The goal of this series of posts is to examine some of the Kadampa tools we have available for making our relationships more healthy, stable and rewarding. Ever since the publication of Modern Buddhism, the main mission of the tradition has been to attain the union of Kadam Dharma and modern life. Our modern lives are the field of our practice of the Kadam Dharma. Just as there is the field of accumulating merit and the field of all living beings, so too there is the field of our practice. The field of our practice is like our personally emanated training ground/camp to forge us into the Buddha we need to become. If we wish, our drill sergeant can be Dorje Shugden. Part of our modern life is our modern relationships with other modern people. Conventionally, we can’t accomplish anything, spiritual or worldly, if we don’t know how to maintain good relationships with everyone. Ultimately, we cannot attain enlightenment until we realize the emptiness of all other beings and our relationships with them. We see them all as the dance of the fabric of our mind.
Will part of our motivation for wanting to fix our relationships be worldly? Of course it will. This is normal. When we all come into the Dharma, one of the main reasons is because our relationships are so bad and we are seeking some solutions. Learning these methods for worldly reasons is not bad. Seeking the solution to our worldly problems with spiritual means is better than seeking solutions to our worldly problems with worldly means. We don’t stop doing the right thing if our motivation is less than perfect. We will want to do so for both worldly and spiritual reasons in the beginning, but over time the spiritual reasons will gradually purify the worldly ones until eventually our motivation is entirely spiritual.
There are no quick fix solutions to problems with our relationships, but there are proven methods for gradually breaking free from all dysfunctional patterns in our relationships. I want to make this series of posts very relevant to our actual modern life situations. If all of this remains academic information, there is actually little value. We need to dig deep into our actual situations, and try come up with more healthy ways to deal with them. As you read through these posts, I encourage you to try think of them directly in the context of your relationships. Mentally try these ideas to see how they might work. Please also feel free to post questions in the comments section and I will try answer them. If we do this, we will also be able to learn from other’s situations as well. This is why the Facebook groups are so important. They enable us all to learn from one another and keep the Dharma relevant to our lives. We should not expect that just because we read a few posts on a blog that we are going to be able to fix all our problems in our relationships. Our goal should be to gain some valuable tools, and to get yourself started on a fresh way of approaching our situation.
This series of posts will have three main parts: The first is “what is a healthy relationship”, the second is “how to resolve conflict in our relationships”, and the third is “how to bring out the best in others and ourselves.”
Before we begin with the topic, it is worthwhile going back to basics. We all want happiness all of the time. We mistakenly think our happiness depends upon external things, and as a result certain external things are seen as causes of our happiness and other external things are seen as causes of our suffering. We will then develop attachment for the former and aversion for the latter. But the reality is our happiness is a state of mind, it is an internal feeling. Since its effect is internal, its cause must be so also. The cause of happiness is inner peace. When our mind is at peace, we will feel happy even in the worst of external conditions. When our peace of mind has been disturbed, we will feel unhappy even in the best of external conditions. From this, we can see that the essential condition for happiness is inner peace. This then raises the question, “what is the cause of inner peace?” Delusions, by definition, function to destroy our inner peace. We know a particular mind is a delusion if it functions to destroy our inner peace. In other words, any mind that destroys our inner peace is, by definition, what we call a delusion. In the same way, virtuous states of mind, by definition cause our mind to become more peaceful. We know a state of mind is a virtuous one if it functions to make our mind more peaceful. All of Dharma practice, therefore, is training our mind to abandon its delusions and train our mind to cultivate virtuous states of mind. The more we do this, the more peaceful our mind will become in all circumstances, and the happier we will be all of the time.
In the context of our relationships, we have countless opportunities to do this. Some relationships generate delusions in us, such as attachment and anger; and some relationships generate virtuous state of mind in us, such as love and caring. Most relationships have a mixture of both. If we want to make our relationships healthy, stable and meaningful, we seek to abandon all deluded reactions on our part in our relationships and instead cultivate only virtuous responses to whatever may arise. By learning how to do this, and by transforming any adversities that come our way, we will position our mind in a space where no matter what happens in our relationships, good or bad, it will function to generate virtuous states of mind in us. In this space, even if there are problems in our relationship, they won’t be “problems” for us – they will be just another opportunity to practice abandoning harming others and learning to cherish them fully.
We have no control over what other’s do, so our main focus should be on getting our own actions correct. We waste so much time thinking about what others need to do to change, and we fail to look at what we need to do. We need to reverse this. We need to redefine the problem. Normally we define our problems in our relationships in external terms: what others are doing, whether we are with somebody or not, and so forth. Here we make an important distinction between situations and problems. The situation is what it is, but whether it is a problem or not depends upon our mind. It is our mind that makes our situation a problem. Geshe-la says we should distinguish the outer problem from the inner problem. He uses the example of a car that has broken down. Normally, we say, “I have a problem.” But this is not correct, the car has a problem. Whether we have a problem depends on how our mind relates to the outer problem. If our reaction is deluded, then we have an inner problem. If our reaction is virtuous, then we have no inner problem, and we remain happy. Our focus here will be to redefine our problem to be how our mind relates to the situation, not the situation itself. The advantage of this is it puts you in total control of your own experience. Geshe-la gives the example of imagine we had to cross a large, rocky surface. What would make more sense, covering the entire surface with leather or just covering our feet. It is certainly more efficient to just cover our feet. In the same way, when we are confronted with the endless series of outer problems we call samsara, we have a choice: either try make the external conditions exactly as we want them all of the time (good luck with that!) or we learn to make our mind react virtuously to whatever arises. Surely a more effective strategy.
Whether we are happy or not in a situation depends 100% on our mind, and actually has nothing to do with the external situation. It is our belief that we have no choice about our emotional response to the world we experience that leaves us the constant victim, and creates all our problems. When we accept that it all depends upon our mind then we take things completely into the domain of something that we have total control over, namely our reaction to events, a solution becomes possible. As long as we condition the solution to our problems on what others do, then our freedom will always be arbitrary, fragile, and outside our control. True happiness is inner peace, the ability to remain calm and positive regardless of our external situation.
The main focus of this series of posts is give us the internal tools we need to learn how to interact in our relationships in a more beneficial way. We will explore more beneficial ways of looking at the situations we face, and we will find ways of being able to grow internally from every situation, regardless of whether it is good or bad externally. If we can do this, then even if we remain in a difficult situation, for us it is good and we grow from it. Our external sitaution may not have changed, but its status as a ‘problem’ for us has changed. The extent to which we are happy depends upon the degree to which we have beneficial, healthy states of mind.