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The Dharma of Relationships
Laura: I have been thinking whether to write to you or not. Since I have tremendous difficulties to sort this issue out by myself, I decided to write to you. I watched the video Non-Dual Relationships many times and read the satsangs which were related to the topic of relationships. They were helpful but not clear enough for me.
Since the dharma issue is more than complicated and there are no general dharma principles to be applied in each particular case, I contact you right now.
I am married since almost 10 years, having three children (who are now between six and 12 years old). The situation at home is stable.
My husband is very dedicated to his family, loves his children and supports the family financially. He is a nice guy, being satisfied with what Isvara gives him. He is happy and not searching for changes or trying to get his situation changed.
The relationship we had a couple of years ago was very difficult. We were fighting a lot with each other and the atmosphere at home was tense and negative for the children. He changed some negative habits and since then the atmosphere at home is quite peaceful. Since then he has been being stable, cooperative and friendly. The children are happy and growing in a healthy environment.
Maybe I shouldn’t complain, but even if everything is within the family going well, WE as couple do not share more than the family matters. We have no sexual contact, there is no joy while being together alone, not much communication or love. We like each other as persons but the relationship we have is the one of two householders (kind of a team) who are just taking care of their dharma. I am not happy about that and I don’t want to stay together with him only because of the children.
I fell in love with someone else and would like to have a relationship with the man. It would be an atypical relationship since we would only be able to spend some time together on holidays a couple of times a year. To move in together wouldn’t be an option, since he does not live in the same country and I don’t want to leave the children. I am having a question regarding dharma, even knowing that there are no general universal laws in this regard. I am not sure whether such a relationship outside the marriage would be a violation of dharma (even if my husband agrees on me having it). It wouldn’t be a completely open relationship since, for instance, my children wouldn’t know about it, at least not at the beginning. This is actually not only about my husband knowing about me having another relationship but about my own dharma and karma. Since realizing moksa is the most important goal in my life, I am asking myself whether to get into a loving relationship with a person outside the marriage would interfere in my spiritual path. Plus this other person is having a problem with me being married. He does not want to have a relationship in which three people are involved.
To work on the marriage relationship is not really an option for me. We do not have a conflict with each other. We fulfill our tasks as parents as well as we can and take care of the family. We are friendly with each other (most of the time!) and there are no conflicts besides of the fact that that we don’t really love each other anymore and I would like to have a relationship with another person.
I also thought whether to be in such a relationship would be in the end detrimental to my inquiry since it might affect my peace of mind. It might be quite difficult to be thinking and missing a person and at the same time having my family and the relationship to someone at the same time while being a seeker!
I also see this little jiva who wants the family and a relationship at the same time as a bit self-centered. You can’t have everything in life.
Do I have to make a choice between being married or getting divorced and afterwards having a relationship?
Could you help me to sort this issue out?
Sundari: I understand your dilemma and your desire to have a relationship based on love. We all want to feel love for and be loved by our partners. Following dharma in general is tricky, as you know, especially in the “right or wrong” of relationship dharma, which is very individual. However, visesa, or situational, dharma, which is appropriately interpreting universal dharma – Svadharma with a big “S,” the laws that govern the field of existence, is even more tricky. But we need to understand Isvara’s laws so as not to contravene them because if we do we suffer the consequences. However, svadharma with a small “s,” being true to our own nature, is also very important. We sacrifice what is true for ourselves at a high cost to our peace of mind.
Ultimately, our highest dharma is to be true to our svadharma while taking into consideration universal dharma and then taking appropriate action. Sometimes that means we must disappoint others to be true to ourselves, to fly in the face of what society thinks is “good behaviour.” If we fail in being true to ourselves, we can never be true to anyone. Your children may have a stable home with you and Jonathan in your current loveless but peaceful marriage, but all the same, they are growing up in an emotional and tamasic climate that says its okay to sacrifice love for duty, it’s okay to deny your truth for others so that you don’t feel guilty about upsetting the status quo. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. It’s not a great example to set for them, unless you can truly commit to staying with karma yoga and be happy, accepting things as they are.
On the other hand, to follow your desires could be inviting disaster and no guarantee that you will find what you are looking for. The upheaval such a change will undoubtedly cause will impact your peace of mind quite considerably, and therefore also your self-inquiry. But then so does not doing anything about the situation impact negatively on your state of mind. Clearly, you are very disturbed by it. If you cannot continue to live in your present situation with karma yoga and manage your desires without contravening your svadharma, then you need to take appropriate action, with the karma yoga attitude. Giving in to tamas to avoid conflict is never a good idea. At the same time, we must tread carefully when strong desires are pulling at us.
The dharmic thing to do upfront, before you make any radical decisions, would be to put your cards on the table and discuss everything openly with Jonathan. If the marriage is truly loveless, he must also be feeling the lack of love. Essentially, if you are that unhappy, you should be prepared to rock the boat and be true to yourself, whether or not you have someone else in your life. It is never a good idea to leave one relationship hoping a better one will give you what you want or lack – because nobody ultimately gives us what we want or think we lack. Only we can give that to ourselves.
If you have watched the video and read the e-satsangs on relationships, you know that moksa is freedom from dependence on objects for your happiness. I have attached an article on non-dual love that I recently posted on the website for you to read; it is part of a book I am busy finishing on relationships. The book is still in the editing stages, but here is a comprehensive excerpt:
Love and Relationships: The Three Main Issues Obstructing Love
1. We Are the Love We Seek
If we don’t appreciate ourselves as the love we seek, we seek it in another. The irony is that what we seek in another we always have in the form of our self, as far as we only want the “other” because it puts us in touch with the bliss of our self, the self. We only love the apparent “other” for the sake of the self; we never love another for the sake of the other, although we are convinced we do. An uncomfortable fact the ego does not like to face is that it pleases us to love the other, whoever they are. Love is prior to all objects and does not need the presence of an object to know itself or love itself. You are only ever loving yourself, even when you think you hate yourself.
The sad part is that the self knows itself as bliss, as non-dual love. But when we are under the spell of duality, we believe that the source of that love/bliss lies outside of us, in others, in objects or experiences, and we seek it relentlessly. We deny the fact that looking for love in a relationship doesn’t work even though we all know it doesn’t work. Scripture says it doesn’t work. World literature says it doesn’t work. As much as we are sold the idea through the media and entertainment industry that we can find “true” love through the “right” object, we all know the flipside of this idea. Cinéma vérité is where we don’t get to ride off into the sunset with our one true love. Why does this idea not work? Because we are the source of the love that we seek. Unfortunately, this fact is not known to people in such a way that it neutralizes the desire for love.
2. We Are Only in Relationship with Likes and Dislikes
Unless we have discrimination and self-knowledge, we don’t know that we are never in relationship with another person, although we think we are. We are in relationship with their likes and dislikes, and vice versa. To be successful in this kind of transaction, we need to overlook or condition to the likes and dislikes of the other while managing our own. Without karma yoga, this is a complicated dance that seldom works well.
3. No One Is Here to Please You
No matter how much society and our conditioning encourage us to find the missing “part” of ourselves, what nobody tells us is the immutable truth that no one is here to please you, save you or make you happy. Relationships are not designed to make us happy and they are not capable of doing so. Unless you are already free and self-knowledge has removed all ignorance, relationships are designed to help us develop self-knowledge, as is everything else in our life experience. Isvara, life, deals us all a set of cards – our set of circumstances and vasana load, or tendencies – and making another happy, saving or fixing others (or they us) is just not part of the hand anyone is dealt, ever. There is no point in trying to make it so, because it never works, although that does not prevent our futile attempts to make reality conform to our fears and desires. No matter how much the quest for object fulfilment always fails, we are like lemmings following the Pied Piper to our doom.
Everyone is here to work out their own karma, only. It is not possible to work out someone else’s karma or to fulfil their fantasies, no matter how good our intentions are. Having the vanity to believe that we can improve, save or make someone else happy by taking care of their karma instead of our own is fraught with danger, both for the “other” and for us. The scripture says that it is much better to do a third-rate job on your own dharma than a first-rate job on someone else’s.
If you think you are here to make others happy, to carry, protect them or “help” them, you are deluded. You are simply enabling them to avoid their own karma – and you will suffer because they will suffer and they will make you pay, sooner or later. Isvara is very strict about this and ensures that all such attempts result in suffering for both enabler and enabled. There is a special kind of crucifixion for those who attempt to do another’s dharma for them – and it is a cross we do not want or need to carry. That is not to say that a good relationship does not enhance happiness, but it cannot put something there that was not there in the first place – not for long anyway. Because of maya’s power to delude, it seems like another person makes us happy and full, but this is purely a projection of the experience of our own bliss as the self onto the other. This kind of happiness never lasts and there is no way to hold onto it. Happiness is an inside job!
Why Is the Compulsion to Seek the Other So Powerful?
The need for relationship a universal vasana, it is built in. From birth to death most of us are conditioned with the prevailing and inescapable belief that the presence or absence of a relationship or of “family,” people who are supposed to care exclusively (or at least in a special way) for us (but often fail to do so), is a major determiner of happiness and security, of our purpose in life. Even in cultures like India where relationships are for the most part not based on neurotic emotional needs but on practicalities, security is still a big issue.
The result of this societal and dualistic conditioning is the unshakeable belief that we are incomplete and need something to complete us, to make us “safe.” Our parents, educators, religious and political influences tell us this from a very young age. How do we escape this trap and either find or transform existing relationships into a happy, fulfilling, peaceful experience? Whether we are engaged in self-inquiry or not, this is one vasana we need to resolve because the dependence on or need for the “other” stands solidly in the way of self-inquiry, peace of mind and happiness.
In the West, most love relationships, whether familial or sexual, are extremely high-maintenance – we are born into them, relentlessly seek them and enter them loaded with the pressure of impossible expectations imposed on us by society. We expect them to take care of us, make us happy, safe, entertained, stimulated, excited about life. It is no wonder that these impossible demands cause so much misery and unhealthy codependence. Invariably the people we are in relationship with fail to deliver what we think they should, causing unnecessary heartache and suffering, leaving us scarred and damaged, seeking refuge from love. Most of us who have not resolved our “stuff” and hang onto our story, belong to this “scar” clan! The story of the joys and miseries of love are the story of humanity, and few of us escape it.
The Childhood Origin of Lovelessness
While it is essential that we understand our conditioning to be free of it, there is no point in dredging up our childhood to explain the origin of the feeling of lovelessness; it gets us nowhere – even though our childhood is where it originates, for most of us. To make a big mountain out of “our story” molehill simply reinforces the conditioning. Underlying all our psychological and emotional problems is that we are not getting what we want. Our parents, siblings, relatives, children, co-workers and lovers never gave it to us. We are unhappy because we believe that this is not right. We can blame the people in our lives all we want – but it never removes the problem. And we can blame Isvara and our persistent vasanas, but that will not help much either, so we will have to dig a little deeper.
Self-inquiry is always about the why. With regards to the overriding need for a relationship, we must ask ourselves why we need a relationship. Why do I want somebody in my life? Why am I not content with myself as I am? Why do I think that somebody else can improve my life? Am I bored with myself? Am I lonely? Why am I lonely in a world with billions of people? Who is lonely? Who is needy? Who is this “I” that seems to want things? Is this “I” really me? Can this “I” give me lasting satisfaction?
The Short Answer
The short answer to all these questions, which is always the best, is: we don’t esteem/love ourselves enough to be happy with ourselves. If we love ourselves as we should, either we would not have a problem attracting an appropriate mate or we would be happy being alone – which really means ALL ONE.
The glaring truth is that if you are seeking a relationship you are reinforcing your desires and fears. Accept the truth: being in relationship will not make you any happier than not being in one. In fact, if you have not inquired into why you need a relationship, the chances are very good that the relationship you are in or that shows up will make you extremely unhappy, usually sooner rather than later.
The Upside and Downside of Relationships: Life Is a Zero-Sum Game
In maya there is always an upside and a downside to everything. There is nothing wrong with wanting a relationship, but there is nothing right with it either. We need to consider the downside of this desire carefully and logically. If we go into a relationship focused only on the upside, we will not find relationship to be fulfilling. As soon as the “bloom is off the rose,” what James’ mother called the period of “limerence,” which is infatuated love, our likes and dislikes rear their nasty little heads – and so do our partner’s. The game is ON. All bets are off now as to how things will end up. Life is a zero-sum game.
For example, you lose intimacy when you are out of a relationship, but you gain freedom. When you are in a relationship you gain intimacy, but lose freedom. If you take the self’s position you won’t value intimacy more than you value freedom or freedom more than intimacy, so you will be happy when you are in a relationship and happy when you are out of one.
Wanting Itself Is the Problem
The upside always cancels the downside. There are advantages and disadvantages to both being in and out of relationship. You don’t get over yourself by relationship or non-relationship. It’s fine to want what we want, but it makes us blind to that fact that wanting itself is the problem. The uncomfortable truth most people don’t want to face is that wanting does not stop when we get what we want. We do not solve anything by getting what we want. We simply create more wanting. A Course in Miracles says, “From what you want God won’t save you!” So a serious inquirer should be trying to solve the problem of wanting another way, by doing inquiry into the one who wants what it wants the way it wants it, and why. Worldly people believe that getting what they want equals happiness, and no amount of evidence to the contrary seems to convince them that this is not true.
The Cause of Unhappiness
Spiritual science, Vedanta, says that the cause of unhappiness is the belief that one is a needy, wanting creature and not the whole and complete being that the Creator made us. Freedom is freedom from the one who wants. We are not saying don’t have a relationship; have one. But know that relationship won’t solve your problems. It will just create new ones. This is so because you are the problem.
You want things a certain way and the sad fact is that life really does not care how you want it. It is going to give you what it wants to give you whether you like it or not. We consult the stars or any number of quasi-spiritual modalities because we want to know what life is going to throw our way. We think we can bargain with, control or read the mind of God, that we can “get the edge.” But nobody does. So if we want to enjoy our time in this world we need to be ready to take disappointment as a gift and to see the pain behind the pleasure. There is no such thing as permanent nirvana in the world. This world is a mixed bag, it has always been a mixed bag and it will always be a mixed bag.
Expectations Are Always the Problem
There is a saying in the Vedas: “The path is indeed difficult for the one who has expectations.” The idea is that you are quite free to want what you want and to take appropriate steps to get it. But while you are gathering information and taking appropriate action, your mind should be free of expectations for a particular result. Not only are the expectations more than likely not going to produce what you want, but they are counterproductive in attaining what you want because they may so agitate the mind that you don’t perform the appropriate actions in an appropriate manner – and therefore compromise the result.
Love Neutralizes Personal Needs
The real issue in relationships is always love. The unknown fact that love is a much bigger than our likes and dislikes is absent. When likes and dislikes cloud the mind love is contaminated. For most people, consciously or (mostly) unconsciously, it’s a case of “if you give me what I want I’ll love you; when you no longer give me what I want, I won’t love you.” But to love another, it is not important who the person is on the personality level or what they can give you. Our personal criteria and values may vary, but if the knowledge that love is bigger than our likes and dislikes is firm, which is the basic qualification for a happy life, you can start loving without fear. If this is the case, invariably the love becomes what the relationship is about, giving and receiving love, not about particular ego needs. In fact the personal stuff gets subsumed in love. The love neutralizes it. The positive stuff grows and the negative stuff withers. It’s quite simple. The love object grows and so do you. You are liberated from dependence on the beloved, they are free of the pressure of your dependence on them, and vice versa.
What Is Liberation?
Liberation from bondage means freedom from dependence on objects for happiness. Liberation or the quest for liberation does not mean that one should not have a relationship. It means that the seeker primed for self-inquiry does not actively seek a relationship, if liberation is the main aim, because it has already tried that and it does not work. Should a relationship opportunity present itself and it does not distract the mind from self-inquiry, the relationship should be taken with the karma yoga spirit – as a gift from Isvara – and seen as part of one’s spiritual practice.
What Is a Spiritual Practice?
A “spiritual” practice is any practice that is conducive to peace of mind. Self-inquiry is a spiritual practice, or sadhana, but it could be anything – communing with nature, prayer, devotion to life, sitting in silence, karma yoga. If, despite all attempts to be free, the relationship-thought still consumes the mind and you can neither resist it by sublimating the desire through self-inquiry nor engage the relationship without losing peace of mind, self-inquiry will no longer be possible.
Until the mind is ready to forgo this need for completion through an object, it is not qualified for self-inquiry. If this is the case, we advise people to forget about self-inquiry and dive headlong into chasing their desires – until they don’t anymore. If the yearning for love is too big to manage, it is probably best to indulge this vasana until the desire burns out in the mind when it has had enough of suffering. Fighting or denying this need is futile. Relationship with another is one of the most powerful of all the universal vasanas, it is Isvara, and we all must do battle with it.
If the seeker or worldly person is already in a relationship, whether it is with someone on the same path or not, one should apply karma yoga in all situations and see the other as the self. What karma yoga looks like in a relationship is non-different to its application in any other area of life. One acts for a result, always following personal and situational dharma, leaving the results up to the Field of Existence (universal dharma), taking the result that comes as exactly what is needed in the moment, whether it conforms to our likes and dislikes or not. This is not easy to accomplish.
But if you can apply this practice in thought, word and deed, acting with the karma yoga attitude is as close as you can get to a guarantee that you will find peace of mind from any action – and lessen the pressure of your likes and dislikes, not to mention negate the one who thinks it is responsible for the results, the doer.
Nothing in the apparent reality is what it appears to be – and on top of that, everything the individual experiences will be experienced through the filters of the vasanas. Hence the saying “don’t believe what you are thinking and feeling!” Because of maya’s power to delude there is no such thing as unchanging truth in the apparent reality, because the gunas are constantly changing.
Moksa, “enlightenment,” means that you have negated all the objects as not-self and realized that the joy comes from you, the self, not the objects. Chasing relationships when you are seeking moksa is a contradiction in terms because you don’t enter a relationship to be free (unless you really are free), quite the contrary. Fear of being incomplete, alone or lonely compels the mind to seek the bondage of the perceived other, which is why fear of loss is so big in most relationships. There is no contradiction in having a relationship if you know that it is not going to give you anything you don’t already have. Nothing gives happiness or fullness, satisfaction to you, and nothing takes it away, because it is who you are. When we know this, we contact objects happily, not for happiness. That sounds like a nifty little saying, but it is a deceptively powerful truth. It is moksa.
No Levels to Freedom
There are many self-realized (and not self-actualized) people who have not dealt with “love” issues and who have a difficult time in this area. If the love issue still lurks in the subconscious, it will keep you stuck and prevent freedom from limitation. There are no levels to freedom; you are either free from limitation or you are not. And while it may be a little easier and bring relative peace to be somewhat free, it does not and cannot equal moksa. Again, there is no right or wrong, only what works, depending on what you value most.
To Sum Up: The Main Reasons Why We Seek Relationship
1. Fear of Being Incomplete
A binding attachment to the idea that you must have a significant “special other” to be happy or complete stands in the way of self-knowledge more firmly than most other vasanas, and is clearly contrary to the idea that one is already whole and complete, not to mention that entering a relationship expecting the “other” to fill your sense of emptiness is the worst possible motivation for having a relationship in the first place. It cannot be overstated that the underlying cause of the desire for a relationship is the spiritual longing for union with the self. It is the inherent lack of self-knowledge and the ignorance of one’s true nature as whole and complete, non-dual awareness that keeps the mind projected towards objects in the search of wholeness.
2. Another Person Will Make Us Happy
Another primary reason people go into or seek relationships is that they think having another person in their life will make them happy. But the inescapable fact is that nobody is responsible for your happiness, nor capable of providing it. When you want something from another person it causes a lot of pressure on them, particularly if you want something all the time, which is how needy people are. If you are a non-needy person in relationship with a someone who is emotionally needy, you will have a lot of suffering. If you are needy and are in relationship with a non-needy person, your needs not only cause you a problem, they cause your partner problems because he/she must spend so much time taking care of your needs that they will not have time to look after their own karma, which never works to produce happiness for either party. If your nature is needy and clinging, then you need to be in a relationship and go through all the pleasure and pain until you become dispassionate about your needs.
3. Fear of Being Alone
If you are afraid of being alone, accept that “you” are the problem. You have too much attachment to what you believe will make you happy. You are also the solution. The answer lies in a life of discernment between what is true (unchanging) and not true (changeable). You are always alone, nothing can change this. There is a big difference between loneliness – the absence of knowledge of the self, and aloneness, the unchanging, unlimited presence or knowledge of the self. Even if there is love between us and another person, we should treat ourselves as we if we are alone. Most of the important things in life must be done by you for you in the aloneness of your own consciousness. You do not come down the birth canal holding hands with another person. The caskets they bury you in are only made for one.
4. The Belief That Relationships Are Instrumental in Resolving My Issues
Although relationships do provide fertile ground for us to work out our psychological issues and gain self-knowledge, we do not need a relationship to find out what obstacles or conditioning we still need to face, as life will provide plenty of other opportunities to bring up our likes and dislikes when we are alone. All obstacles are the same for someone practising self-inquiry; the obstacles of being alone and the obstacles of being in a relationship are non-different. This position is just the needy mind convincing itself that it needs a relationship.
5. The Belief That Relationship Makes Change and Transformation Possible
As the self, we are the unchanging witness of the changing experiencing entity. But as far as “transformation” goes, as the personal jiva you are changing and transforming all the time, whether you are in a relationship or not. This is not a good argument for having a relationship. It is better to be honest with yourself and say, “I need someone else to make me happy.” Everything one does brings about changes in one’s circumstances and in one’s thinking and feeling. If you gain or lose money it changes you. If you get sick it changes you, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. There is no reason a relationship should make it easier for you to change bad habits – in fact the opposite is probably true if this is your motivation for having a relationship
Many people, if not the majority, who have been in relationships end up bitter and disappointed, at least at some point in their lives. This is not an argument against having a relationship, just a call to sanity and reason.
Even if a relationship does transform you into a more “spiritual” person, is it the most efficient way to transform yourself? If you practise self-inquiry properly, the transformations that take place on the personality level are gradual and inevitable and always positive. But you do not practise self-inquiry to make yourself a better person. If you do, you have not understood the purpose of self-inquiry. The purpose of self-inquiry is to set you free from your desires and fears, which are reinforced if you are seeking a relationship.
And finally, why do you want to be “transformed” in the first place? It only means that you are victim of negative self-judgment; you think there is something wrong with you, that you need to be “better.” The person who would be transformed will never be transformed into a perfect person. You cannot make what is imperfect by nature perfect. Even if you do “improve” you will always feel that you are not good enough as you are. When will you stop trying to be different from what you are? The feeling that you need work is born out of a misunderstanding about who you are. It will not go away because your personality changes. You are not the person who wants to be transformed by a relationship. There is only one self, and it is perfect as it is. It cannot be transformed. As the person, the jiva will never be perfect. But to be fee of it, we need to dissolve “our” conditioning in self-knowledge, and only then can we love our relative self unconditionally – and dismiss it, “as it is,” as arising from the self, the reflection, but not the self.
6. Seeking a Purpose or Meaning in Life
Seeking a relationship because you are adrift and purposeless in life or as a distraction from your own issues is another common myth that ends usually ends up in endless drama, disappointment and suffering.
7. Relationships Are About Pleasure
Relationships can be a source of great enjoyment, but only if you are emotionally mature. The problem with thinking that you can have a relationship just for pleasure is that you get very attached to enjoyment, and when you are not enjoying you are suffering. Relationships are not just about pleasure. It is very difficult to keep your mind free when you are operating in an environment of mutual needs and desires fulfillment, and it is hard work to keep the need for pleasure satisfied.
8. I Will Be Different If I Have the “Right” Relationship
Many people unconsciously believe that they can circumvent dealing with the parts of themselves they do not love by getting someone else to love them. The fact is that you are not going to be any different if you have a relationship and someone loves you. It is not a magic pill. Your anxieties, fears, desires, etc. will come along to the relationship. So you are going to have to deal with the same stuff. There is no way around it. If it weren’t these things that bother you, it would be something else that’s a problem. Many people also unconsciously believe that the next person will make all the bad stuff they have endured in past relationships somehow better or cancel it out. But they won’t, because only we can resolve our own karma. Invariably, what this attracts are repetitive cycles of the same kind of relationship with different people, always blaming the other person when it goes bad, which it invariably does.
9. Conditioning Chooses Your Relationship
People choose each other unconsciously. The vasanas do the choosing – and when they do, you will project your stuff onto the other person, expecting them to be your “knight in shining armour” or your “princess” who will give you everything you think is missing in your life and fix all that is broken, which of course they will fail miserably to do. You would have fulfilling relationships if you were fulfilled. If you start out incomplete, relationship does not make you complete. If you start out full, relationship will not be a problem.
10. I Want PASSION!
When the mind is extremely rajasic, it gets bored easily. It seeks constant stimulation, it wants passion, fire, excitement! It is not that passion has no place in a relationship, it does. But the problem is that love needs to be so solid that the passion can’t destroy it. Passion feels very good, but it is the most destructive energy known to humankind. It is a fire that often burns everything in its path.
11. I Only Want a Relationship with a “Special” Person
If we only want a relationship with a “special” person, a “soulmate” or worse, a “twin flame,” we are asking for disappointment and heartache. Why? Because there is no “special person.” There is only one soul or flame. If there is a “special person” that person should be you. You are your only soulmate because there is only one you, the self. If you feel special, then the need for “specialness” from the outside will not arise and you can get into any relationship with confidence. But if you are not self-confident, if you feel that you need something from the outside for your happiness, you will have a lot of fear, and that will sap your confidence and nothing will work. There is nothing as attractive as the confidence of the self, and nothing as unattractive as a desperate, needy person.
Inquiry: What Do I Value Most?
Assuming freedom from dependence on objects is more important to us than a relationship, we need to be clear about what we value most so that we can commit ourselves to our goal, moksa. Vedanta calls this purushartha nischaya: clarity with reference to our main goals in life. If we have developed enough dispassion because we have firmly established that the joy is not in the object, we can commit ourselves to our primary goal, self-inquiry. In this case, we have no problem giving up the pursuit of someone to complete us. But if this knowledge does not register for us because we are convinced that the joy must be “out there” somewhere, in someone, let’s consider our options.
1. Throw the Dog a Bone
Throw the hungry relationship-vasana dog a bone. This option is based on the idea that the kind of love we seek is out there waiting for us, but the way we are going about it is inappropriate and untimely. If we do not take our nature (svadharma) into account as well as take appropriate and timely action, we will never succeed in maximizing our chances of getting anything we want. So for option one to work, we need to get realistic. If we insist on a relationship, if or when Mr. or Ms. Right shows up, we do the relationship as karma yoga. Relationships can be useful spiritually, as the energy you formerly spent hunting for one can be profitably invested in higher pursuits, assuming the relationship is dharmic and does not consume the mind with agitating thoughts/desires and feelings. So if you insist on having a relationship, go for it and forget about freedom from limitation – moksa. Wallow in relationships until you are completely convinced they don’t work and the dispassion conducive to moksa develops.
However – and this is a big however – we must keep in mind an important and inescapable truth, one the ego does not like to hear and will beg to differ with. Nonetheless, we must state the unwelcome but obvious truth: confused, lonely people looking for love from confused, lonely people who don’t know what love is seldom produces long-term happiness. If confused, love-starved people find the magical “other” it seldom works to remove the confusion nor does it equal love. We must state the obvious again: nobody wants a relationship for moksa – freedom. Well, maybe we want moksa from loneliness, but freedom from loneliness is not moksa. People seek a relationship only because they believe that by having someone in their lives they will be more complete, happier, more full. But moksa, freedom, is freedom from dependence on objects for happiness, fullness. There is no fine print to this.
a. Love Is a Dangerous Game!
There is nothing essentially wrong with wanting or chasing love, but you need to know that love is a dangerous game. Love moves the furniture around, it turns your life upside down. It is merciless. It alters your relationship to everything and everyone around you, for better or worse. It makes you forget your own nature, forget appropriate action. It ruins lives, careers, families, you name it. It is the most powerful, addictive drug, which should come with flashing red neon warning lights! Even if you are ready to bend to what it asks of you, be prepared to be hurt or at the least out of your comfort zone. Unless you are capable of a quick rebound, you should not even try to love. Life is full of the walking wounded in the love arena.
Most of us are all too familiar with the way desire-based love has a way of backfiring, leaving us burned, eviscerated and reeling in toxic emotional shock, from which we can take years to recover. Many never do. Most of us have either been or know of someone who is or has been that fool – the one who blindly chases their desires, regardless of the abundant and obvious (to everyone else) warning signs. Seduced by love and drunk with the ambrosial elixir of “falling in love,” there is complete loss of dispassion, an inability to function logically within the rules of life, of dharma. We forget what matters and who matters, we forget who we are. Collateral damage is usually great too. The lure of happiness makes us and many around us very unhappy.
b. Love Is Not in the Stars!
The word desire comes from de (the) and sidera (stars) because desires are something unattainable, like the stars themselves. When the stars fall, however, they appear to come closer to us, and so it seems that desire comes to meet us halfway, which is why it is believed that shooting stars fulfil our desires, a nice little fabrication that never works to fulfil our need for love, because only we can recognize ourselves as that love. Nobody gives it or takes it away.
2. Man Up or Woman Up!
We commit to moksa as defined by Vedanta and make a vow to stand up to the relationship vasana until it completely dies. We make a binding contract with ourselves, like no dating for one year, to be extended if necessary. If we see someone we are attracted to, we avert our eyes and do not let fantasies take root. This is not easy, but if we are strong enough in our conviction and are sufficiently tired of suffering, it is possible to do this without manhandling the psyche.
Relationships, the Ultimate Duality
Relationships are such a problem and so fraught with anxiety about results because they are the ultimate duality. In fact it is the belief that reality is a duality that is responsible for the idea of relationship and the need for love. When a worldly person invests so much of himself or herself in something over which they have no control he or she is naturally filled with anxiety. As soon as we find the perfect other, we worry about holding on to them, of losing them. When you are caught in duality, even though the love that you are is fullness itself, ignorance of this fact causes you to project love onto objects, resulting in the belief that you lack love, are not inherently loveable and need to get love from someone or something to be complete, worthy and happy.
Accompanying the drive for relationship is the hard and fast belief in the idea of “man and woman.” “Man” and “woman” are universal archetypes in the mind of Isvara; they are macrocosmic vasanas. They are total duality – and they are all-pervasive. If I am identified with being a man or a woman, I will see everything through the filters of that program; it is impossible not to, as the gender overlay is unconscious and powerful. Even though one has many other identities other than gender – like mother, daughter, father, sister, work, play, etc. – these are all sub-identities subsumed by gender. What is usually not seen because the identification is unconscious is how limiting it is to respond to life through these filters. Even taking the self out of the equation, everyone has a deeper identity that overrides all other identities, and that is being a human being. If one has not developed the dispassion and discrimination to relate to so-called “others” as the self rather than relating to others through the gender filter, one can choose to identify everyone as members of the human race, regardless of who they are.
As long as a body appears before you, one cannot but continue living within the limitations of being a person, because even when self-knowledge is hard and fast, the jiva, or person, remains “in the world” – although known to be not of it. The essence of moksa, or freedom, is to dis-identify with objects and to be no longer depend on them for your happiness. However, in the world, the idea of being either a man or a woman cannot be avoided. After all, the body is not suddenly going to become androgynous when self-knowledge reveals your true nature to be awareness. “Femininity” and “masculinity” have their charming attributes, along with their negative connotations and historical baggage. However, as the self, one does not identify with either man or woman (or any other identity), because one recognizes them to be no more than ideas that have nothing to do with who you are as awareness. One is thus no longer limited by association with any identity. That said, the gender identification seems to be a difficult idea to get past.
Even in homosexual relationships this idea is unconsciously pervasive, with both partners playing one part of the equation. The only way it can be overcome and healed is by seeing the “other” as self. As an inquirer into the true nature of reality, assuming you want to be free of bondage to the idea of yourself as a person with all their inherent limitations, it is paramount that you recognize as soon as possible that identification with any identity is not helpful. Self-knowledge reveals reality to be a non-duality as opposed to a duality, making the gender issue a moot point. One sees everything as non-different from you, awareness; “man” and “woman” being no more than concepts arising in you, awareness.
As the self, one acknowledges that the body appears in a particular form, with or without some extra bits and pieces, programmed by Isvara with different universal vasanas, called man and woman, among others. The idea of man, woman, Jew, Hindu, Moslem, Christian or any other identity or role melts like frost on a windowpane with the rising sun of self-knowledge. With self-knowledge, I see that I do not need an identity or role; any identity/role is fine because none of them matter. All of identities are mithya. If I am no longer identified with the body or the person, then my primary identity is known to be whole and complete, actionless, unlimited, unchanging – and ordinary – awareness.
Feeling Love Is a Reflection of Love
The world tells us that if we don’t “feel” there is something wrong with us. The inescapable fact that feelings are the cause of so much unhappiness in relationships is lost on most people. It’s not that there is anything wrong with feelings, but the truth is that the feeling of love, of completeness, however delicious is an effect of the love that is my true nature, it is not real love. The experience of love changes and ends (like all experiences end). The feeling of love is a reflection of the love we are; it is not who we are. Unless the knowledge of completeness results from an acute appreciation of the knowledge “I am love” and is assimilated from the experience, sadly, most take the reflection to be the subject instead of the object, and suffer.
Passion for an object, particularly a person, is not love even though desire is a form of love. But if we investigate this, we will discover that when I love someone or something, it is the self (the love) in the object that I love. I do not know that when I contact the object I am only contacting myself. The object invokes the love that you I am. Remember, the joy is not in the object – ever! Love based on duality is thought to be love, but it is ignorance masquerading as love.
Love Both Is and Is Not a Feeling
Most people are confused about love, convinced that love is a feeling, which it is – and it is not too. Non-dual love is unshakeable self-confidence, not a feeling. It is the knowledge that no matter what happens in my life, nothing touches me, awareness. And it is the knowledge that everything I perceive as the jiva/person is awareness looking at itself. From this perspective, what is there not to love?
In the discussion on love, it is always difficult to understand the equation between awareness/consciousness and love. The difficulty arises because it seems like awareness is free of feelings, whereas love seems to be a feeling quite separate from awareness. But there is no difference, because reality is non-dual. Feelings are never apart from awareness. They arise out of awareness and are made up of awareness, like the spider’s web is made up of the spider, although awareness is always free of feelings. As with everything in the apparent reality, feelings (subtle objects) are based on perception and inference. These are the only means of knowledge available to the jiva under the spell of ignorance. There is no “real” world “out there” or “in here.” There is no “here” or “there” for you, awareness, because there is nowhere you are not. Without awareness, there are no objects to perceive, no thoughts or feelings. We need to acknowledge our feelings as the relative truth about the jiva in the moment, but not THE truth about us, the self. All thoughts and feelings are objects known to me. What is known to me cannot be me, awareness.
Feelings Cannot Be Denied, Only Understood
Non-dual vision does not mean that as the jiva/individual you no longer process feelings, good or bad. Self-knowledge is not a magic pill for the ego. Therefore feelings cannot be denied or suppressed – they must be acknowledged and understood – in the light of self-knowledge. The problem arises when the mind identifies with the feelings and relates to the world around it through feelings. When feelings are in control of the intellect, the mind is in an intractable position and discrimination is impossible.
Feelings Are Always Changing
Feelings are not a reliable means of knowledge, exactly because they are always changing. However, feelings are good indicators of how the gunas are playing out in the mind. All the gunas have very predictable thoughts and corresponding feelings associated with them. All feelings start off as thoughts even though it is usually difficult to catch the thought that precedes a powerful feeling because the feeling obscures the thought/like/dislike behind it.
The primary value to be pursued for self-inquiry to work is peace of mind, sattva. Sattva is experienced in a purified mind not controlled by rajas and tamas, and one that always follows dharma. Dharma that is contravened for whatever reason, however trivial, will produce agitation or denial. The mind will not be peaceful (sattvic), because rajas and tamas will be conditioning the mind. Most of us feel bad (guilty/uncomfortable) when we break dharma, which is what we call a “conscience.” This mechanism is built in, and unless you are a psychopath or mentally ill there is no way to avoid it.
Feelings Are the Result of Past Conditioning
The experience we have as children with our primary caregivers, our parents, and to a lesser extent our extended family and siblings, determines much of how we will see ourselves and relate to the world. If we suffered abuse or worse as children, were not seen and loved by indifferent parents, our self-esteem will be severely damaged, and we will spend much of our lives trying to correct this perceived lack through our contact with other people.
It follows without saying too much more that unless we have resolved our psychological issues we will project them onto everyone we meet and suffer the consequences. Notwithstanding the fact that the conditioning and circumstances we are born into are karmic, our childhood is where most of our likes and dislikes take shape, becoming more entrenched as we age. Whether we have had a happy childhood or not, the fact that seeking happiness through another plainly does not work, does not stop the repeated attempts by most people on the planet to “get it right” with the next person.
Three Options for Failed Love
If the love game has hopelessly failed us, we have had enough of this torture and realized the futility of the insane and hopeless quest to seek happiness through objects, there are three options available to us.
1. Resignation: the mind has resigned itself to suffering in whatever situation it finds itself in and has normalized the abnormal;
2. Cynicism: the mind has shut down in cynicism and self-preservation, is too jaded to care (or pretends not to) and has shut out love;
3. Karma yoga, the Key to Everything: in this last case, if suffering has served to turn the mind inwards towards the self and freedom from bondage, you are ready for a different quest, and karma yoga is the way forward. Karma yoga, surrendering the results of action, does not guarantee success in relationship or in any other area of our lives (nothing does), although it may. It may be that the relationship is unworkable, and the only course of action open is severance, even if this causes pain and discomfort for the mind temporarily. In all cases, if peace of mind and happiness is the aim, values will determine the course of action within the framework of karma yoga.
The issue is not whether one should be in a relationship or not or if a relationship is right or wrong for you. The issue is as always about one’s values and the motivation behind one’s desires. It is wise to see everything and everyone in one’s life (our circumstances) as one’s own personal Field of Existence and to serve it with love and devotion to the self, the truth. Our lives must accommodate to the truth, not the other way around. Karma yoga can be used very effectively to accept what cannot be changed; however, it does not work when it is used to hide from what needs to be changed because of the fear of the consequences.
A beautiful quote that applies is the Serenity Prayer: “Give me strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Laura: Thank you very much for you fast and extensive answer! I appreciate it very much! It helps me so much to see my own perspective but also the impact of the actual situation on the children of this whole family set-up. I thought it was enough to be able to offer them stability and love. That’s important ,but not enough.
It’s true that they are growing in a family in which their parents don’t love each other. We are not being the best example of real love!
I will take my time to think about all this. I took already the first step yesterday, since I talked to Jonathan about my feelings and my intention to get separated. He suggested me to stay with him, taking the karma yoga attitude and to accept happily the given situation. I wish I could do that! I tried that for a long time, but I was still unhappy, having the feeling that karma yoga was working as a mechanism to suppress my feelings and the wish to finish the relationship. It was not really karma yoga, probably. Or it was karma yoga in a situation in which I was not being sincere with myself.
I will get prepared to “rock the boat and be true to myself,” and hope that the children don’t suffer that much!
Sundari: You are welcome. I hope you find a good way to resolve your situation. You are right, karma yoga will not work in situations where we are going against our svadharma. Our lives must conform to the truth, not the other way around.
Proceed with caution though. Strong desire for another is a dangerous thing. As I said, you should be willing to leave your marriage with or without another person waiting in the wings – and seeking love in another is a very bad reason to enter a relationship or leave one. Read carefully all that I sent to you.
Laura: I need to tell you that yesterday I had a very profound conversation with Jonathan. We were both very open, clear and careful with each other. We put all our cards on the table!
I proposed to him to split up and become good friends in order to be able to fulfill our parental common tasks in the best way, to become friendly and loving friends for our own sake but especially for our three beautiful children.
He was happy about me raising these issues and agreed to putting all the effort into the relationship and to make the changes that are needed.
He also said that he does not have any expectations of me. He does not want us to be lovers or have a dualistic relationship. He said we are ONE, and thinking about “relationships” does not make any sense to me. Relationships are part of the big projection, since you are always only having a relationship with YOUR SELF! There is no “other” out there. He also said he is satisfied and content with his life, that he loves me and the children.
He said he wants me to be happy and seriously dedicated to Vedanta, to be free to travel but to be sure that I do not run away from my obligations as a mother, taking happily care of the children as part of my karma.
I told him that I would like to have a loving relationship with someone else if Isvara gives me this opportunity one day, to love and feel loved even knowing that happiness is not coming from objects. He replied that a relationship will not make me happier, but I should feel free to do my make my own experience (without feeling guilty since I would not be incurring into a violation of dharma, being this is a common agreement; he doesn’t feel hurt by that).
We agreed to live together in the same house, to raise our children while being respectful and open with each other. I changed my bedroom though and moved downstairs where there is a big room with all the commodities I need. We are not together as a couple anymore, but are committed to respect and take care of each other as friends.
He sounded so clear and stable, so generous and loving; that was very surprising to me. He was showing me a form a non-dual love.
I really hope that this kind of relationship will change and grow in a healthy, loving way.
Isvara is so generous to me! I have so much room in my life to inquire, a family that loves me and a freedom that is in accordance with dharma.
Sundari: I am happy to hear of this outcome; it is clear that the clarity and dispassion of self-knowledge showed the way, true karma yoga in practice. Well done to both of you! I was concerned for you because the desire to love with passion is very dangerous; it can blind us to things that will most certainly cause us pain. It seemed to me that you were leaving a man you could not be happy with in the hope that another man would do this for you – and what was most concerning is that he does not seem to want to accept you with your karma, meaning that you are a married woman with children. If you embark on a relationship on that kind of conditional footing, you are guaranteed to suffer.
If you read what I sent to you, which I assume you did, you will know that I concur with Jonathan, not because it is my opinion (although it has been my experience, I have been there too, where you are) but because it is common sense and what the scriptures say. No relationship is going to make you any happier than you are right now, nothing can, because it must come from you, the self, nowhere else.
Perhaps this new arrangement will open the way for a different and more satisfying love between you and Jonathan. It is not that there is a right or wrong about staying or leaving, it is just the motivations for either must be right or it will not work.
I hope for the best possible outcome for all concerned.
~ Much love, Sundari