When I learnt about the Buddhist perspective on relationships, frankly, I didn’t like it.
I wasn’t fond of it…because it was correct. It left me bewildered and thoroughly reticent. At first, it was startling to be hit with the truth so hard. But, with time, and after many ordeals, I became fascinated with how Buddhists view romantic relationships.
When I was in India, I attended many Dharma talks. One discourse, however, was about love and relationships.
In Buddhism, they talk a lot about love and compassion. But the kind of love they talk about involves wishing all sentient beings to be equally happy—-everyone, with no exceptions and no conditions; it is limitless.
In contrast, romantic relationships are limited. An unfathomable variety of emotions exists within them. Additionally, emotions are painful. They always depend on someone and something.
In relationships, there are a great deal of assumptions and expectations. Thus, they always leave us vulnerable.
In the discourse, the Buddhist monk explained how we are dependent on condition, how we have no control over anything, especially our feelings.
That being said, Buddhists believe that romantic relationships are within the realm of suffering.
We likely pursue them to attain happiness and to find our other half, as if we are not “complete.”
In Buddhism, romantic relationships are not taught as an institution that you need in your life. However, they are taught as an establishment that causes suffering.
Furthermore, relationships are viewed as an impermanent phenomenon; like everything else in this life. They have us operate out of a belief in permanence, holding on onto our partner even more.
Dzongsar Khyentse, the Buddhist Rinpoche, once said: “If you go through the Sutras or Shastras, there is no mention of a marriage ceremony. I always say that if I were to make a marriage ceremony, it will be something like the couples standing in front of me and I say, ‘Oh, well you know… things are impermanent… it might not work after few days.’ More likely, Buddhists would have a divorce ceremony.”
In another passage, Dzongsar says: “Personal relationships are the most volatile and perfect examples of assembled phenomena and impermanence. Some couples believe that they can manage their relationships ‘until death do us part’ by reading books or consulting with a relationship doctor. To a certain extent these small understandings may help create temporary peace, but they don’t address the many hidden factors that are part of the relationship’s assembly.”
But Buddhists aren’t “anti-relationship.” They believe that if we choose to pursue a relationship—which we all want to do—we must create space, not be attached and refrain from having any sort of expectation. Additionally, we should be aware of not falling into the trap of vulnerability.
In my estimation, Buddhists provided us with the correct description of a relationship. I know many of us won’t admit that relationships are associated with suffering. Even if we are enjoying the perfect relationship, we anticipate permanence and “forever after.”
In our modern life, it is hard to avoid entering a relationship or staying away from anything that has to do with love. However, when we do, we should take into consideration a Buddhist’s advice.
We should not fall for the illusion of permanence. Dzongsar, again, puts it this way: “Parting moments are often the most profound in a relationship. Every relationship must end eventually, even if it is because of death. Thinking this, our appreciation for the causes and conditions that have provided each connection is heightened. It is especially powerful if one partner has a terminal illness. There is no illusion of ‘forever,’ and that is surprisingly liberating; our caring and affection become unconditional and our joy is very much in the present moment.”
Taking this into consideration, I think we should have enough awareness to escape—as much as possible—the chains of suffering. Even when the relationship does end, we should realize that it is life acting through us.
Let’s bear in mind that emotions are indeed pain and impermanence is out there waiting to take place. Most importantly, let’s not fail to remember to “consciously” love.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Catherine Monkman