A Friend in Need…Aristotle and Gurbani

When we were young and in school, a common quote we used to listen from our teachers and elders was, “A friend in need is a friend indeed”. The message obviously was to develop a mindset that one should always help one’s friends in distress! And a story of two friends passing through a jungle was often recited, wherein they see a bear coming toward them. Without waiting one of them immediately climbed a tree. The other friend was flabbergasted finding himself alone. Then he recalled a story he had heard that bears do not eat already dead people. He immediately fell flat on the ground and breathed deep and lay still just in time. The bear came, stopped near the man lying on the ground and sniffed him from head to toe. As there was not any movement, even of breathing, he thought him to be dead and continued his journey. The friend on the tree climbed down and asked the one still lying on the ground “The bear seemed to be saying something in your ears”. The other man replied “yes, he was saying never believe a selfish a friend!” So that is what friends are supposed to be!
If one has to follow this dictum of “A friend in need is a friend indeed”, obviously, one cannot have many friends as one’s resources, both physical and material and financial are limited. One cannot, even if one wanted, help everyone in need. Your physical stamina and time is also limited. So it used to be said ‘be selective while choosing your friends!’ Another oft quoted cliche used to be “God gives us relatives; thank God we can chose our friends!” Friends in those days really used to be valued!
And then came a time in the 20th century when materialism and selfishness took the center stage! Self-became the obsession and “A friend in need is a friend indeed” was turned into “A friend in need is no friend of mine”! This was the ultimate evidence that values had been turned on the head! It actually became the way of life and still continues to rule the roost. No one helped any one in distress. In fact friends turned into foes for petty considerations. No turnaround seems to be in sight despite tall and virtuous talk by all and sundry. Everybody wants to be, and often is, ‘politically correct’ and ‘practical’ at the cost of being ‘socially incorrect’ …and of course, nobody loses sleep over not being virtuous!
Recently I came across a quote from Aristotle which read “A friend to all is a friend to none”. I do not know in what context he might have said this. Delving deep into Aristotle’s thoughts on friendship we learn Aristotle defines three different types of friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics. He describes friendship of utility as being focused on the products of a relationship and what the other person in the relationship serves. The friendship of pleasure us defined by Aristotle as friendship where a person loves someone for their charm. The similarities between these two are to do with the fact that they are both based on the products of the relationship, they both dissolve easily, and neither one leads to a complete friendship. Virtuous friendship, however, is described as complete and the ultimate form of love. This type of friendship happens between few people, is long lasting, and must be between people with a certain moral character.
The truth of the statement “A friend to all is a friend to none” seems obvious if one takes the stance, “A friend in need is a friend indeed”. In the situation discussed in the preceding Para no one is a friend to all. In fact everyone is a friend to none!
Being a Sikh, I am fortunate to have read the Holy Scripture “Guru Granth Sahib”. Contrast what the Gurbani (The gospel in the Sikh’s Holy Scripture) has to say in this regard: Guru Arjun the fifth master says ‘sb ko mit hm aapn kina, hm sbhna ke saajan’ that is, I have made everyone my friend and I am friend to all! Is it possible? The answer probably by all would be, NO and we have Aristotle to support us! We have also seen what goes on in the world today. But we, the Sikhs, believe that Gurbani is true to the last word! It has been demonstrated by the Sikh Masters during their lifetimes. How else could one (the tenth Master Guru Gobind Singh) sacrifice one’s entire clan for the welfare and security of others without an iota of personal ambition? To be true to this, one has to follow the teachings of the Gurbani- of treating this world as a creation of the ONE Almighty, called Akal Purakh by the Sikhs. We have to imbibe what the third Master Guru Amardas says ‘ih vis sansar tum dekhde ih hr kaa roop hai’ meaning ‘this vast universe that you see is the replica of the Almighty’. When one sees the entire world as the replica of the God, one cannot but love everyone and treat everyone as one’s friend! Unfortunately, even the Sikhs have failed to live up to the teachings of the masters. Till this is done Aristotle seems to be right! Alas!


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