When I studied Buddhism a few years ago in India and Nepal, I was struck by a few concepts.
Buddhism has become my compass ever since. It has taught me how to move through life. It goes without saying that relationships are an integral part of life, and learning how to navigate them has become every couple’s main focus.
As Rumi once said, right or wrong is hard to define—and only when we let go of these ideas can we truly connect with each other. Consequently, we all have different opinions and perspectives, and so we all navigate this big boat called love differently.
It doesn’t matter how we navigate this boat, as long as we make it to the shore. As a Buddhist student and practitioner, I have been navigating my boat the Buddhist way. Although the Buddha never gave any advice regarding romantic love, his teachings can guide us toward the right path.
Here are seven Buddhist concepts that can truly transform our relationships for the better:
1. Kindness. Also known as Mettā, kindness or loving-kindness is a Buddhist concept that implies being kind toward all sentient beings. Regardless of our differences or misunderstandings, treating our partner with kindness makes us (and them) happier. It denotes respect, healthy boundaries, and a healthy union. Bitterness can easily dominate our relationships if we don’t learn how to be kind to each other. Replace anger, judgment, and criticism with kindness and see how your love experience will transform.
2. Impermanence. In Pali, impermanence means Anicca. Temporary, short-lived, ephemeral. In Buddhism, Anicca is one of the most important (and practiced) doctrines. It’s a fact: everything is in a constant state of change—including us, humans. If we keep in mind the concept of impermanence, we stop clinging this hard to arguments, reactions, and preconceived ideas. We stop getting stuck in negative emotions and places. For a happy, long-lasting relationship, remember that whatever you’re feeling right now won’t last forever.
3. Mindfulness. Sati. It’s what the Buddhists have long practiced in meditation—awareness, observation. When we sit in meditation, we observe our body’s reactions, our feelings, and our thoughts. We rarely do that in our relationships. We are seldom in the moment and almost always frozen in our thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow. Observe your partner, yourself, your union. Bring awareness to your words and actions. Sati can save relationships—trust me.
4. Equanimity. In Buddhism, it’s Upekkhā. It’s an attitude, a realization, a mental state. In the Buddhist tradition, it means observing without interference; it’s going beyond what is pleasant and unpleasant. Practicing equanimity in our relationships can keep us emotionally stable and aware. We don’t avoid quarrels, but we don’t yearn for desire. We don’t escape the bad, but we don’t pursue the good. We are open to all experiences, feelings, and situations. It’s acceptance, open-mindedness.
5. Suffering. We all hate Duḥkha, which means pain, stress, suffering. But the Buddha clearly stated in the Four Noble Truths that suffering is an inherent part of our existence. We can’t escape death or illness, but we can change our mindset toward them. Duḥkha also exists in our relationships, but it ends when we stop wanting things to be a certain way. Acceptance and openness pave the road toward a happier relationship, one that is rooted in moment-to-moment experiences, rather than illusions.
6. Beginner’s mind. In Zen Buddhism, they call it Shoshin. It means having an attitude of eagerness when first introduced to something. A beginner’s mind is a child’s mind: open, excited, ready. We don’t cling to past results; instead, we are open to new outcomes. Having a beginner’s mind is essential in our relationships. Clinging to who we think our partner is can create many problems. We should be open to who our partner is right now, in this moment—not to the image we have in our minds.
7. Attachment. Upādāna is the opposite of unity. When we are attached, we want something specific. When we cling, we desire a certain outcome. Then there’s a “wanter” and a “wanted.” There’s duality. A state of nonattachment is encouraged in relationships because it brings forth happiness and security. When there’s nothing to attach ourselves to, there’s no separation, no duality. It’s about not wanting things to be like this or that. The opposite of Upādāna is “be”—in this moment.