5/19/2012 12:31 AM
If the Buddha Married by Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D.
May all beings everywhere be free from suffering and
the root of all suffering.
May all beings everywhere find happiness and
the root of all happiness. --Buddhist blessing
Buddhist teachings provide a wonderful foundation to understand why relationships work and why they don't. They help us develop awareness so we live in the present and become alive to ourselves and our loved ones. Our exploration of vital, loving relationships will include Buddhist concepts of impermanence, lovingkindness, compassion, attachments, the nature of our conditioned responses, and the underlying unity of All That Is.
Buddhist teachings apply to everyday living as well as intimate relationships. Indeed, there is no separation between the awareness of how we breathe, think, talk, eat, walk, rest, work, play and the awareness of how we relate to others and to all sentient life. As we team to bring attention to whatever we are doing, we find that all of life is a form of meditation. There is simply the experience of the moment, and our task on the spiritual path is to be engaged fully in whatever is happening right now, without judgment or expectations.
We come to realize that happiness, pain, sadness, and joy are the passing winds of our ever-changing experience, closely aligned with our identification with our mind and thoughts. As our mind becomes quieter, we are more able to attune to the present moment, which allows us to see into the heart of things.
We come to accept that for everyone, life is unpredictable, difficult, and wondrous. This, in turn, allows us to cherish, forgive, and love our brothers and sisters on this imperfect human path.
When the prince Siddhartha Gautama became known as The Buddha, meaning "the enlightened one," he had spent five years being intentionally celibate. Before he left the palace of his father and mother, however, to find a solution to the universal suffering of humankind, he was married to a beautiful princess and was the father of one son. So, we are faced with the paradox that prior to enlightenment, Buddha was married, and when he began his spiritual search for the causes of suffering, he became celibate. One might rightly ask, then, why would we look for wisdom on marriage from a man who left his wife and child for a life of celibacy? The answer lies in his exploration into the roots of human suffering and the profound wisdom of his teachings that lead to joy, compassion, and loving kindness-traits that free us to form loving relationships.
Buddhism is more about experience than beliefs. There is no concept of a supreme God--no father, mother, or unseen being out there, guiding us, controlling us, comforting us, or giving us a hand to hold. There is also no one judging us, or telling us we are right or wrong. Rather, we take refuge in the teachings, and the support of our community of like-minded brothers and sisters. We gauge the clarity and goodness of our actions through attunement to our heart and mind, asking if we are being guided by kindness and compassion in all things. As a couple, we are full and equal partners on the path of awakening, joining together, learning from each other, yet each on our own journey. Buddhism embraces the belief that all life is sacred and interconnected. That underneath our surface behaviors and thoughts lies the essence of our being, a unifying force that flows through all of us.
Buddhism has no concept of sin. Rather it embraces the belief that we harm others out of our own unconsciousness or ignorance. If we were fully awake we would experience that to harm another is to harm ourselves, and that to harm ourselves is to harm another. There is no separation. As we come to fully understand this, we become less reactive to others and respond without fear or malice in our hearts.
Here is an overview of some basic Buddhist principles that are central to loving relationships.
1. Emptiness is form, form is emptiness: we are all connected
This concept, which lies at the heart of Buddhism, asserts that everything is made of emptiness. Said another way, there is a unifying energy that underlies all life. At our deepest level, we are essence--the universal I Am. But we also live in a physical body and have a set of beliefs, values, and expectations that we have adopted. Unfortunately, we often identify with these beliefs to, the exclusion of experiencing our essential nature, which some people may call Source, God, Spirit, All That Is, or Essence. To be at peace with ourselves and to create intimacy, we need to connect with our deepest essence and realize we existed prior to all these learned thoughts, habits, and beliefs we adopted. If we peel back the thoughts and perceptions we have learned and try to find something solid to identify with that is uniquely who we are, something that goes beyond conditioning, we find that everything dissolves and we drop into essence. There is simply nothing solid we can adhere to that defines who we are. This is both frightening and freeing--frightening to our mind and ego, freeing to our heart, which wants to experience love.
Paradoxically, it is through this emptiness that we find our wholeness and experience love, because there is nothing in the way. We are completely unified.
We can extend this idea of unity to everything in our daily lives. In his commentaries on The Heart of Understanding, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "Everything contains everything else." He uses the phrase "inter-are." We are the clouds, the water, the forest, the earth that is contained in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink. We also are permeated by the vibration of our partner's touch, voice, laughter, kisses, smiles, and frowns. Everything becomes a form of energy, moving and shifting within us and between us. It is only an illusion that we are separate. As we become conscious of the deep level of "interbeing" with our partner and all people, we become exquisitely aware of the importance of being mindful of our behavior and words.
2. Using the four noble truths to create awareness
At the foundation of Buddha's teachings are the four noble truths. They show how we create our own suffering through our attachments, expectations, and demands that people and situations be different than they are. By examining our attachments, we see the numerous ways in which we try to control others instead of accepting them as they are.
The first noble truth is that suffering is inherent to life. The second noble truth asserts that we suffer because of our attachments--our craving, clinging, and demanding. The third noble truth is that Nirvana--equanimity, peace, and cessation of craving is possible and available to all when we cease our attachments. The fourth noble truth is that there is an eightfold path that leads to being free of attachments. They often are called the signposts to being on the path. They include Right Understanding, Right Aspiration, Right Action, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Concentration, and Right Mindfulness. I would add the signpost of right relationships.
I first came into contact with the concept that I create my own suffering through my attachments in 1980 at the Cornucopia Center founded by Ken Keyes, author of Handbook to Higher Consciousness. It was perhaps the greatest single awakening of my life. I learned that when someone yelled at me or appeared not to like me, it meant they were attached to my being different, not that I was bad. Similarly, I discovered that when I felt impatient or angry, this reflected my attachment to someone behaving differently. I learned that my conditioning and expectations created my turmoil, not the words or actions of the other person.
The belief that we do harm out of ignorance doesn't take away our responsibility for our actions, but it suggests that we might better explore the pain or needs beneath our behavior rather than judging ourselves harshly or sinking into shame. This awareness was key to changing my relationships because it removed all levels of blame and shame, and helped me to realize that everyone is just doing what they are conditioned to do. Though I felt greatly relieved to understand this teaching, I did not instantly stop feeling hurt, angry, or sad. However, more and more often, I could interrupt my habituated responses by stepping back and witnessing that my reactions stemmed from my attachments. It was like creating a pause that allowed my mind to switch gears. Needless to say, becoming aware of attachments takes daily practice.
To love better and feet more openhearted and unified with others, start to notice your attachments to thoughts and behavior of yourself and your partner. Whenever you are agitated, upset, angry, mad, or hurt, you have an attachment to something being different than it is or you are afraid of the outcome. You are resisting the "what is" of the moment. As you observe your experience and all the accompanying feelings, realize you are creating your emotional state.
In relationships, people become attached to praise, validation, sex, security, status, and affirmations of their worth. Sentiments like, "You make me feel so bad" or "You make me feel so good" are both forms of attachment because no one can make us feel secure and our partner is not here to tell us we're okay. This doesn't mean that loving couples don’t validate or give support to each other, it’s that they don’t depend on it from their partner. It is given as a natural outpouring of love and care.
As we loosen our attachments, our mind starts to quiet down and we feel more attuned to others. Our attachments don’t disappear, but we see them for what they are--the chattering of our conditioned mind. When we step back and ask, "Now what am I demanding that's making me so upset?" we become a witness to the unfolding drama of our lives. We start to see it as a passing show. We are in it, but not of it.
A word of caution: Some people hide behind the concept of attachment to stay in a harmful relationship. They rationalize abuse by saying, "I'm just attached to his being different." This masks the deeper attachment, namely, that the person is staying in a painful relationship for security, or because they fear being alone. So, remember, take these teachings in spirit and use them to create greater happiness in your life, not to hide.
It's a habit of yours to walk slowly
You hold a grudge for years
With such heaviness, how can you be modest?
With such attachments, do you expect to arrive anywhere?
3. Experience lovingkindness.
My religion is kindness.
Wishing: in gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease...
Let none, through anger of ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings.
Can you gaze at your beloved and completely wish him freedom from suffering and the root of all suffering? Can you look at your partner, and with all your heart wish her the fullness of all that she can become? Do your actions and words reflect these loving wishes? When two people fully open their hearts, wanting only the best for each other, they ease through the boundaries of their separateness. This is the essence of lovingkindness.
The foundation of lovingkindness is bringing an unconditional friendliness and acceptance to ourselves. We realize that everything is part of our Buddha nature and there is nothing to reject. Kahlil Gibran writes in The Prophet, "In our giant self lies our goodness, and that goodness is in all of us. Lovingkindness is like bringing a vast embrace to all we are and feeling the radiance at the center of our being."
From this place of self-acceptance and expansiveness, we feel steady, natural, and unafraid. When lovingkindness permeates our being, we are so transparent and at ease within ourselves that anger and hostility have no place to take root inside. Once we have experienced the wonderful expansiveness of lovingkindness, we become highly attuned to the constricting nature of holding on to grief, anger, hurt, or loss.
One step toward experiencing lovingkindness comes from immersing ourselves in our own lives, following our heart and giving ourselves fully to whatever we feel called to do. This allows us to cheer completely for others as they come into their power and find their path. If we stand in the shadows of our own lives, shrinking from the vast possibilities before us, we are likely to be jealous or uncomfortable around people who fully explore their own potential.
Lovingkindness does not mean we fake a smile or do not protect ourselves. Sharon Salberg, in her wonderful book,Lovingkindness, tells a story of a woman who was riding in an open rickshaw when she was suddenly attacked by two people trying to steal her purse. She later asked a spiritual teacher what he would have done. He said something to the effect of With lovingkindness, I would have taken my umbrella and whacked them on the head. We can say no with lovingkindness, we can end a relationship with lovingkindness. It's simply that we see people doing what they are conditioned to do, and at the same time we take care of ourselves.
Experiencing joy also brings us to lovingkindnes. Joy is like an effervescence of the heart bursting open with awe, wonder, and a big smile at the predicament of living. Many people are more comfortable bonding in pain and sadness than coming together in delight and pleasure. Joy is a powerful energy that sweeps through our bodies, breaking up tension, exposing our wounded places, and expanding our ability to embrace all feelings. The freer our energy, the more spacious we feel inside.
When we stop making a big deal out of our inner experience by either running from it or dramatizing it, we start feeling lighter about these human traits. As a result, we feel our commonalities with others--"I know where that comes form: I've done that. I've stolen, I've fudged on the truth, been afraid, or arrogant." This allows us to be present to the pain of another, just to be right there, doing nothing but providing a safe space for our partner to feel. From this silent yet alive place, we will start to feel more connected to ourselves and our beloved.
Copyright © 2001 Charlotte Kasl. Excerpted by permission from "If the Buddha Married" by Charlotte Kasl, Penguin Putnam, Inc, 2001.
Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D., has an M.A. in Music from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Ohio University. Dr. Kasl was a Licensed Psychologist in Minnesota for fifteen years and is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in Montana. She is a Certified Addiction Specialist in the areas of chemical dependency and sexuality, has had a private psychotherapy practice for twenty-five years and has been a Reiki Master Healer for eighteen years.
Dr. Kasl was part of a task force funded by the State of Minnesota Department of Human Services to create a model treatment program for Chemically Dependent Women. She has served on several advisory boards including the Women's Recovery Network, the Women's Action Alliance for Alcohol and Drug Education, and the Organization for Secular Sobriety, also known as Save Our Selves (SOS). She was invited by the National Center for Substance Abuse Prevention to participate in a synthesis conference to make recommendations on the needs of women. Dr. Kasl has consulted with numerous treatment programs and is a founding member of ATTACH (The Association for the Teaching and Training in the Attachment of Children).
Dr. Kasl is the author of seven books and has begun work on her eighth book. The thread running through all of her work is helping people find their own voice, accept themselves and develop a spiritual and social consciousness that increases understanding and compassion for all people. Dr. Kasl writes with clarity, warmth and immediacy that allows her to connect with a wide range of people. She has also written numerous articles and has appeared on over 200 radio and television programs, including New Dimensions Radio, Donahue, Joan Lunden, Sally Jessie Raphael, Geraldo, and People are Talking. Dr. Kasl has taught a wide variety of workshops and talks on relationships, addiction, sexuality, spirituality, community, healing from incest and abuse, casting out internalized oppression, preventing burn out, quantum healing, empowerment, and finding joy.