“…what are the greatest blessings
which bring about a peaceful and happy life.
Please, Tathagata, will you teach us?”
(This is the Buddha’s answer):
“Not to be associated with the foolish ones,
To live in the company of wise people,
Honouring those who are worth honouring”
A friend and I have been debating what is of greater value: friends that do things with you and for you (drive you to the airport, help you in times of material need) or friends that show you the way to unconditional happiness and spiritual freedom. Naturally, these are not exclusive – being driven to the airport can be done with love and that love can be spiritually awakening. All practical aspects of life have a spiritual dimension, whether that is explicitly recognized or not.
The comparative “greater value” may not be appropriate either. Why compare them even. A friend you help by driving them to the airport benefits even from just the drive – and the driver benefits from the giving. Giving and generosity are a practice of liberation too, so even just giving the ride is of great value.
Yet the gift of Dharma is of immeasurable value and the friends on the path who share it with you are invaluable friends. They are rowing with you to the other shore. Friends who are not on the path will help you in worldly ways – lend you money, fix problems, resolve conflicts. This is good. But it is a greater good, I think, is to know how to be truly happy in ways that do not depend on whether your problems are fixed, how much money you have or whether all conflicts are resolved.
Spiritual friendship (Kalyāṇa-mitta) is embodied in your Sangha. And the Sangha is one of the “three jewels” for this reason: it is the vehicle to freedom from all suffering. Hence it is to be treasured above all else.