing quality. Unlike piya it’s not limited to those we like. All sentient (feeling) beings can be met with a mind of mettā, while we can only experience piya toward those we find pleasing in some way. And so the Buddha said:

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world.

While we can’t experience piya, which is “liking,” for people we dislike, we can be kind to everyone.

Piyā is subject to reversal. When the basis for our “liking” someone changes (maybe they do something we dislike, or no longer look so attractive, or have gone away) they no longer spark pleasant feelings, and that’s unpleasant. That’s why the Buddha said (above) that “separation from the dear is painful.”

Mettā, by contrast, is not conditional in the same way. As long as we keep in mind that beings feel, and prefer happiness to unhappiness, we can be kind toward them. It doesn’t matter if they do what we want or lose their good looks — we can still be kind to them.

Although the Buddha’s words on holding nothing dear may, at first sight, seem cold, heartless, and austere, what he had in mind was replacing a limited and conditional form of love with a less limited and unconditional form of love.

I guess this is all relevant to the quote above. Loving someone from your heart would correspond to mettā, while loving someone from your “needs” would be piya, which is the need for the pleasant feelings we get from someone else.

Still, it’s not from the Buddha. It’s not remotely in the kind of language he used. And it’s a mystery how anything came to think it was something he said.

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