Human Relationships in the Spiritual Life

This morning I am writing this during what would usually be meditation time. I could not focus on my meditation because I feel so torn by a question that hit me this morning while reading Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva. One of the difficulties of our chosen path is that in the West there are so few teachers and sages to ask questions of. There is no nearby sadhu or monk who I can easily take this concept to but I know that I have all of you; you who also struggle with doubts and spiritual ideas in what can feel like a spiritual desert. Please, give me your thoughts as I truly feel torn apart into several directions right now.

For many years I have worked on my spiritual path. While that path started with Christianity it soon migrated East and my practice and philosophy has been mainly Buddhist but later also strongly informed by Hinduism and Taoism. I guess that mix is what ultimately interested me in Ram Dass and the community here built around his similar eclectic mix of Eastern thought.

Lately, I have been reading The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna as well as The Way of the Bodhisattva. I have found in both a strong bent toward the life of the renunciation, sacrifice not only material possessions but also romantic/sexual love and even friendships and family. For me, material possessions are not so difficult to accept as something not worthy of attachment to. The questions for me come around friendships and especially romantic and sexual love. On the Ramakrishna and more Hindu side of my readings of late even householders (like myself) all seem to become basically sunyassi in marriage and renounce and romantic love or sex beyond the purpose of conception. On Shantideva’s side he clearly teaches to train the mind to find other human bodies and your own as nothing but bags of excrement and filth so that desire for another should never enter the picture. While Ramakrishna had friends-even some with questionable behaviors-Shantideva would have us live as hermits in wild places and avoid others altogether so that our quest for liberation should never be interrupted or misdirected.

Clearly, those of us who come here are committed to one degree or another to working out our own liberation from this Samsaric cycle but I think we also each see a beauty and vitality in each other and in the interactions with have with other beings whether they be friends, enemies, our children or our lovers. Certainly, some interactions with others can lead us from the path we desire to follow and we can be more tied up at times with lust for another more than a deeper love based upon our wise insight into a person for all the aspects that make up who they are in this incarnation. Despite this, those of us trying to follow a spiritual path do endeavor to see others for all that they are and for the sacredness which truly seems to exist surface appearances and forms the basis of everyone we meet. We can often recognize that it is the most difficult people, events and relationships that are our truest and most powerful teachers. Shantideva himself expounds on our need to appreciate our enemies for what they teach us yet he suggests being intimate emotionally or physically with no one is the path.

I see the value in a renunciate way of life. Sages and saints who have adopted it spell out its value. For some people, at some places on the path, this is exactly the life for them; the perfect next step. However, if we follow the idea that if we are serious about our spiritual life and quest for liberation we must renounce love, sex and friendship I think what we do for many is what Ram Dass said and we create a bunch of “horny celibates”.

To me-and I am no sage or saint, only a seeker- what is more true is that we are each at our own place on the journey and, due to karmic situations, can only be exactly where we are. That would mean some of us will be monks, some parents, some passionate lovers, some bank robbers etc. What is key is that if we would be free we work toward our liberation from wherever we are. We work toward the surrender of our attachments and clinging from what we are capable of in this very minute.

Perhaps giving up the attachments we have emotionally with friends, family and lovers can bring us to another place but I chafe so hard at the concept that if we are serious seekers we must never desire another person again or avoid friendships which can both nourish and poison us. These things all teach us about the truth of our existence. Ou trials, our loves, our attachments, fears, and failures all teach us and if worked with as “grist for the mill” can move us forward on the spiritual path. At the same time, how do I reject a Shantideva or a Sri Ramakrishna or myriad other Eastern saints who said otherwise?

I cannot simply dismiss the beauty and sacredness of deep human interaction. Shantideva teaches us to love and serve all people yet to stay entirely detached. This is a powerful ideal and rejects the craving and attachment we form easily and yet…

I’m sorry I’ve written so much as I’m sure it will scare some of you off but these are the thoughts on my mind this morning. I hope a few of you will take the time to read and respond as you folks are my companions on this path and I’m sure many of you have thought about this and struggled with it.

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I don’t know how community thing works. So I’ll just write and see what happens. I, too, struggled with The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. He was predicted to be born a divine child. I think he came in already realized from prior incarnations. Same with Ramana Maharshi. If you listen to the Dharma talk of Krishna Das, he gives a great description of Ram Dass that I had not heard before. Ram Dass said that his stroke saved his life, that he knew he was not getting it. It took the stroke to open him up to a new place of surrender.

I think the best we can do relative to our relationships with others is to try to be as present as possible of what motives lie beneath the feelings. I worked on presence for 47 years. I never really let go completely of the dream of finding that perfect mate. But it certainly became less of a drive. Maybe old age can take care of it. It just wears out. I am now 81. My friends are my soulmates. I have learned so much from judging them and then understanding their mechanics and their beautiful place in my life. I’m still learning about my own mechanics through them. I realized recently that I have not been that affected by the loss of my brother and sister. I respect my siblings, and they have wonderful open ideas about life similar to mine. Two people who were very important to my development, Ram Dass being one of them, truly affected me deeply when they passed. I’m glad I could feel that. Again, listen to Krishna Das. He has such good things to say about love that I have not heard before.

This is a quote from the file in Reimaged: Life and Teachings of Ram Dass, Changing the Channel. It appears at the very end.

“How do you know? What have you done that allows you to know these things?” And she leaned forward very conspiratorially and she said, “I crochet.” At that moment, I knew it wasn’t the game I thought it was. And that’s what it turns out, that the people who awaken, when you are ripe to awaken in an evolutionary sense, you awaken no matter where you were. You awaken any way. A leaf can fall and you’ll awaken when you’re ripe. Maybe you awaken skiing. Maybe you awaken with sex. Maybe you awaken with a bouillabaisse, maybe you awaken crocheting. Maybe you awaken solving a physics problem. Whichever way you awaken, what usually happens is you get hooked on the way you were awakened.

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I’ve attempting to renounce by forcibly removing things from my life, but it usually leads to a rebound effect where you desire that thing even more. I’ve tried and failed many times, and have come to the conclusion that true freedom comes from a different approach, one of inner surrender and mindfulness, where you observe your desires without acting on them. Through this process, you can achieve a deeper level of liberation and inner peace. Observing without acting involves cultivating a sense of mindfulness and awareness towards your thoughts, emotions, and desires without automatically reacting to them. It’s about creating a space between the stimulus (such as a desire or emotion) and your response to it. Instead of impulsively acting on a desire, you acknowledge its presence, but you don’t let it control your actions. During meditation you would practice observing the contents of your mind without getting caught up in them. Over time, this allows you to respond to situations with greater clarity and freedom rather than being driven by unconscious impulses.

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I am convinced that outside the physical guru-disciple relationship, one nust carve ones own path.