Cultivating healthy relationships: How to bring out the best in yourself and others

I have saved this topic for the last, because normally what we want is to learn methods for changing the other person because we think it is they who need to change.  What I have tried to communicate during this series of posts is that it is actually we ourselves who need to change, not the other person.

But how can we get others to change?  As Bodhisattvas, don’t we want all beings to change themselves into Buddhas?  So while in general we say we don’t try change others, we nonetheless want others to change for the better.  The key condition for being able to help anyone is we ourselves need to have absolutely no need whatsoever for the other person to change.  The fact that they are a deluded mess serves us just fine because we know how to transform everything.  If we are attached to them changing, the more we try to change them, the more they will resist our advice, even if it is exactly the advice they need to hear.  But when they know we accept them just as they are and we have no hidden agenda why we want them to change, then they are open to listening to us.  We present them the alternatives, but leave them completely free to decide what to do.  In that space, they can make their own decision to change, and when they do so, they will own that decision as their own.

We need to make sure our motivation is pure.  We shouldn’t want others to change for ourselves, for example, so we no longer have to deal with their problems anymore.  We need to stop trying to change them.  We need to leave people to be completely free to change from their own side.  If we pressure people to change then even if they do it is not from their own side, and so it will not stick and not be meaningful.  We need to create an atmosphere of total respect and freedom for them to make their own decisions.  This is true even if they don’t do this for you.  In this space, we try set a good example.  The only real way to change others is to show a good example.  When people see our good example, and they see how it works better than what they are doing, they will naturally from their own side want to change.  We should only explicitly offer people advice if they ask for it, or if they are open to receiving it.  If they are not asking for it, then they will reject what we have to say as if we are shoving it down their throats.

A really great way of doing this is to ‘own others’ faults as your own.’  We see others as mirror-like Buddhas who reflect back to us our own faults.  We then find that fault inside of ourselves, and purge it like bad blood.  There are several benefits of practicing like this.  We will be able to show the best possible example for the other person.  We will learn what you need to learn about how to overcome their biggest faults.  And, at the very least, we will have one less fault.

I know there are those who will think that it is a misuse of the Dharma to explain how we can use it to make our relationships more healthy, stable and rewarding.  But this is wrong.  First, most people come into the Dharma with the intention of fixing their lives.  If we do not respond to this need, they will turn to something else.  First we show them how they can fix the problems of this life with the Dharma, and on the basis of that experience we show them that they can also solve the problems of their future lives with the Dharma.  Second, this view grasps at our modern relationships as being inherently worldly.  All things are equally empty, so therefore all things are equally transformable.  It is our ignorance grasping at some things being intrinsically worldly that prevents us from bringing the Dharma into every aspect of our life.  This ignorance is actually quite common among many people, and they transmit this ignorance to other new people coming into the tradition.  This creates all sorts of inner turmoil for people.  They want to practice Dharma, but they don’t want to abandon their modern life, so they view the two as competitive with one another.  If they stick with the Dharma, they will have an extreme view and continue to transmit it to others, making them miserable in the process.  If they abandon the Dharma because “it asks too much of them”, then they lose everything.  Nobody wins from such a view.  Third, the primary task of our tradition right now is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  How can we do that if we are not allowed to bring the Dharma into our normal relationships and try use it to deal with our modern-day relationship challenges?

When Venerable Tharchin was on his long retreat, near the end he went to Geshe-la and said, “I am very close to enlightenment.  I know if I continue a bit longer I will make it.”  Geshe-la then told him that it was time to leave his retreat.  Venerable Tharchin was in shock because it was not the answer he was expecting!  Geshe-la then said, “If you stay up here, you will attain enlightenment, but you will become a ‘worthless Buddha’ because you will have no relationships with living beings.”  Our ability to help others depends upon the realizations in our heart and the quality of our relationships with others.  Eventually, we need to lead all beings to enlightenment.  We won’t even be able to begin to do so if we don’t first know how to have healthy, stable and rewarding relationships with others.  A Bodhisattva is a friend of the world.  This starts with the people in our lives.

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