For Caroline and me, tomorrow will be our 13th wedding anniversary. With that in mind, I thought that I might start a thread on the issue of 'right relationship'. In self-power Buddhism there has been a fairly strong tendency toward gender segregation and in traditional Asian societies there has tended to be male dominance in society. In developing an other power Buddhism for the contemporary world I suggest that a very different approach is called for. From observation it appears that for some people an intimate relationship constitutes a support to their spiritual life whereas for others it is an obstacle to it and, conversely, for some their spiritual practice reinforces and enriches their relationship whereas for others the practice and the relationship feel as if they are in competition or even conflict. What makes the difference? What conduces to the making of a spiritually rich relationship?
I can only speak from personal experience in saying that, practiced correctly, an other power approach to spirituality tends to deconstruct all kinds of authoritarianism--including sexism. Also, the goal-oriented quality of self-power practices can create imbalances in relationships. For instance, self power driven scenarios that emphasize cultivating progressively higher levels of attainment tend to require significant expenditures of disposable time, money, and energy. If both partners are involved in such a practice, this can work in theory (provided they can make money at it or are independently financed in their quest). But in actual practice, someone's practice (or patience) is usually put to the test. The person in the relationship with the bigger spiritual ego usually get more time, money, and energy, while the other is reduced to playing a supporting role (often paying--literally or otherwise--for the entire enterprise).
In cases where children are involved, the result is likewise often not very good. Raising children is its own kind of practice--one which usually competes with a strong self-power approach on the part of one or both parents. I have seen countless families wrecked by such practices over the years. To be fair, such spiritually-driven individuals usually let Zen or Dzog Chen or Vipassana take the fall for their inability to maintain intimacy with a partner or a child. In many cases, they have used these practices as a way of opting out of relationships that, for one reason or another, didn't work. I did this myself with my first marriage, and so I know the truth of this from painful experience.
An other power approach is no panacea for problems with intimacy, and it won't make someone a better husband or parent on its own. But it does tend to blunt the power of narcissicistic self-preoccupation that the quest for enlightenment tends to enflame in Western converts who lack the ballast of a traditional Buddhist culture to keep them on an even keel. In that respect, I believe it offers a healty alternative to Western seekers who are more succeptible to overzealous spiritual practice and the callousness in interpersonal relationships it tends to create or to reinforce.
That doesn't mean that self power practices don't work or don't have their place. But it does suggest that a willingness to blend the two approaches may be the healthier alternative--at least where relationships are concerned.
Thank you very much Clark for being so open in your sharing. The unification of a spiritual and an intimate life is a huge blessing but it is one that does elude many people and it is important for us to try to understand how this comes about. One simple point in regard to the self-power/other-power issue in this regard is that an other power approach creates a triangle so that the couple relate together to the Tathagata - this means that they stand side by side in their practice facing a source toward which both feel reverence whereas in self-power approaches this element is lacking. If the self-power practitioner does indeed overcome selfishness this will, of course, be very good for the relationship, but there is nothing in the actual structure of the approach that aligns people, unless it is the sharing of particular ritual forms - but even here, ritual needs a focus which is usually an other-power element. I suppose this is why some self-power practitioners are wary of ritual, but perhaps they do not see the value of it in this way.
First, Dharmavidya, may I congratulate you and Caroline. Secondly, I know a lot of Buddhist monks who are celibate or, at least claim to be. Some and I repeat, some, not all, of those that I know closely have shared that they have great trouble keeping that vow. They have failed and more than once. Some are straight, some are gay... it matters not their orientation... As such, it often crosses my mind, especially since some of these men have shared with me how their KLESHAs really trouble them and they tend to spend more time struggling with them than not, that they might have been better off in a relationship. As for me, I am married and find that this is more natural for me. I find that marriage helps me find deeper insights into others. Some of the greatest teachings in compassion have come to me through my family. Not only do I have a family, over the years, have had many animal companions... they too have taught me. For those that can manage a celibate life with no inner conflict, I say, GREAT!!! You can serve more than those of us who are also family oriented... However, a priest who has not had to walk the floor with a crying baby or sit in the hospital with a very ill child, will not be able to console another who is in that situation.
Look, its like AA and NA. I have worked with guys from these groups for years. I have worked with them through the church and through the sangha, however, their is not kidding them... They know I can NOT totally relate, because I have not been where they have been. I can teach them techniques, I can lend an ear as a 5fther, but I can never PRETEND to know where they are coming from... nor can a celibate monk know where a hurting mother or father is coming from.
Thanks Maiku, This, of course, opens up a whole other line of debate - can one help others who are in a spot one has never been in. I have never smoked (anything), never drunk spirits, never been hooked on gambling, never shot anybody, never been psychotic - what do I know about life? On the other hand, I am not immune to the formation of compulsive habits, delusive ideas, grasping failings and enmities, and so I can extrapolate. Through the stories of many clients and spiritual pupils I have been able to vicariously visit most of the hells and I'm grateful to them that I have had such windows without having to fry myself. It is important to find the part of oneself that could even if there is not a part that did - at least this time round. Thanks very much for bring this point out.
In our own case we will have been 28 years married this June 12th. Over the years Ruth and I have moved through a number of spiritual allegiances. Mostly as far as I am concerned it's been a blend of Christian and Buddhist, at different times I have felt more or less rooted in either of these traditions. With regard to how this has impacted on, been influenced by my relationship, I can only say that in the main the approach taken has been one of openness and enthusiasm on both our parts. For quite a number of years I have felt a strong attraction to a Pureland approach to the Dharma. In recent times I have attended the London Amida Centre alone, with Ruth currently working her way through Who Loves Dies Well, by Dharmavidya, and very much enjoying it.
I feel that once again an open heart is of the most importance and allowing the other person the space to explore for themselves, without leaning over their shoulder in a critical or judgemental way. It is also about being interested enough to listen to and where appropriate share with our partners the spiritual nourishment they have encountered along the way. I believe a successful relationship is one in which we are able to learn from the other person. This will sometimes entail allowing for inner shifts on the part of the other, without being threatened or unduly shaken by them.
Over the many years of marriage with Ruth - despite my own foolish nature, I have been blessed by her presence and support.
I agree that openness and a willingness to learn from the other person is important. It helps to prevent me from becoming invested in my own "ego position" As regards the selfpower/other power issue, I have found that the other power approach creates closeness between my partner and myself.
Only in recent months have i begun turning to other power, this during my four years i have spent with my wife. Our friendship is enhanced. Its about learning to trust and let go of the guard for me, wearing my love. Such outcomes feed back into our practice, I think giving it some impetus. And only very recently have I understood that my partner has been a faith buddhist all her life, steeped in the culture and religion. But that can only mean something to me after faith has shown a reality in my life, It seems apparent to me that other power enhances all relationships.
Interesting thread - thank you. I liked what others said about openness and willingness to learn - and I suppose what we are open to and learn from will depend on the contract that one has with the person they are relating to at any given time.
To paraphrase something that Honen said, "if being a monk/nun gets in the way of practice disrobe, if being a householder prevents you from doing the practice then ordain." The message that I take from this is twofold: the first is that the most important thing in Honen's mind is to do the practice and the second one follows on from that one - to remove any obstacles that prevent one from doing the practice.
and then from this, one can ask, what is the purpose of practice, why do it, and what does that have to do with right-relationship? And what are the predominant views on relationships in the West? How is one to treat changes in ones marital status or when we move from one relationship to another, and how do we square all this with non-self and impermanence?
engaged buddhism group has many facets. My idea of enhancing relationships through other power is about bringing more reality to light, not the delusion of self as strongly, relaxing the guard- and bringing more love and care. But yes, practice is paramount and must find its expression, regardless of consequence for the relationship. If the relationship folds thus, it has remained within a lack of trust and space- locked in, not able to withstand the changes that are our reality- my last post was certainly through the eye of my relationship, not relationships- and i realize that it is clutching at straws to call a relationship finishing as an enhancement. I have often enough wondered about the circumstances of guatama leaving his family. Would it not be the case that someone who is established within other power, would only enter a new relationship that would see practice as paramount.?
I have had a nagging feeling about this post regarding my idea that other power enhances all relationships. I realize now there are likely to be readers who perhaps have had a relationship finish due to their practice, thanks susthama for pointing this out gently. There is insensitivity there on my part, I hope no readers have been through such an experience.
I think your idea is very important and not insensitive. If relationships do fail then there must be a reason or cause for this to happen and by advancing an idea about the influence of other-power and its ability to enhance relationships is really interesting. Does 'other-power' enhance all relationships? Is it conditional or not?
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