If you see a wise person who steers you away from the wrong path
follow him. The company of the wise is joyful, like reunion with
one’s family. Therefore, live among the wise, who are understanding,
patient, responsible and noble. - The Dhammapada
One of the earliest summaries of the Buddha’s teachings are contained in the Noble Eightfold Path – right view, right attitude, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness. Though those eight steps on the path are comprehensive, this ninth step could naturally be added - right association.
Having right associations was clearly and consistently emphasized by the Buddha, so much so that it is appropriate to consider it as a ninth step on the path. The truth is that we are greatly influenced, positively and negatively, the the people we associate with the most. Here are three key ways to create right associations.
First, surround yourself with positive, optimistic, joyful people. Little by little, reduce and eventually, remove from your close circle people who are negative, cynical and prone to drama.
Secondly, be part of a spiritual community such as a yoga class, meditation group, or a among people who meet regularly to study religious texts. In Buddhism such a group is called the sangha or association while among Hindus it’s referred to as satsang or the community of truth.
Thirdly, read or listen to teachings which are informative and inspiring. Though we cannot always be in the presence of gifted teachers, we can still benefit from them by reading their writings and listening or viewing their talks.
So important are right associations that the Buddha said “if you find no one to support you on the spiritual path, walk alone.”