Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Love + Relationships
Singapore Post Auditorium, Singapore
April 8, 2012
Note 1: This transcript is not an official publication of Siddhartha’s Intent. Every effort has been made to ensure that this transcript is accurate both in terms of words and meaning, however all errors and misunderstandings are the responsibility of the editors of madhyamaka.com. Please see note.
Note 2: This transcript includes footnotes with clarifications and more information about Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist terms used in the teaching. Please click on the superscript number to read the footnote. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s name is abbreviated to “DJKR” throughout.
Love + Relationships
Introduction: When Rinpoche fell madly in love in London
I believe that we’re going to talk about relationships and love and all those [things] today. And probably I’m not the right person to talk about these things. But on the other hand, I may be the very right person.
This may be a little bit uncomfortable for some of you to hear, but I have received teachings from many teachers. I would say that they are really the Buddha in person [because of] their kindness, compassion, and tolerance. And in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it is believed that the guru comes in many different kinds of manifestations. So within this context, I will say that I have also learned something so precious and so awakening from a girl [with] whom I fell madly in love. I tried to call her last night [to ask] whether I could mention her name, but she was not available. So right now, all I can say is that she’s Dutch. She’s very beautiful and free-spirited, and her parents are kind of like bohemian hippies.
This was when I was in [my] early 20s. With the permission of my main teacher, I decided to go to London to study. And for the first time, I left the traditional surroundings [of a Tibetan monastery] where there are things like brocades as tablecloths, high thrones, and attendants. Basically, [my previous life was] almost like a godly life in one way. [Then] I went to London and I was alone. I learned lots of things like making breakfast, going to [the] supermarket, and almost buying cat food thinking that it was for human beings. It was a big lesson. Actually, I dare say that many younger generation lamas and Rinpoches, esteemed high lamas, I think they should go through this. I suggest that it should actually be part of the Rinpoche training curriculum. They should fall in love. And of course they should make toast and go to a supermarket and so forth.
But they should also fall in love. And then this girl should reject them. Because then we know what is suffering. Until then, when we talk about the truth of suffering1The truth of suffering is the first of the Four Noble Truths, cattari ariyasaccani (Pāli: चत्तारि अरियसच्चानि) – see cattari ariyasaccani., we’re always talking about things that are written in the books, like death, old age, sickness – all abstract stuff. Most lamas don’t know what what is meant by paying bills. [They don’t know] the pressure of living in modern society. I have learned a lot, but most importantly, this girl taught me a lot, because I was completely, madly in love.
She was very free-spirited, really extremely free-spirited, I would say. I think she grew up in a hippie community. Sometimes we would be traveling in the subway, and she would nudge me and say, “What do you think of that boy?” [She would point out] somebody traveling, just an ordinary passenger. And before long she would be talking to him, and then after a few days, they were already together. Just for a night or two, not long. You know, she would discard him also.
In her own way, she was very loyal to me. But it was so painful. And here I’m supposedly a lama who is supposed to teach free spirit, non-attachment, do whatever you want. And there’s this girl, jolly, happy all the time, and [she’s] really giving me a really precious teaching. I must really consider her as one of my awakening teachers. She’s so special, I would say. So I think in some ways, maybe I can talk about relationships.
In Buddhism, love is limitless
In Buddhism, [as] I’m sure many of you know, we talk about love and compassion. But when we talk about love [in Buddhism], and what we are supposed to discuss this time, namely [romantic] love, they’re different. In Buddhism, and especially in Mahayana Buddhism – and not only in Mahayana but in Buddhism [more generally] – we talk about metta2metta (Pāli: मेत्ता) = loving-kindness, the wish that all beings may have happiness and the causes of happiness – see metta. and karuna3karuna (Pāli & Sanskrit: करुणा) = compassion, the wish to free all beings from suffering and the causes of suffering – see karuna.. But the kind of love [that is] taught in Buddhism is what we call “limitless” love. Those of you who are familiar with the Buddhist concept of the four limitless thoughts4the four immeasurables or four brahmaviharas (Sanskrit: चतुर्अप्रमाण, IAST: caturapramāṇa) – see brahmavihara. will know this. In fact, love is the first of the four limitless practices [to which] we are introduced.
The definition of love [in Buddhism] is wishing for all sentient beings to be happy, and not only to be happy, but [it also has] the sense of gathering the causes of happiness. And this kind of love is aimed at all sentient beings. Therefore, the object is limitless. This kind of love has no personal agenda, so from the point of view of its intention, it is limitless. This kind of love is not only aimed at acquiring happiness in the sense of mundane happiness, but it is really aimed at true happiness, which is enlightenment. In other words [its aim] is to awaken [all sentient beings] from the net of delusion. So, it is limitless. It is not limited like our ordinary concept of love.
Buddhism teaches truth, not love and relationships
[The topics of] love and relationships that we are expecting to discuss are really not taught in Buddhism. I have to tell you that. This is why I always think Buddhism is not going to grow so much [in the modern world]. Buddhism deals with truth. Truth is something that generally people are not that interested in. Buddhism talks about things like impermanence and illusion. Not many people are interested in those things.
For instance, if you go through the sutras5sutra (Sanskrit: सूत्र, literally “string, thread”) = discourse; canonical Buddhist scriptures, many of which are regarded as records of the oral teachings of Gautama Buddha – see sutra. and shastras6shastra (Sanskrit: शास्त्र) = a treatise or commentary on the words of the Buddha – see shastra., there is no mention of [how to perform a] marriage ceremony. This is why Buddhists don’t have a marriage ceremony. I tell you, this is true. Many, many traditional Buddhists in Korea and in Japan are becoming Christian now, because [Buddhism] doesn’t have a good marriage ceremony. It’s nice to wear a wedding gown. Bouquets and music and all those [things] are important. But Buddhists don’t have [them]. And I always say that if I were to make a Buddhist marriage [ceremony] – and actually I’m trying to gather some ideas of things related to Buddhist marriage – but if I really do it authentically, it’s not going to work. The couple would be in front of me and I would say something like, “Oh well, you know, things are impermanent. It might not work after a few days”. More likely, Buddhists would have a divorce ceremony.
So, love and relationships are not taught in Buddhism as an institution that you need. Rather, the love and relationships kind of “love” is taught in the Buddhist teachings as a problem. Not as something that you need to establish. When Buddhists talk about love and relationships, their attitude is always one of a little bit of suspicion, some kind of suspicion. But, of course, Buddhists know that no matter what, people will still keep falling in love, people will still get married, and people will still strive for relationships. So, one could give some [Buddhist] advice on how to have a “proper” [approach to] love and relationships, and I guess there are also questions regarding sex.
So, related to some of the Buddhist wisdom, we could discuss these things here and there. And this is what we will attempt to discuss today. I went through [a list of your] questions. There are many questions, and I don’t know whether we can finish all of them, but we will try and see.
We are all dependent on conditions
I think it is a Korean film. Koreans are so good with love story movies. They are really good. I don’t remember the name of the film or the director, but there’s quite a good film I saw a long time ago. It’s about a servant and a maid. The servant is from one family and the maid is from another household. They both serve very affluent, rich families. They do all the household chores, and these two are madly in love. They’re poor.
But both families are kind of like yuppies7yuppie stands for Young Urban Professional. Yuppies are typically the children of doctors and lawyers. They hold prestigious degrees and are very concerned with their appearance and social status. Many live in expensive houses or apartments – see yuppie at Urban Dictionary., so they [do not spend much] time staying at home. Many times, both families are overseas. So, the real human beings who actually stay in their houses are the maid and the servant, from the two different houses. It’s such a good film. They use the houses of their boss, which is maybe not the right thing to do, but there are flowers, big beds, champagne, fine wine glasses, candlelight dinners, all of that. So it’s like they are exercising their lovemaking relationship in a borrowed place.
In many ways, our love and relationships are also a bit like that. The reason is – and this is where the Buddhist wisdom comes in – we’re all dependent on conditions.
None of us have control over anything. Forget external things. We can’t even have control over what we will be feeling or thinking the next minute. When it comes, it comes. Then it will just blow you, push you, pull you, stretch you, flatten you. We are totally conditioned. We are so dependent. And it’s not getting easier. Modern life [with its] modern structures and infrastructure is making us even more dependent on [many] different things, and [it is becoming] even faster. A rejection from your partner could come instantly in an SMS8SMS stands for Short Message Service, a text messaging service on mobile phones, the early 2010s precursor to what became “texting”. See SMS at Urban Dictionary.. In the past it may have taken [them] a month to walk [to your village], but this is no more the case.
So our lives are stressful. Our emotions are like a roller coaster. But anyway, the point is that we are ruled by conditions. So, it is good to be aware of this. We are trying to have love and relationships, romance and candlelight dinners, within this situation where everything is dependent on so many things. Now think. I think it’s quite good to have this awareness.
We take things for granted
Because one of the biggest problems with love and relationships is something called “taking things for granted”. When a couple meets, [the first] week, two weeks, are fantastic. And then – [or perhaps] after a month, for those people who are kind of slow in their thinking – after a month or even a year, then [things start to change]. Due to all kinds of situations, stress, responsibilities, morality, depression, you end up taking things for granted, especially your partner.
Suppose [you are used to] your partner sending you an SMS you every half hour. And one day this partner, I don’t know, maybe she or he has a diarrhea problem or something, and [they] forget to SMS you within half an hour and it bothers you. It bugs you. Then there will be questioning, “Why didn’t you do it? What happened?” All this.
So I think to have awareness of this fact that we are so dependent on causes and conditions. [For] everything. That awareness might create a space and a boundary.
Failure and insecurity
This leads to another point. Fundamentally, [our approach to] love and the intention of having a relationship is very much based on insecurity. Love becomes “complete” love when you feel you are satisfied with the notion of being loved by the other side9Ed. as in phrases like “you complete me”.. You know, [sometimes] I write film, and there are different genres that you can write, like comedy, thriller, whatever. And romance is something very interesting. If you want to write a romantic film, it has to work [as a story]. What works in a romantic story is that it has to have a failure. The love should not work. Only then the love works. This is interesting. If you look at all the great romantic stories like Romeo and Juliet, we love them because they are tragedies. So love has this tragic [aspect]. Insecurity is like the [life] blood of love, I feel.
Successful and unsuccessful miscommunication
We love dogs. Do you know, we kind of love our pet dogs and pet cats much more successfully than our human “pets”. Because dogs don’t talk to us. Well, they do but we don’t understand them. They do a few things like wagging their tail and stuff like that, but it’s not complicated. [Whereas] our partners talk. And then, of course, you listen and you hear. Or you don’t listen and you don’t hear. This is this is a big one. Communication.
I was just telling some of my friends that there is no such thing as communication. This was actually said by Jigme Lingpa10Jigme Lingpa (Tibetan: འཇིགས་མེད་གླིང་པ།) (1730-1798) = one of the most important figures in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, regarded as an incarnation of both King Trisong Deutsen and Vimalamitra. He revealed the Longchen Nyingtik, the Heart Essence teachings of Longchenpa, which has become the most famous and widely practiced cycle of Dzogchen teachings – see Jigme Lingpa., one of the great Nyingmapa masters. He said, “The moment we think, it is confusion. And the moment we say something, it is a contradiction”. There is no such thing as communication. There are only two things: successful miscommunication and unsuccessful miscommunication11Ed.: This formulation parallels the teaching on the two truths in the Madhyamaka, with “communication” = ultimate truth and “miscommunication” = relative truth. As in the Madhyamaka, there is no ultimate truth, but we can distinguish between successful (valid) and unsuccessful (invalid) relative truth. The classic example is the white conch that is either correctly perceived as a white conch or misperceived as a yellow conch, but nevertheless there is no truly existing conch.. And when you have an unsuccessful miscommunication, you are having a good time. When misunderstanding is not working, only then you are having a good time. Of course, when the real miscommunication is happening, then of course you are [not having a good time]. Communication between two partners is so difficult.
We don’t know what our partner is assuming or expecting or afraid [of]. We can sort of guess, based on some of the things that have happened in the past. But emotions and moods are like weather. They change all the time, due to all kinds of things. Hormones. Too much sugar in the tea. I don’t know. [There are] endless causes and conditions, as we talked earlier. And we are so dependent on conditions. We are ruled by conditions.
We’ll come back to communication a little bit later. But first, if we have a problem with communication, how do we share things? Ah, this is a big one. You know, everything in relationships is about sharing. Now, let me bring some of the Buddhist wisdom or Buddhist understanding of sharing.
In Buddhism, there is no such thing as “sharing”. We can assume that we are all looking at the same flower, exactly the same flower as the flower that I’m looking at. But that’s only an assumption. What you see, I never see. Not only the direction or the color, but your idea of flower – [what is] good [or beautiful about this flower], all the paraphernalia [and characteristics and symbolism] of this flower. [It’s] an individual experience. You can try your best to describe this to somebody, and this person – your partner – [might] assume that he or she is looking at the same thing. [But they cannot see what you see].
This is very [much] emphasized in Buddhism. If you read classic Buddhist texts like the sutras, they all begin with “Thus have I heard. Once Buddha was here [and I heard him say] …” – you know? Like that. “Thus have I heard”. It’s a very important statement, because Ananda12Ananda (Sanskrit: आनन्द) (5th–4th century BCE) = the Buddha’s cousin, who later became his primary attendant and one of his ten principal disciples. Among the Buddha’s many disciples, Ananda was known for having the best memory, and most of the early sutras are attributed to his recollection of the Buddha’s teachings – see Ananda. is saying “I don’t know what he [was actually trying to say], but this is what I have heard”.
It [also] works like that in a relationship. When two people are in love, they may think that they are sharing an exquisite blissful moment, but both sides are hearing, experiencing, seeing their own version of bliss or pain or whatever. We are now going quite deep into Buddhist psychology, but I wanted to say this because in a relationship, communication happens to be a very important factor. I think this is why relationship shrinks13i.e. therapist. See shrink at Urban Dictionary. can help you, at least to a certain extent. Because when there is a successful misunderstanding happening between the two partners, they can then hire another person who hopefully will hear things and misunderstand unsuccessfully.
And then this shrink, this psychologist or therapist, would then give his or her own opinion. And many times it doesn’t work, but the human attitude is that we have this habit of fixing things. We like to fix things. We like to mend things. It’s kind of like updating your software. Fixing [things] is fun. Of course it is a pain, but it’s also fun. “Okay, let’s download the latest version”. And that’s how we edit [Ed.: the recording is unclear. It could be “edit” or “add to” or “end”] our life, by downloading new thinking.
Having to be nice
I’ll let you ask questions, but there are a few more things. In the drama of a relationship, there is one very powerful mental factor that – should I say? – disrupts our relationship. And do you know what that is? It is the burden of having to be nice. This is a burden. You feel that you have to be nice. Oh my god! Like opening the door [for them], putting on their jacket, “Are you cold? Are you hot? Are you hungry? Do you want to have a little bit of this?”
The burden of needing to be nice. Many times that kills the relationship. You try to be nice to this person, like opening the door [for them] and all of that. If you are a man, then before you pee, you lift it up. If you are a man, after you do the bigger business you put it down, things like that. All these small details. In the process, you have taught your partner that this is what he or she is supposed to assume. And one day you are going to fail [to] do this. And then, all the miscommunication begins.
But insecurity is still not going to let go. Shall I tell you one of the biggest symbols of insecurity that we have? Rings. Exchanging rings. And then going to court to sign [a piece of paper to say] “We are married”. These are basically insecurity talking. Insecurity expressing. Humans are so ridiculous.
Actually, I think the whole term “marriage” should be changed now. I think marriage is outdated. It’s like a term from the last century. Now I think you should actually call it a “company”14Ed.: as in a business organization or arrangement, rather than something done for companionship or love.. [If your view is that] a marriage is for economic reasons and maybe to produce children, I think you [would] have less expectation and probably a nicer relationship. Because you have less expectation. It’s a company. Husband and wife are shareholders of this company, and therefore you can have proper meetings and disagreements and agreements and all that. But anyway, these are signs of insecurity.
Okay we’ll take a break.
We are powerless when karmic winds blow
You may have assumed that I’m anti love and relationships. That’s not true. I’m all for it, actually. Anyway, when the karmic wind blows, if you’re not strong enough, we’re like a feather in the wind. Wherever the wind blows, there we’ll be moved. Many of you, I’m sure you think you are in control. “That’s it, now I’m past middle age. The chances of me playing this stupid game of relationships and love is over”. This is what you may think, but we don’t know. Karmic winds might blow towards you from the least expected place such as Bolivia or Rwanda, and then next you might find yourself madly, truly, deeply, head over heels in love with a Rwandan, a Bolivian, a Chilean, I don’t know, something that you least expect. This can happen. We don’t know.
It’s the same with me, really. You know, in my tradition, in the lineage to which I belong, not really lineage but the custom, I could get married. When I was around 17, there was talk [among] some people saying that I should get married, and people actually sort of suggested some [potential] brides. And I went to my father. My father is quite unique. He himself is also a practitioner, was a practitioner15DJKR’s father Thinley Norbu Rinpoche died in California in December 2011, and was cremated in Paro, Bhutan in March 2012 – just one month before this teaching. See Thinley Norbu Rinpoche.. So I asked him what he thought. Well actually, until I met that Dutch girl, I thought was very free-spirited. Especially when I was around 17 or 18, I was very much [of the view], “Relationships? Love? It’s such a disgusting thing to do”. Because I was also partly trained and brought up in a monastery where there were a lot of ordained monks. I guess maybe that’s the influence.
So when I went to my father, I asked him, “You know, I think I’m going to get ordination. I think I’m going to become a monk”. He looked at me and he said, “Well do whatever you like. But if you’re asking me, between becoming a monk and getting married, they’re equally difficult.” He said a lot of things. He also said, “Well, at least in the marriage situation, you will be less hypocritical”. And that was very good advice, I think. So I’m not being anti relationship here.
In Asian society, there is pressure to get married
But many times, what we are lacking in basically everything we do is being objective. So, we get caught up. We get entangled with certain values. And this is a big subject especially in our society, in Asian society. I know so many people, especially girls, of Asian Chinese origin, and by the time they reach around age 25 they get so stressed because they’re in the midst of this whole society that is looking [at them and asking] “Why are you still not married?” And I really feel for them, because their parents, the older generations, they value marriage. But the world has changed, on many different levels. As much as we like to have relationships, in this modern world we want to make merry, we want to throw parties and we want to get together and rub our shoulders, and we want you to rub other parts of our body and stuff like that.
But we also alienate ourselves so much, so much. Really, it’s happening on every level. Families used to have no television, so they were forced to eat together. So at least there was some kind of relationship. Now, the family has different rooms and different televisions in each room, and they all have different channels, and each person watches their own favorite program. So we alienate ourselves. Then there is a Facebook, Twitter, and fast broadband methods of alienating ourselves. And then, of course, [relationships are] expensive. Costly. Of course, a relationship is emotionally expensive, but it can also be financially very expensive. But in this particular society I feel there is this pressure to get married, especially for girls.
Life never works: The example of the three strawberries
For all of this, it helps us to be objective. I’m sure [that all of us] including myself, we will end up doing everything opposite of what we talked today. But it’s good to have an objective view about our life. And ideally, to remind ourself [of] this fact, so that we are not one hundred percent disappointed.
I remember giving you the example that our life is like trying to put three strawberries on top of each other. You know, you put one strawberry on the top of [another] one and then you try to put [a third one on top of the second]. And it doesn’t work, because they’re slippery and they are oddly shaped. But the problem is that the second strawberry kind of sits on the first one, momentarily, and that gives us some hope that it may work.
But life in general, it never works. It fails. Some of you younger generations might not be aware of this, but the older generations, we know how many times we have tried to fix [things] and have a so-called happily living forever16Ed.: “happily ever after” is a stock phrase used in fairy tales to signify a happy ending – see wikipedia.. That situation, the Bollywood experience. How many times have we tried to have that? It never really worked.
But don’t be afraid of relationships if the karmic wind blows
But I’d also like say that one should also not be afraid of relationships. If a relationship comes to you from a very odd corner, you should be confident and accept it. Let life flow. You never know. I have actually encountered people who are past 50, both men and women, and then suddenly they find themselves being admired by younger people. They get so flustered and so agitated and “What to do?” And they are kind of happy inside, but at the same time they are afraid, “I don’t look good any more. I look saggy”. All of this. Where the karmic wind blows.
I will tell you something. I can’t mention the name. This one, I definitely cannot mention the name. When I was seven or eight years old, I had a crush on one Rinpoche’s mother. She was maybe around 45. Oh my god. It was such a strong crush. I remember it so clearly. If anybody was talking to her beside the Rinpoche, her son, I would get jealous. I would get like “What is this guy doing?” And for many hours and many days I would kind of make [up] a story about life with her. So ridiculous, isn’t it? She never knew, of course not. She was very beautiful, I have to say. But many of you know this Rinpoche, so I cannot tell you [her name]. Then I really will be jobless.
This could happen to you. And when it happens, you should not be [afraid]. It’s because of the same reason. Everything is dependent on conditions. The reason why we should not blindly fall for the value of relationships, it also the same reason we should not be afraid of relationships. Of course if this person is sleazy or not your type, then of course you either skillfully or directly avoid [them]. But if it comes to you, and if you like this person, and if you have a certain … what is it? Lizard? Or butterfly in the belly? Butterfly, right. If there are butterflies in your belly upon seeing this person, by all means go for it. But from day one, make sure that you will not be trapped by expectations and hope. From day one. If you do that, I think you would have a proper relationship.
I was telling you earlier about Buddhist marriage ceremonies. Actually, for couples about to get married, [iIt might not be] a bad idea if the priest says, “Well, we never know what will happen to you. You may even fall apart tonight”. It may not be a bad idea to express this. It might sound very inauspicious. It might worry some overly protective in-laws. But maybe it’s not a bad idea to actually tell the truth about separation and the fragility of a so-called marriage and relationship.
Give freedom to your partner
Anyway. I think maybe we have talked too much about all this. So let’s turn now to something more practical. Let’s say you already have a boyfriend or a girlfriend or a wife or a husband. You’re stuck, basically. You already have one. Now what should we do? After we have discussed this, should we now go ahead [with the relationship] or should we all become monks [and nuns]? Remember, I’ve already given you that example. I would say if you already have a partner, I think it’s important to remember that in Buddhism, the whole idea, especially in Mahayana Buddhism, the core purpose of practicing Mahayana Buddhism is to give liberation to all sentient beings. Liberation means freedom basically.
And many times, giving freedom to so-called all sentient beings is bit like building a ladder to the sky. It’s almost abstract. Unthinkable. “All sentient beings? Maybe my neighbor, yes. Or maybe like a few hundred, maybe. But all sentient beings? That’s a bit too much”. It’s abstract. But even though one may not be able to liberate and give freedom to all sentient beings, we can at least start with giving liberation and freedom to one’s own partner, one’s husband or wife. And that’s very practical advice, I must say.
Many times, when we are having a relationship, it’s basically strangling each other. You know, choking each other. And that’s not a relationship. You should really give freedom to each other. Who your husband or wife or boyfriend or girlfriend is texting. Who he or she is hanging around with. Freedom. Give space. Freedom. And I think this is important. Actually, even if you have a really good relationship, I would suggest to retreat yourself from your husband or wife or boyfriend or girlfriend at least one hour a day. Don’t talk. Don’t text. Don’t communicate. Nothing. I think it will help.
Our life is like a guest house
Anyway, lastly, Shakyamuni Buddha himself said we must all treat our life, our so-called family life, as an experience of drön khang17drön khang (Tibetan: མགྲོན་ཁང་) = guest house, wayfarer’s inn, hotel – see drön khang., which basically means “hotel”. Our life is like a hotel18Agara Sutta: “The Guest House”, SN 36.14. Translation by Nyanaponika Thera available at Access to Insight. Christopher Titmuss suggests this sutra inspired the 13th century poet Rumi to write his poem “The Guest House”:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.. In a big hotel, people check in and people check out. This is how it is. Our life is like that. New friends check in. Old friends check out. And this is such an amazing teaching, because this is how our life is.
If you can think that, this is the beauty of temporariness19Ed.: DJKR’s second movie “Travellers and Magicians”, which is a tragic romantic story, has the tagline “The bitter and the sweet of temporary things” – see wikipedia and IMDB.. Temporary things are so nice. They are very blissful and beautiful. When things are stagnant and forever, they stink. You should think that this life with my husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, it is very temporary. Even though you may not break up during this breathing life, one of these days one of you will have to die. And when you die, you will go [your] separate [ways].
After you die, probably for the first three days [in the bardo20bardo (Tibetan: བར་དོ་) = “Intermediate state”, usually refers to the period between death and the next rebirth – see bardo. state], you may remember your wife or your husband’s name. By the fourth or fifth day, you will only remember half their name. By about the tenth day, you don’t even remember whether he was he or she was she, or maybe he was she or she was he. And then by around the twentieth day, you don’t even know that your partner was a human being.
Then the force of the next life begins to creep in. For instance, if you are about to be reborn as a bird, your love and admiration, that [desire to] always want to smell your boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever, that’s being replaced by feeling famished when you see a worm. Because you’re about to become a bird now. And you feel like flying and so forth. And by that time, your so-called beloved husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend – that chapter is closed. And by the next time you see [them], you might have been reborn as a pigeon. You might sit and eat breadcrumbs next to your ex-wife or ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. And you will not even notice [them]. And he or she will also not notice [you]. And that’s how we play the samsaric game.
It would be amazing if we could actually go somewhere up there [DJKR points to the sky] and look down at every life that we had in our previous lives. In fact, the arhats can do that. They go up and they look. It would be just so sad and happy and joyful and just amazing [to see] how many people must have hanged themselves for the love of you. How many people have starved for the love of you, and how many times you yourself have hanged [yourself] for the sake of love and relationship for others.
So, remember the temporariness. And this is not only for relationships. Everything. This cup of coffee could be my last. This book that I’m holding could be the last book that I’ll ever hold. And if you can have that kind of mindfulness, then you can begin to really enjoy and love. You know, really “Wow, what a good book”. Because otherwise, we are always thinking about the next thing. Planning to live forever, basically. Anyway, what did Shakespeare say? Parting is such sweet sorrow21These words are from Act II, Scene 2 in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. After the famous balcony scene in which Romeo and Juliet reveal their love to each other and plan to marry, the scene concludes as day breaks and Juliet bids Romeo farewell:
Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.. Yes, I think he’s right. Love and relationships are basically sweet sorrow.
Part 3: Q & A
[Q]: The first question is: why do people always feel loneliness? Is it because they’re insecure or lack a sense of belonging. And also we don’t know who we are. And it follows with the second question: why do we need companions? Why can’t we live alone?
[DJKR]: Well, if we could live alone that would be really good. This is what the yogis are good at. And that’s why they are free from all kinds of baggage. Loneliness. This is a kind of a philosophical question for me, actually. According to Buddhism, loneliness is rooted in this insecurity that I was talking about. And when I say insecurity, basically I’m talking about how even though we say “Me, I’m David, I’m this, I’m that”. Even though we have a name, a position, a job, a husband, wife, a degree, a flat car22Ed.: DJKR is referring to low-profile sports cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis., a penthouse, all of this. [Despite all this] there’s an ongoing insecurity, which is that we have never proved one hundred percent that we exist. And actually all these [things] like rubbing the skin and cutting the wrist and getting a degree and getting married and all of this, actually we are doing this so that it temporarily gives us some sense of existence.
As I was talking to you earlier, the flower that I see, you will never see. So we cannot share the “real” flower. We can just pretend that we are sharing, and that is so lonely. I can never share [with] you what I’m experiencing. It’s just so lonely. What I’m experiencing, only I can do it.
Now if you’re a Buddhist, loneliness is the dawn of wisdom. You’re supposed to invest in this loneliness. If you are lonely, [then] you are feeling awkward with this samsaric life. You can sense that it’s not working. You can kind of feel that it’s all a little bit over-promising. You can feel this. So this feeling awkward, feeling of not belonging to this [samsaric world] is actually a very important mental factor that a practitioner is supposed to invest in.
Gendün Chöpel23Gendün Ghöpel (Tibetan: དགེ་འདུན་ཆོས་འཕེལ།) (1903–1951) = a Tibetan scholar, writer, poet, linguist, artist, and a campaigner for the modernization of Tibet – see Gendün Chöpel. said this. If I modify [his words] a little bit, when we are young, all that we value is going to the beach and building a sandcastle. We get so excited about it. We just love that sandcastle. After a while when you are around teenage, the sandcastle doesn’t do the trick anymore. It’s then fast cars and video games. But when you are around middle aged, that doesn’t work [any longer]. Then it will be job, position, colleagues, marriage. Then when you are around 90 that game doesn’t work anymore. When you are around 90 you begin to value things that you [previously] overlooked like salt shakers, table cloths and stuff like that.
So you have changed the toys, but some of us can sort of fast forward this within a few months, and then look at our life, “Wow, it’s kind of meaningless.” So that awkwardness will make you lonely, and that loneliness is very important for spiritual people.
There’s a story in the Prajñaparamita Sutra about when a bodhisattva visited Buddha, and the bodhisattva complained to the Buddha saying “I feel so sad about this meaningless life, and it’s almost painful”. Then Buddha said, “This is a noble wealth”. He said, “You have so much merit. That’s why you are feeling sad about these things. If you didn’t have the merit, you would be distracted by all these gadgets and think ‘This is life’. And by the time you reach a point where you actually [think] ‘Wait a minute. What happened in all these 95 years?’, then it will be too late.” So, for a spiritual person, it’s important.
[Q] I have been a victim of discrimination at work, due to my sexual orientation. It reached a stage at which I handed in my resignation. I did not disclose my sexual orientation. In hindsight, what could I have done better? Looking forward, should I disclose my orientation to employers from the start. I seem to observe that people [treat me differently] when I am more up front.
[DJKR] Yeah, it’s a very important question. And I totally understand. I mean, myself a few years ago, I performed several marriage ceremonies. I do that, by the way. I married two men, and I also married two women. Lots of eyebrows were raised. I mean, of course they must be outcasted [in their societies] – [although] maybe not so much in [places like] America – but [what about] myself, the performer of the marriage? How can you do this? What are you doing?
For those who have a different sexual orientation, in many cultures, many habits are unfortunately not tolerated. And this is so unfortunate. I don’t have a clear answer for this. I don’t know whether you should be disclosing this or whether you should be hiding this. It depends [on each] different situation I think. I can only say this is very unfortunate.
I hope and I think because of the communication and the infrastructure, it is kind of getting better, but at a very slow pace. I have myself acted a messenger, even as recently as about a week ago. This boy, who is now almost 45 years old, has very traditional parents. [They are] wondering why he’s not interested in girls. And I know all [about] the situation and this boy is asking me to be the messenger, the negotiator with the parents. And actually I did that. Surprisingly the mother took it quite well. The father was a bit tough. During the conversation, I noticed the father unnecessarily opened his mouth many times. And paused. He opened his mouth and paused, so I could feel that this was not [something he] accepted that easily.
But it’s very unfortunate. I don’t know. I don’t have any particular practical answer. All I can say is if you are a follower of the Buddha’s teachings, you should have the aspiration that not only yourself, but [all] those who are going through the same problem will also be liberated from this kind of pain. And if you are one of those busy mantra lovers, you should chant a mantra called the mantra of interdependent [arising], which begins “OM YE DHARMA HETU …”24The mantra Ye Dharma Hetu (Sanskrit: ये धर्मा हेतु) is known as the mantra or dharani of dependent origination – see Ye Dharma Hetu
The complete mantra in Sanskrit is:
ye dharmā hetuprabhavā
hetuṃ teṣāṃ tathāgato hy avadat,
teṣāṃ ca yo nirodha
It is chanted with “OM” at the beginning and “SVAHA” at the end, and is pronounced:
OM YE DHARMA HETU-PRABHAVA HETUM TESHAM TATHAGATO HYAVADAT TESHAM CHA YO NIRODHA EVAM VADI MAHASHRAMANAH SVAHA.. And this somehow works for some people, so maybe you can try it. You know, you have nothing to lose.
[Q]: How to end a difficult relationship? How to know when to end it?
[DJKR]: This is so difficult. Very difficult. I don’t think you can decide. As I told you, if only it was that easy. [If only] life was like a light switch that you could switch on and off. [But] it’s dependent on so many different causes and conditions. And many times, the fact that you cannot just end [a relationship] could also be [for] many really inspiring and good reasons. [For example] you don’t want to hurt the other person. You don’t want to hurt a lot of other people.
You know, many times we say that it is important to be honest and straight, but I don’t know. I doubt. To be skillful is very important too. Because you could be straight and end a relationship, but you might suffer with guilt your whole life. Again here, I have no specific answer. My only answer is you just have to know that [ending a relationship, like starting a relationship] depends on so many causes and conditions. We are basically so dependent on that.
Ending a relationship is equally difficult as beginning a relationship, and it’s equally elusive. We never know. But as I said, when the karmic wind blows it will end, and when it ends, there’s nothing you can do. My only Buddhist answer, simply put, is to go with the flow. You better. Because if you’re trying to resist, you might break yourself and others. It’s very difficult to answer this one.
[Q]: How would a bodhisattva or one gone thus react or not react to a partner who may be forgetting emptiness and is expecting a lot from the bodhisattva?
[DJKR]: If this bodhisattva knows emptiness, then he or she must have compassion. So, someone who is compassionate will look at the partner with compassion, like a mother who has extra love for their sick child. The bodhisattva will have more love and compassion towards a partner who doesn’t understand emptiness. That’s easy to answer. That’s a very Buddhist [answer].
[Q]: Rinpoche, can you share some insight on how two people can best use each other as mirrors for each other’s spiritual growth?
[DJKR]: That’s possible. As I was telling earlier, beginning to give freedom to each other, that is always the key. And especially if both partners have the same direction, such as if they both believe in the same spiritual path, then they can exchange their notes. They can volunteer to be [each other’s] object of patience. Sunday maybe you do it, Monday your partner can take over, like that. And to remind [each other]. That’s very possible. You are talking on the Mahayana level, right? Yes, it’s very possible.
[Q]: Thank you. How [can we] do this? [Do you have] some suggestions?
[DJKR]: As I was saying, really, I wasn’t being amusing here. I have actually suggested this to a few [couples] to take turns. This week, the husband is not allowed to lose patience. Next week, [the wife is not allowed to lose patience]. Like that. And to do contemplation. Let’s say [you are following] a spiritual path like mindfulness. It’s easy to be mindful when you are sitting on a cushion inside a shrine room. That’s good, but you have more bonuses if you can [also] be mindful when you are losing your temper or emotion. So you can exercise that with your partner. You can also pledge together that this is what you two will do. And it really works.
[Q]: You have given the example of being nice, things like “Are you happy? Are you cold?” And then your partner turns to you and says “Now you should have less expectation of me”. What and how should we do in reaction to this?
[DJKR]: If your partner says “You should have a less expectation from me”, is that what you’re saying? If you are a follower of the Buddhist path, it sounds like you have a quite a good partner. [But] as soon as you hear [them say this], your expectation will grow ninety degrees, I have a feeling. It will annoy you, that’s the problem.
[Q]: I am openly gay to my friends and family. Before coming out to them, I was socially withdrawn. Now after coming out, I feel more complete and it doesn’t feel that I’m living a lie. However, I feel my parents do not fully accept me and insist that I continue to keep it a secret from my extended family. It has been many years already. What should I do to reconcile the hurt that I feel and the grief my parents feel in having a gay son?
[DJKR]: Within this context, as I said earlier, within this kind of culture, I don’t know what you can do. I don’t have an easy answer to this one. As I was saying, we don’t know. Many times, to be straightforward and to be open is cherished and valued. But to be skillful also has to be valued, because many times the truth, the honest truth, cannot be easily appreciated by others. It cannot be digested.
Even the Buddha, if you look at his teachings, there are many different levels of teachings. Many, many teachings are what we call expedient teachings, teachings that require interpretation. The direct, naked, absolute teachings such as Vajracchedika Sutra are very difficult to digest. Here Buddha says, “There is no Buddha. There is no form of the Buddha. Buddha never taught”, and so forth. And that’s shocking. That’s undigestible. So, in many other sutras like the Jatakamala Sutra, Buddha talks about his past lives. Once when he was a rabbit. Once when he was a peacock and so forth. And then there are other sutras where he says, “Well, there’s something called Sukhavati, the Amitabha realm where there are lotuses and swimming pools” and stuff like that. So Shakyamuni Buddha was being very skillful in [his] approach.
I would suggest it’s very good that you want to be open, but I’d like you to also be skillful. Because actually, the fact that you want to be open is already very wholesome enough. Then you have to think about consequences of your truth. If it is going to disrupt family, friends, and parents, this is where you have to be very skillful. And this particular issue, this particular phenomenon seems to be one of the most stubborn problems especially within cultures and societies that have an old, long tradition. Yes, to be skillful. That’s about all I can say.
[Q]: In summary, what would your advice be for a successful relationship? Please give your main points. Perhaps you could write a book.
[DJKR]: Oh I cannot [answer] this one. Oh, I just finished reading a book. It’s really good. I’m sure many of you have read it. It’s by the Japanese author Murakami, it’s called “Norwegian Wood”. That’s a quite a good love story. Profound. I think you should read that. “Norwegian Wood” is also a Beatles song, isn’t it? It’s good. It’s kind of tragic, of course. That’s why it’s good. But it has a good insight. It’s about the most pure love that you can imagine, I would say. So forgiving, so compassionate.
[Q]: One more question on this popular topic, just adding onto the general issue with the Buddhist point of view. Is engaging in a gay relationship or gay sexual activities a breaking of the precepts?
[DJKR]: Now, that’s easy to answer. [Although] I need to build my answer for this one. Otherwise, a partial answer might mislead you. Every religion has an enemy, it looks like. Like Christians and Muslims have Satan and so forth. Every religion. And Buddhism also has one, the devil of Buddhism. And what is that? It’s called distraction. Constant distractions. That is the Satan of Buddhism. So, understandably, the quintessence of the Buddhist practices is, obviously, mindfulness. This is why mindfulness is taught in the Theravada tradition, in the Mahayana tradition, and in Vajrayana tradition. Mindfulness is the thing. That’s one part. I want you to keep that in your head. Distraction is the main problem.
Now in connection with that, in Buddhism, morality is secondary. Wisdom is primary. Shantideva said “Morality without wisdom is a pain in the neck”. It actually makes you hypocritical. It makes you judgmental. It makes you puritanical, and so forth. This is true. When I was growing up, my tutors used to say “Watch out for these Western girls. They’re immoral”. Blah, blah, all of this, you know, like “American girls, English girls, they’re so immoral. They wear short skirts” and all this blah blah blah. They used to tell me this. Years later when I went to America, to my surprise, I found out and I realized that Americans are much more moralistic [than my tutors said]. American society, American values are so moralistic. This is why if you can recall, the whole nation debated where Clinton’s cigar went in. Remember? As long as he’s doing his job well as President, who cares what he did with his cigar? But Americans care so much about morality. So this is the thing. Actually, in Buddhism, wisdom is much more important. Without wisdom, everything [to do with morality just] makes you proud, makes you hypocritical. Basically, it’s pain. So, I want you to keep that in your head as I answer this question.
So, in Buddhism there are very general sort of rules. Such as “You should not kill”, ”You should be generous”, “You should not steal”, and so forth. So-called non-virtuous actions and virtuous actions. You must have heard this before. The ten non-virtuous actions and ten virtuous actions, and so forth. But how do you define what is virtuous and what is not?
If an act brings you closer to the truth, it’s a virtuous action in Buddhism.
For instance, let’s say these two [people] are being chased by a murderer. In order to save these two, [if] the murderer asks me “Have you seen these two?” I say no. That’s a blatant lie. That’s an act of lying. But I’m saving them. Such kind of act might outwardly [seem] non-virtuous [as it’s breaking one of the five precepts], but actually it’s bringing you closer to the truth – the truth of compassion, love and all that. So therefore, especially in Mahayana Buddhism, [any] action that brings you closer to the truth is virtuous. [And any] action that takes you further from the truth is non-virtuous, even though it may be seemingly virtuous. Such as going to Bodh Gaya and doing 100,000 prostrations while making sure that everybody is looking at you so that you will become famous, [and looking at] whether anybody’s taking photographs of you. [If your prostrations are done] for self-cherishing and all that, that’s bringing you further from the truth. That is non-virtuous.
So, therefore there are categories such as non-virtuous and virtuous. Sexual activities are generally considered non-virtuous, but it’s never specified with what orientation. Even on the Mahayana level. I’m not even talking about the Tantra, which is even more beyond our normal thinking. But even on the Mahayana level, it doesn’t matter what kind of orientation you belong to, as long as you [are not engaging in] the kind of sexual activities that take you away from the truth. Yes, [then] it is non-virtuous action. But that could be [true of] anything. It could be shopping, too. [It is true of] anything that takes you [away from the truth]. So the bottom line, my answer to you is that the Buddhist sutras and shastras will not say that heterosexual [activities] are less non-virtuous than homosexual. There is no discrimination like that.
Having said that though, Buddhism is influenced by culture a lot. It’s a little bit unfortunate, but you know, it’s unavoidable. So when Buddhism travelled to Tibet, Japan, and China, and of course in India where it originated, the cultural values may have had an influence. So this is why, even in Singapore, I’m sure many of the Mahayana Buddhists [don’t accept Tibetan Buddhism]. I don’t know whether there are any Mahayana Buddhists here today, but when Tibetan Buddhism comes with these hideous thangkas, like with the father and mother consort embracing each other, basically [some people think this is] pornographic. So the Mahayana people go bananas, “What is this? This is Buddhism? It can’t be. This is some Hindu stuff or some cult stuff”. So culturally I cannot wipe away that problem. It’s so much part of the culture.
Of course, the tantric method of the practice of consort, and the deity and the consort has amazing wisdom. If you want to make a fire, what do you need? Wood. If you want to bring wisdom, what do you need? Emotion. That’s the theory. And another thing. If you have water inside your ear, what do you do? The simple and the most economical way is put more water, and it comes out. Likewise, if you want to get rid of emotion, what do you do? The best and the simplest way is to practice emotion, and so forth. But those are X-rated. Exclusive. Only for people who can chew it basically. Who can digest it. Yes, we have problems with more orthodox thinking of course. But you know, it’s really interesting. When you go to places like Sri Lanka, they have Avalokiteshvara, and they have Mañjushri also. But they’re treated as clerks, like gopher boys, like “They are Buddha’s students, those laypeople. They happen to be one of those nice boys. But they didn’t have the guts to renounce the world, so they still wear jewels. They are still laypeople basically”. So [they are understood on] that level.
Now we come to Mahayana places like China or Japan. Of course, you still find Avalokiteshvara, even in the Taoist shrines. [They are seen as] great bodhisattvas, and accepted as objects of refuge even though they are not monks. Even in the Mahayana monasteries, the monks with their shaved heads and all of that, they prostrate to Kwan-Yin, who is a woman. With all the jewels and all of that. So the wisdom in the Mahayana is very different [from the Theravada level]. But in the Vajrayana, it’s also much more different than on the [Mahayana] level. So this depends on the culture, and [what this culture is able to] accept.
[Q]: Rinpoche, how do we as householders practice mindfulness during the process of sexual activity, as we tend to be distracted from mindfulness and awareness when we come to the most exciting part.
[DJKR]: You know, for someone who is a student of the Vajrayana [such as] myself, it is a very valuable question. But I don’t know the audience here so much. So therefore, I cannot give you the complete answer. But it’s a very valuable question. I appreciate this question very much. Please ask again in the future, but probably in a different sort of surrounding. But since you asked, I will just briefly answer you within the Mahayana context. What I want to say is that mindfulness teachings, especially in the method of vipassana, can be categorized into four categories – body, feeling, mind and dharmas. We have four categories: mindfulness of body, mindfulness of feeling, mindfulness of mind, and mindfulness of references or dharmas. So, during the intimacy, if you are experienced you can actually use the first two. And if you are practicing the Mahayana, I don’t see any wrong in thinking that this is all impermanence. This bliss, this seemingly temporary bliss that I’m experiencing is an illusion, but may all sentient beings also have this kind of seemingly blissful [experience]. You know, like that. So in the Mahayana you can trigger these kind of activities with this kind of thought. I cannot say that it will become virtuous. But I can also say that since we are such deluded beings, and since we are so stuck as samsaric beings, and yet we are trying so hard to follow the Buddha’s teaching. And if you are so sincere [in seeking] to incorporate everything that you do as a path of the Dharma, I don’t see any reason why [you should] not incorporate mindfulness, even with this kind of activity.
[Q]: If I love myself enough, then I don’t need any love from others, right? So, how do I gain the internal strength to love myself in order to love others?
[DJKR]: This is a little bit of a tricky question because generally, we do love our self. But I have a feeling that in this case the term is not really “love”. I think it’s more like “respect”. Of course when we say we love someone, we actually mean that “I love myself and I want you to also love me”. So we are kind of looking for double happiness. But giving respect to oneself [is important], especially in Mahayana Buddhism. We must have the confidence of having the Buddhanature. I think that is probably the best.
I know there are many questions, but time is running out. I’m sure there are many more exciting things to do today for all of you. And I’m happy that we had this encounter and this discussion. I don’t recall what we have done [for the] past two hours. I don’t think we have done anything meaningful, but it was good that we sat together and tried to reflect [on] our emotional life a little bit. I don’t know.
So I don’t know whether there’s any merit in what we have done the past two hours, but in case there is, then let us dedicate this merit to all those who are looking for love. Or those who are longing for love. Or those that are already in love, those who are struggling with a relationship, those who are struggling with not having a relationship, those who are longing for companionship, those who are lonely, those who are overly not lonely.
All of those, may they all see the fact and the truth of our existence. And if you were there last night, as I said, the truth of this cyclic samsaric existence is that at the end of the day, samsaric life cannot be fixed. And you have to accept that. You have to accept that we all have a terminal disease. We just have to accept [this]. Sooner or later, everything’s going to fall apart. And that’s a good beginning. Okay, thank you.
Note: to read footnotes please click on superscript numbers.
Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio