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Faith and Values: When friends disagree – A Buddhist perspective

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 15, 2018

Ven. Thubten Semkye of Sravasti Abbey. (Courtesy image)
Ven. Thubten Semkye of Sravasti Abbey. (Courtesy image)
By Ven. Thubten Semkye

Editor’s note: has a feature called “Ask A Buddhist.” Recently someone wrote about a friendship gone sour, and asked for advice on how to handle disagreements with friends. This is the response.

Sounds like this was a meaningful friendship. I’m sad to hear you lost it, although I believe 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 different 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 judgment 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 which can easily lead to their not feeling heard or respected, bringing an angry reaction.


Our friendship circles address many needs at various levels of depth and shared experience. How close was this friendship and how much do you wish to restore it? That will determine how you move forward.

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, honesty and forgiveness are 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. We don’t need to always have the same views.

Through our practice of the Dharma, our lives begin to take a different course as we turn toward the values, spiritual interests and endeavors more aligned with Buddha’s teachings. Some friends may join 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 within 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 shoes and 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 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 always our responsibility to evaluate other people’s suggestions and determine if they are wise or not.

Ven. Thubten Semkye was Sravasti Abbey’s first lay resident. She draws on her extensive experience in landscaping and horticulture to manage the Abbey’s forests and gardens.

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