Bringing Dharma into Relationships
by Ven. Dr. Karuna Dharma

I would like to share a few things I have learned over the years about bringing Dharma into relationships. Human relations is the area in which our practice is most seriously tested. By looking at our relationships, we can gauge the progress of our practice and see how profoundly it is affecting our lives.

In a room with forty people, there are forty different universes. Each one of us sits at the center of our universe. Because it is a universe that we have created, we believe in it. The problem is that each of us views our individual universe from our own particular little time and space, and our universes do not always coincide, so frictions develop. Each of us sits and looks at the others, honestly not understanding what has created the disharmony. Each of us creates our own fictitious universe which we genuinely believe to be true. This can cause serious problems when we become involved in relationships.

How do we solve these problems? How do we remove the barrier that we have drawn around our little universe so we won't be constantly bumping and grating against someone else's? The best way is to drop all the defenses we've thrown up to protect the person who sits in the middle of that universe. We spend so much time building and shoring up these defenses. That means less time is spent in communicating directly.

Where do the defenses come from? Our defenses are there to protect the fictitious universe we have fabricated and regard as true. I may not buy your fabrication, because I didn't create it, but I buy mine and I know mine is superior to yours. See? This is what really interferes with our human relationships. We very busily try to keep a fiction going that is all of our own creation.

Suppose we are on a train and see, for just one second, something happening outside the window. How accurate is our interpretation of that event? How much can we understand of the image we see? We peek into each other's universes for a brief moment, as if passing on a speeding train, yet we're very quick to interpret what we glimpsed in that moment. We are sure our interpretation is correct. This is very dangerous.

If I can free myself from what I have fabricated, there will be no need to continue building or repairing my defenses. And the fewer defenses I have, the better I can communicate and understand you, because I no longer feel threatened. What you think of me means nothing if I feel secure. I only feel fearful because my view of reality has been threatened. The problem is not that someone has been talking behind my back; the problem is that I found out about it and I don't deserve it.

We can disagree about things, but why should that cause conflict? We may never agree on some things, because we perceive things from different angles, but that doesn't have to result in conflict. Why should we be upset because we disagree? When we don't have anything to protect, there is no longer anything to fear. We can experience everything fully, which is wonderful. We can really enjoy being in other people's company, because we're not busy maintaining our own identity. Why waste the time? Why create the anger and the hurt?

We need to let go, but it is not easy. The closer the relationship, the closer we come to our image of who we are. The closer things strike this concept of self we have fabricated, the more difficult it is. Meditation can be very helpful here. We need just hear the sounds, observe the view, and become one with all of it, without feeling any separation. This can help us change our viewpoint and interpretation of the self. We don't have to protect ourselves from the little bird that just went by; we just hear it.

We can begin knocking down the barriers in everything we do: in groups, at work, with our friends, our boss, our lover. If something disturbs us, we can just observe it, and gradually we become a bit more objective. When someone says something, we don't automatically think: "What does that mean? It's because I'm a woman. It's because of my ethnic background. It's because I belong to a certain religious tradition." Maybe it's because you did something that was insensitive or hurtful. There may be many reasons, but once we let our fabricated self-image drop away, we can begin to understand people.

We can be either content or discontent, happy or unhappy. So why be unhappy? Usually we regard as positive those things which reinforce our concept of who we are, and as negative those things which either don't reinforce that concept or threaten it. These habit patterns are very difficult to break, but once I break them, I am not bothered even if someone launches a full-scale attack on me.

If others are making our life miserable, why let them win? Instead, we can look at ourselves and our idiosyncrasies, accept them, and learn to laugh at them. We learn to love ourselves with all our perceived strengths and all our perceived weaknesses. When I become angry, to feel guilty because I am not a fully enlightened Buddha is the height of egotism. On the phenomenological level, we are not Buddhas yet. When misunderstandings occurred, my teacher used to say, "Well, we're not Buddhas yet!" We need not expect ourselves to be Buddhas nor expect our partners to be Buddhas either.

Situations of hurt need to be depersonalized so that the victim does not become burdened with guilt or shame. Healing cannot occur as long as we internalize events and blame ourselves. In a sense, in not understanding the essence of the mind, the perpetrator is also the victim. Rather than creating a separation between myself as victim and the other as perpetrator, we need to understand that each of us is capable of the most heinous acts. If you don't believe it, you have not explored yourself very well yet. Rather than deny it, we need to confront ourselves very directly. There are also countless ways in which we victimize ourselves.

By contrast, a bodhisattva, one who is truly on the path, has an invincible armor: the armor of love. The love of a bodhisattva is immeasurably great, and we can glimpse it through intensive meditation. Such a being willingly endures lifetimes of suffering to save other beings. The bodhisattva path is wisdom and compassion: a path of choosing wisely, with love.

(originally from IBMC--International Buddhist Meditation Center)