In his last message, Sri Krishna says: "Brothers, wives, fathers, and friends, who were very near and dear to the heart, are all instantly alienated and turned into foes by even an insignificant sum of money. Even the least amount of money upsets them and inflames their anger, so that they immediately part company, and all at once abandoning cordiality they rival and even kill one another." The Bhagavad Gita (VI.5) tells us that a person's "own self, endowed with discriminative knowledge, is the only friend. So-called friends and relatives are in reality the enemies of the aspirant; for, being objects of his affection and attachment, they create bondage." In the light of that knowledge, as Sri Ramakrishna says: "When a man is seized with the spirit of intense renunciation he regards the world as a deep well and his relatives as venomous cobras." The same message is repeated by the Master in a song: "Remember this, O mind! Nobody is your own; vain is your wandering in this world. Trapped in the subtle snare of maya as you are, do not forget the Mother,'s name. Only a day or two men honour you on earth as lord and master; all too soon that form, so honoured now, must needs be cast away, when Death, the Master, seizes you. Even your beloved wife, for whom, while yet you live, you fret yourself almost to death, will not go with you then. She too will say farewell, and shun your corpse as an evil thing."
A true friend is a person who inspires us in the path of God, shields us from all vices and temptations, intercedes on our behalf with God, and prays for our spiritual welfare. On the other hand, the friend whose company makes us forget God, and arouses in our mid worldly propensities, can never be called a true friend, however pleasant or likable he may be. There is hardly anything more ruinous to the soul than the company of such a friend. The downfall of a person, in all countries and all ages, is caused by the company of such bad friends. Bad company is the breeding ground of all sins and vices. This is so, as Narada says in his Aphorism 44: " Because it causes lust, wrath, delusion, loss of memory, loss of reason and finally, total wreck of the man." The Mahabharata points out: "You have no desire for a thing till you know what is is like. It is only after you have seen it, or heard of it, or touched it, that you get a liking for it. Therefore, the safest rule of human conduct is not to take, touch, or see whatever is likely to taint the imagination." So Narada says, "By all means, avoid bad company." Bad company fans the flames of passion: "These propensities, though at first like ripples, acquire the proportions of a sea, by reason of bad company." Sri Krishna in his last message says: "A mental wave is never produced by anything that has not been seen or heard. So the mind of a man who controls his senses is gradually stilled and is perfectly at peace....Thus the wise man should shun evil company and associate with the holy. It is these who by their words take away the attachment of the mind."
The wisdom of Vedanta says: Never trust a friend who has not been tested. The following story, The Three Friends of Man, beautifully describes who can be trusted as our true friend. In a small village there lived a pious man, virtuous and honest. One day he received a summons from the king to appear before him for judgement. The king was known for his eccentricity, unpredictability, and cruelty. The pious man became very much disturbed and afraid. He had never done anything wrong or unjust, so how could he receive a summons like this, he wondered.
The pious man had three friends: his best friend, his next best friend, and his least intimate friend. He went to his best friend, explained his fear and distress to him, and asked him to come with him to the king's court. His best friend, standing inside the front door of his house, heard the whole matter and said: "I am afraid I cannot accompany you to the king's court. I can only say good luck to you, my friend," and he closed the door in his friend's face. The pious man became terribly disappointed to realize that one whom he had always regarded as his best friend would desert him and leave him out in the cold.
He then went to see his next best friend, told him the whole problem, and made the same request of him. This friend said: "I know you to be a good man and I could never imagine your doing anything wrong. I'll accompany you up to the palace gate, but I do not intend to enter the palace and stand before the king, because he is unpredictable and eccentric and may decide to put me in jail along with you." The pious man became disappointed for the second time.
Sad at heart and disillusioned about human goodness, he went to his least intimate friend, from whom he never expected any help. When this third friend heard of his problem, he said to him: "I do know you to be an honest man and also I am certain that you are incapable of doing anything wrong. Don't worry, my friend, but go home and come leisurely to the court of the king. I am going ahead to testify to the king about your honesty and goodness." The pious man was greatly surprised at this pledge of support from a friend to whom he had never paid much attention.
The pious man in the story represents a human individual in distress, the king, death and the summons, the call of death. The palace gate stands for the graveyard. The "best friend" represents money and possessions, which say goodbye to person at death and never come out of his house to accompany him. The "next best friend" represents relatives and friends, who accompany him only up to the graveyard and then leave his dead body there. The "least intimate friend," to whom he never paid much attention, is the memory of his good deeds, performed with selflessness for the benefit of others. The memory of his good deeds becomes his sole support in his fearful, solitary journey hereafter. Such a memory is his only true and trusted friend. The Bhagavad Gita (II.40) solemnly declares this fact and says: "in this [selfless action] no effort is ever lost and no harm is ever done. Even very little of this dharma [selfless action] saves a man from the Great Fear." The memory of a good deed is like the messenger of Truth that escorts the soul to the realm of Truth.