You, as a parent, need to learn how to take care of your children properly. Since you spend so many years of your life with them, it is important to make them the focus of your Dharma practice and meditation. But by saying this, I am not suggesting that everyone has children! My point is that if you are planning to have children, you should be really careful, and before having children, learn how to make their lives as beneficial as possible. Of course, there is still no guarantee that everything will work out; your children will have their own individual karma. But, because children spend so much time with their parents, you can potentially have an enormous influence on them. Therefore, parents have a huge responsibility. Unfortunately, most people don’t think about this and so don’t plan what they are going to do with that new life after giving birth to a child. Instead, they tend to think that having children is going to be pure bliss, without a single problem, like a wonderful dream come true.
The same is true of relationships. People think, “To be with them is all I need in life.” They never think about the possible problems, and instead, see a life filled with beauty and bliss. They think, “If I could only be with this person, I could kiss the rest of the world good-bye. Whatever happens after that, even if the world were to be destroyed by fire, it wouldn’t matter.” It is very interesting to investigate how the mind thinks, and in particular, ‘the trip’ that attachment takes us on. Attachment sees only beauty, only bliss. It considers that particular person to be absolutely wonderful and the most important and best thing in life.
Even before you meet someone, you hope to encounter such a person and imagine how the relationship will be, including the holidays you will go on together. Mentally you make up stories or daydream about how nice it will be.
Then at the beginning of an actual relationship, there is a lot of excitement. You are attracted to each other and meet for an hour or so here and there, perhaps in a park or at a restaurant. You meet more and more often and come to think, “How wonderful it would be if we could live together.” Eventually, you either get married or move in together. But only then do you begin to really see the other person. As the days pass, you gradually begin to get angry when the other person behaves in ways or says things that you don’t like. You begin to notice many previously unnoticed things about them, such as the unpleasant smell of their body and excrement. Gradually you come to see many faults. You begin to see the selfish mind of the other person, that they don’t want to do what you want them to do and that they only want to do whatever they want. Your unhappiness starts to grow and then gets stronger and stronger.
Whereas at the beginning, there were no problems and you were completely absorbed in bliss, now that bliss is like a cloud or a rainbow disappearing from the sky. First, there is just a trace left and then it is completely gone. The days pass and there are more and more problems. Eventually, your heartfelt wish comes to be expressed in the thought, “When can I be rid of them?” At this point, your way of thinking is completely opposite to what it was at the beginning of the relationship. Now what you wish and pray for from the bottom of your heart is to be free from this person! That becomes the most important thing in your life—to be rid of them is what would make you the happiest person alive. Day and night, while you are at work and when you return home, you continually ask yourself, “When am I going to be free?” You look for a way to make this happen and as a result, there is more and more fighting and quarreling. Your life becomes filled with tears and misery. You blame each other, saying, “You did this” and “You did that.” Finally, either you leave them or the other person leaves you. And then what you want is to never see that person again! While at one time, the best thing imaginable was to be with that person forever, now the best thing would be to never encounter them ever again.
One time I was in Singapore and an Indian couple came to visit me. They told me that they couldn’t wait for their daughter to get married and asked me to pray for this to happen quickly. I advised them to be careful, to take their time and to not rush, but I didn’t go into any detail about the possible problems that could arise. They seemed to have no idea what marriage implied; it was as if they were completely hallucinating. For them, their daughter’s marriage was the most important thing in their lives and they seemed oblivious to the fact that marriage is not always sun-shining bliss. This showed me that not only young people but also their parents never actually think about what can happen; everyone just takes it for granted that couples will always have a good life together. Even though everyone sees and hears about the problems that occur in relationships, people never think that this will happen to them. However, sooner or later, there will be problems; for example, some couples end up fighting over money and other possessions to the point of ending up suing each other.
When the experience of being together starts to become unpleasant, you see more and more problems, and at the same time, your attachment diminishes more and more until the excitement is completely gone. But even before that relationship is over, you get into another relationship with the thought, “This person loves me more than my present partner.” You start the same mental story all over again, “This person is fantastic; they only love me. If we could be together, there won’t be any problems, only bliss. This time there won’t be any darkness, just sun-shining happiness.” Then, the same story starts all over again. You move in together and gradually the other person learns more about what you are like, and you also begin to see things that you didn’t notice before. You find more and more faults in each other and gradually lose interest in each other. Once again the relationship ends. Then again you meet someone new and think, “This person loves me so much more.”
If on top of everything else you have children, this can create additional problems as then all the attention tends to become focused on them. If that happens, you can easily come to feel that your partner doesn’t love you anymore.
For all these reasons, you should consider having a relationship to be an opportunity to practice Dharma and to free yourself from worldly thoughts, just like having children. In particular, you should make sure that being together with someone becomes a cause of enlightenment by keeping in mind the motivation of bodhicitta. You should cherish, serve and dedicate your life to your partner in the same way that you aspire to do for all sentient beings.
You can use your relationship to practice morality by, for example, observing the five lay vows of abstaining from killing, stealing, adultery, lying and mind-altering substances. Likewise, having a partner provides an opportunity for you to practice the other five perfections of giving, patience, perseverance, concentration and wisdom. If you can do this, they will give you enlightenment just like your children.
You can also think about your partner in exactly the same way as your children, “I have received every happiness experienced throughout beginningless lives from this person.” Just that kindness is unimaginable, but on top of that, you also receive all your future happiness from them. In addition, you also receive liberation from every suffering, which is much more precious, from them. Then, you also receive enlightenment, which is even more precious, from that person. Thinking in this way, the conclusion is that your partner is the most precious, most dear and most kind person in your entire life.
You should also keep in mind that in past lives, your present partner was your mother and at that time was kind to you in the four ways. By recognizing the vast kindness you’ve received from them, you will come to see yourself as their servant. Thinking in this way, your living together will become an opportunity to practice Dharma. With the attitude that the other person is most precious and kind, every single action you do will become a means of collecting extensive merit. If you also act with bodhicitta, you will collect limitless skies of merit and your actions will become the cause to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. By thinking, “I am going to offer service to this person who is a most precious sentient being,” you will collect a huge amount of merit every day and also purify defilements collected throughout beginningless lives. Since you will constantly create the cause for the biggest success—full enlightenment for all sentient beings, your life will be filled with happiness and hope.
When trying to understand the things that happen in a relationship, you need to take past karma into account. Everything that you expect to happen doesn’t necessarily happen because the way things go depends on the karma that you and your partner created in the past. If you always remember to relate events to karma by thinking, “This is my karma” and “This is their karma,” a potential problem doesn’t even become a problem because you accept the situation. It does not bother you and there is peace in your heart. But if you don’t think of or don’t accept karma, you will feel as though you are crushed beneath heavy mountains of problems. However, it’s your own faulty way of thinking that makes you feel like that.
If you remember karma, then even if one day your partner leaves you, there will be no problem at all. You will respect their decision by seeing how they are the most precious, dearest and kindest sentient being from whom you receive all your past, present and future happiness. Thinking like this, you won’t have any clinging or attachment, and even if your partner decides to leave you, you will be able to mentally offer them whatever is best for them. If a relationship begins with this way of thinking, it will also end well. On the other hand, if the motivation at the beginning is faulty, then at the end when separation occurs, there will be intense suffering even to the point of contemplating suicide.
If you are able to make use of all your relationships to practice Dharma, you will lead a very healthy life. Whether you have a partner or children, whether you are taking care of other people’s children, the elderly or your own parents, you should practice seeing yourself as their servant and the sentient beings you are taking care of as your lord or boss. Then serve them by working to free them from suffering and to bring them happiness. This is the attitude of a bodhisattva towards all sentient beings.
By thinking in the ways that I have explained here, you will be able to fully enjoy life. You will find satisfaction and fulfillment and you will experience inner peace and happiness. Otherwise, no matter the excitement and no matter how many good things happen to you, your heart will always be empty and you will be miserable.