Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Our Relationships Cannot Save Us

(8.8) While we preoccupy ourself with the things of this life,
Our whole life passes without any meaning.
For the sake of impermanent friends and relatives,
We neglect the Dharma that leads to permanent liberation.

(8.9) By behaving in such a childish way,
We definitely create the causes of lower rebirth.
Since worldly beings lead us to unfortunate states,
What is the point of relying on them?

We need to think carefully about these things.  What does it mean to be preoccupied with things with no meaning?  What is something without meaning?  Are we to never rely upon or try to relate to the worldly?  Should want to have nothing to do with the worldly and the meaningless?  It is very easy to misunderstand the meaning here to think relationships with others are objects of abandonment.  No, we only need to abandon our attachment. 

But at the same time, Shantideva’s verses help us reduce our inappropriate attention towards relationships with others.  All delusions harm us primarily through exaggeration.  The more we exaggerate, the more we suffer.  One of the principal means by which delusions develop is through exaggerating the good or bad qualities of something.  When we have attachment, we romanticize how wonderful it would be to have this object of our desire.  Shantideva cuts this down.  What good are others from a worldly point of view?  In truth, most people are a pain in the butt!  Those who are in relationships wish they could be alone because others are so damn needy and they can never be pleased.  It is exhausting being with other people.  How much better it would be to be alone!  Not inherently of course, but if our mind is suffering from an exaggerated sense of how important it is to be with somebody, we can contemplate these things to reduce our exaggeration.

I think mainly we must be identifying and striving to overcome our attachment to those people who we are with each day of our life, whoever that might be. We need to develop an equanimity with respect to the people of our life, not preferring to be with some over others.   If there is imbalance in our mind towards the people in our life, then there is definitely attachment present. 

(8.10) One moment they are friends,
The next moment they become enemies;
And even while they are enjoying themselves, they become angry –
How unreliable worldly beings are!

(8.11) If I tell them about something that is meaningful, they become angry
And even try to prevent me from engaging in that meaningful action;
Yet if I do not listen to what they say, they become angry with that
And in so doing create the causes of lower rebirth!

(8.12) The childish are jealous of anyone superior to them,
Competitive with their equals, and arrogant towards their inferiors.
They are conceited when praised but get angry if criticized.
There is never any benefit in being attached to them.

Again, the goal here is to apply an antidote to our attachment to wanting companionship.  Jean-Paul Sarte said, “hell is other people.”  Shantideva is explaining why.  They can never be pleased and always complain.  They never do what they are supposed to do, and expect us to do everything for them.  They fail to live up to their responsibilities, then blame us for it.  When we help them, they criticize us for not helping them enough or doing a bad job at it.  They take, take, take, and never think of giving anything in return.  They get jealous of our happiness and create obstacles to everything we want to do.  They find fault in everything we do, and are impatient when we don’t satisfy their every want.  Even if we dedicate our whole life to fulfilling their every wish, they will criticize us in the end and offer nothing back.  We will have spent our whole life trying to make them happy, only to realize we have failed and they are as miserable as ever. 

Shantideva gives a clear description of worldly people.  We all know people like this in our life.  Worldly relationships are by nature childish and dysfunctional.  There are always problems in them.  Have we ever had a close relationship with somebody that was not problematic?  Why are relationships with these people so bad?  It is because they act in such childish and worldly ways?  Because they are all full of delusions?  Yet, bizarrely, we would like to have a relationship with one of them.  And our mind is so funny, our mind is saying, “this one will be different. All the relationships I’ve had so far, yeah, they haven’t worked out, but things will be different this time.  They’ll be different for me, and this person is very different from any other person I’ve met.”  We are convinced that this time it will work because now this other person is good.  We feel lucky that we found such a great person.  Of course, we have thought this before, and later we found out that the person was in fact not trustworthy or problematic in some way.  Yet, this time it will be different.  Or so we fool ourselves.

But at a deeper level, isn’t Shantideva also describing our own behavior?  If we examine our own behavior honestly, we will realize we are just as worldly as these people Shantideva describes.  Or at least there is an extent to which we are.  Perhaps all of our relationships have failed not because everyone we have been with has been so bad, but because we ourselves remain just as worldly, deluded, and selfish as before.

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