Feb 11, 2010

A Buddhist view of Relationships Pt 2

by Eddy Canfor-Dumas

Of course, the length of a relationship is by no means the only criterion by which it should be judged – it can be long and miserable. But even modern relationship counselors stress the importance of first making a conscious commitment – such as marriage – for it to succeed. This is in line with the Buddhist teaching of cause and effect: a person who drifts into a relationship with no conscious commitment is actually making the cause (by, in effect, sub-consciously leaving the door open) to bale out at some point in the future when his needs are no longer satisfied by his partner – with all the suffering that this will inevitably entail. Even truly good sex depends on the mutual trust, respect and relaxation that comes from an enduring, secure relationship.

Second, we have to ask ourselves whether we really do learn from failed, short-term relationships. Or do we actually just reinforce our karmic tendencies and strengthen our expectations of failure next time around? Certainly, to judge by the number of times many of us fail, we seem to learn very slowly, if ever. After all, few people would advocate learning to drive by continually crashing the car.

This is why chanting is so vital. It doesn’t guarantee we won’t make mistakes – even Buddhists get divorced – but it can shorten the odds considerably, both in allowing us to be open to the right person, and also in helping us over the hurdles that are present in any relationship, through an ability to turn ‘poisons’ into ‘medicine’.

What’s gone wrong?
Once in a relationship, then, it follows that we must chant seriously about all of the problems that it will inevitably throw up, however minor they might seem at the time – for, in Everett’s words, ‘Tall oaks from little acorns grow.’

Buddhism teaches that however passionate two people are at the start of their relationship, over the course of time the intensity of that feeling will fade and change. This is because romantic love is all too often a manifestation of the world of Rapture, which is, by definition, short-lived. The passing of the rapturous phase does not necessarily mean that the couple will have stopped loving each other – although some people think this is what has happened and can get very worried – but that other aspects of the Ten Worlds have come to the fore. 

For example, through the rose-tinted spectacles of Rapture, Ms A is beguiled by Mr B’s easy-going charm. But as Rapture fades, as it must, she’s increasingly irritated by what she now sees as his laziness and refusal ever to take a stand on anything. In other words, the Tranquility that attracted her has begun to repel her.

It is in this confrontation with the reality of two people living their daily life together that the wisdom of Buddhism once again reveals itself. Buddhism recognizes the full force of the negative side of life in relationships and consciously seeks to use it in a positive way, as the words of guidance given at the SGI-UK wedding service show:

Through their united resolve before the Gohonzon to create a wonderfully harmonious yet essentially progressive unit of society, founded on the rock of their deep respect for each others lives, [husband and wife] draw out from each other the three poisons of anger, greed and stupidity which might otherwise afflict their family life with misery for their lifetime.

In other words, by committing ourselves to a life of close intimacy with another person, the three poisons are drawn to the surface of our lives so that we can see them clearly and then, by taking them to the Gohonzon, chant about and eventually transform them. The wedding guidance continues:

At the same time, through their victory in this struggle, they are able to send out waves of peace and friendship, not only to the community which immediately surrounds them, but the whole country and the whole world. 

This, too is an important point, for while it is necessary for two people to confront and overcome the problems they have between them, a healthy relationship is not one which is forever turned in on itself in self-absorption. Rather, by looking outwards to the contribution it can make as a unit to society, it is forever being stimulated, fed and refreshed.

In these two aspects of relationships – working out our joint problems and engaging with our wider society – honest communications between the couple is vital. In the words of SGI-UK General Director Richard Causton, ‘We change from day to day; so does our environment. Without communication, any relationship must become sterile and out of date, losing its sensitivity and direction. Truly, there is wisdom in the old suggestion: “Let’s have a talk about it over a cup of tea”. A day should never pass without husband and wife exchanging thoughts and feelings, as well as news and information, over a cuppa – or something stronger’ (Marriage and Relationships’, UK Express No 222, December 1989).

Final thoughts
To sum up a Buddhist approach to relationships, then: first, it is important not to rely on a relationship for our happiness. Rather, we should aim to become happy, strong and independent through our practice, and then found a relationship on that basis.

Second, if we have suffered a pattern of unhappy relationships, we can chant to discover what it is in us that is attracting the wrong sort of person, and then struggle to change it by revealing and increasingly strengthening our Buddha nature.

Third, it is always advisable to chant a lot before becoming intimately involved with anyone, and act on the Buddha wisdom that our chanting draws up. 

Fourth, our relationship is a prime opportunity for us to further our ‘human revolution’ by accepting full responsibility for every aspect of the relationship. We do this by taking every problem we have to the Gohonzon, and sharing our thoughts and feelings honestly with our partner, without fear.

Fifth, our relationship will definitely be strengthened if we look outwards as a couple, to the world around us, and work together to create value for others in our society.

And finally, perhaps we could bear in mind the following words of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. They refer to husband and wife, but are equally applicable to any couple who have made a deep and lasting commitment to each other:

‘Since a husband and wife must continue to share joys and sorrows throughout their lives, it is vital that they share not only love but also a way of thought and philosophy, especially religion, as a foundation of life. It is a wonderful life if you can advance together with the same goals based on this foundation.

‘A variety of problems naturally arise in the course of life. The important thing is for the married couple to strive to understand each other with mutual love, based on a determination to live together throughout their lives.

‘Two people who love each other should be full of vitality, guided by the Mystic Law. They should pursue the kind of love that will win the admiration of others. They should not have the kind of relationship which prevents their advancement in faith or impedes their self-reformation or makes them stand out like two birds frolicking in the darkness….

‘I have heard that there are many cases in which discord between husband and wife ends up in divorce. This seems to be a global trend. However, I am convinced that if one of the two is staunch enough to make a deep determination to work towards reconciliation, they can definitely overcome the problem existing between them. Basing yourself on unshakable faith is of the utmost significance (Buddhism in Action, Vol. 1, pp.116-8).

A great relationship is full of joy, challenge and growth, offering opportunities for giving and receiving love and responsibility found in few other situations. A bad relationship is hell. With Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, anyone can achieve the first – if he or she wishes.

(Art and Photography by Deviantart & Niagara)

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