Spiritual friendship is so important that in the Pali Canon’s Upaddha Sutta a significant conversation between the Buddha and his closest companion, Ananda, is recorded. Sensing that the aged Buddha will not be with the community much longer, Ananda seeks clarification about following a spiritual path. He asks: “Am I correct in believing that having admirable friendship, admirable companionship and spiritual friendship is half of the path?” The Buddha responded: “No, Ananda, that is not half of the path. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, spiritual friendship is actually the whole path.” This explanation helped Ananda understand the critical importance of having supportive relationships based on shared Buddhist teachings and the pursuit of awakening.
Such friendships are equally important for both monks and lay Buddhists. It is common, when someone embraces a Buddhist way of life, that relation shifts begin to occur naturally whereby former companions with whom one participated in more materialistic, pleasure oriented gatherings such as eating, drinking alcohol, and partying are replaced by those whose values and interests are more virtuous, noble, admirable, spiritual and supportive of Buddhist values.
Try this exercise: close your eyes, take a few deep inhales and exhales and then on each exhale list one spiritual friend (you can include a spiritual author). If you just have two or three, you ought to consider finding ways of developing more spiritual friends into your life.