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The Problem of Personal Relationships

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by Sangharakshita


Lecture 88: the Problem of Personal Relationships Friends.

Case Number 1. James is 37 years old and it so happens that he's an only child, and his father has been dead for quite a number of years; in fact he hardly remembers him, and James is still living with his mother. He has a job, he works as a Book-keeper for a commercial firm. He has worked for the same firm for 10 or 12 years, promotion has been slow but steady, and he's pretty contented with his job. For quite a while, in fact for quite a number of years, he's been interested in Buddhism. Not only interested, he's made quite a close study of the different schools of Buddhist thought, and he has a quite considerable collection of books, not only on Buddhism, but on different Eastern philosophies and religions. Not only that, he's even written and published in Eastern Buddhist magazines one or two articles on Buddhism which have been quite well received.

James also cherishes two or three Buddhist, in fact Buddha, images that he has picked up at various antique shops, and he's rather proud of these. Unfortunately James's mother is not at all in favour of Buddhism. She wouldn't mind if James collected stamps, she wouldn't mind if he had any other similar innocent hobby, but Buddhism is going a bit too far, and she's rather opposed to Buddhism, and she does her best to discourage James's interest in it. Now James of course doesn't give up his Buddhist interests or activities altogether, but he very definitely has to keep them within certain limits. For instance his mother would be deeply shocked if she knew that he had on the premises such things as images of the Buddha, because these are obviously heathen idols. So the images have to be kept locked up in a cupboard in James's room, and mother doesn't know about them at all, she doesn't even know that they are there. And James takes them out and looks at them every night before going to bed, and then he puts them back in the cupboard and he locks the door.

Of course, I need hardly tell you that James cannot go to any of the retreats, either the Easter retreat or the Summer retreat. He gets just three weeks holiday a year, and of course he has to take mother away to the seaside for those weeks. I need hardly tell you that James is unmarried. But recently he's been feeling a bit restless. He feels he needs to expand but he doesn't want to hurt mother's feelings.

Case Number 2. Peter is 21. He's an art student and he lives with his girlfriend. He discovered Buddhism rather dramatically about a year ago, and since then he's become more and more deeply involved, in fact every month that goes by he feels his commitment more definite and more strong. He attends meditation classes, lectures, meditates himself at home when he can quite a bit, otherwise he's a quite ordinary normal sort of person; he doesn't seem to have any particular hang-ups, he's getting on quite well with his work at college - his tutors are quite pleased with him, he's very sociable, cheerful by disposition, and he has lots of friends. And since becoming involved with Buddhism, he feels that after having perhaps wasted in his earlier years quite a bit of time, he's really begun to develop. But unfortunately, there's a snag. It so happens that his girlfriend is not interested in Buddhism at all. In fact, since Peter started going out to meetings, Buddhist meetings twice a week, she's developed a sort of dislike for it. She refuses to accompany him to any of these meetings, and of course she doesn't like being left alone in their flat. She did go along just once to a meditation meeting, but she told Peter afterwards she didn't like the atmosphere, so she didn't go again. And unfortunately recently, there have been some rather painful scenes between Peter and his girlfriend, and one of them I'm sorry to have to report, ended with her throwing a milk bottle at him, and bursting into tears. And that evening Peter could not meditate! Still more recently, she's been insisting that they spend all their evenings together, and Peter doesn't know what to do. He's lived with this girl for two years, he's very fond of her; he's quite convinced that the relationship is good for the pair of them, and he certainly doesn't want to give it up. But at the same time he doesn't want to have to give up Buddhism either. Sometimes I'm afraid he thinks that he may even have to find another girlfriend, or even give up women altogether.

Case Number 3. Gwendoline is 27, and she's been married for 5 years. Two years ago her husband left her and went to live with another woman, and Gwendoline quite naturally, and understandably, was very deeply distressed. In fact she went through a very difficult period for several weeks, and had a nervous breakdown. And it was during this very difficult period that she came in contact with Buddhism. And with the help of Buddhism, with the help of meditation and discussion, contact with like-minded people she was able eventually, to begin to discover herself, and learn to stand on her own feet. Eventually she went to live as part of a Buddhist community up in Scotland and that was nearly a year ago, and she's now very happy there. But quite recently her husband has got in touch with her and says he wants to come back to her. Now Gwendoline is a rather big-hearted forgiving sort of girl, so she's quite ready to welcome him back and let bygones be bygones. But once again there's a difficulty. He wants her to leave that Buddhist community in Scotland. In fact he'd rather like her to give up her interest in Buddhism altogether. He can understand her developing that interest while he was away, when he left her in fact, but now that she has him again he says, Buddhism ought not to be any longer necessary. So he says, this is his offer, his suggestion, that he'll make a very comfortable love-nest for the pair of them, and they will be happy together. Now Gwendoline thinks that this is all rather infantile, and she refuses to give up Buddhism, but he says that what she's really doing is using Buddhism to punish him for his unfaithfulness, that she hasn't really forgiven him.

Case Number 4. Earnest is 52, and he works in the City. He's deeply interested in Zen and he attends a Zen class once a week. But Earnest is also married and he's been married for 30 years, and I'm afraid he's popularly what is known as a "hen-pecked husband". And his wife who is a rather militant sort of character allows him out only one evening a week. Six evenings he has to spend at home whether he likes it or not. Now of course he'd like very much to attend lectures on Buddhism, and other Buddhist activities, but this is quite impossible because he's restricted to just one evening a week, and he has to choose. If he wants to go to the meditation, he can't go to the lecture. If he goes to the lecture he just can't go to the meditation and that's that. Now Earnest due to years and years, even decades of conditioning has got into such a state of mind that he wouldn't dream of questioning his wife's authority. He just accepts it. But sometimes, he has quite strange fantasies, and in one of these fantasies, his wife is run over by a bus while out shopping. He is grief-stricken at her loss, and to console himself he goes out to Buddhist meetings every evening of the week! Case Number 5. David is 35, and Mary is 32. They've been very happily married for 10 years. They've got two children, they've got a boy aged 9, and a girl aged 7, and David is a Buddhist. Not only is he a Buddhist, he's quite deeply involved in various Buddhist activities. Mary it so happens is not a Buddhist, in fact she's not particularly interested in religion at all, but she sees quite clearly that to David Buddhism means quite a lot, so she quite genuinely sympathises with his interest. She even encourages it. But recently in this happy household too, a problem has arisen, and it's arisen in connection with the children.

Now David has got no wish to indoctrinate the children, he doesn't want to bring them up as Buddhists just as some orthodox Christian parents bring up their children as Christians. But he'd very much like that the children should know about Buddhism. And held like for instance to bring them up as vegetarians, not bring them up in the habit of eating meat. And he'd like to send them to a progressive school where they'd be able to develop a much broader outlook than the ordinary conventional one. But Mary unfortunately thinks rather differently. She thinks it would be best - that it would be in the children's interests in fact - to bring them up just like everybody else, as conventionally as possible, so that they don't differ too much, in fact don't differ at all if possible, from other people of the same social class and the same educational background. And she'd like very much to send them, not to a progressive school, but to a very good school of the conventional type, where they would become imbued with conventional traditional values.

Now recently the children have become aware of the difference of opinion, including difference of opinion on this topic between their parents, and the situation is made a little bit more difficult by the fact that the boy in any case wants to grow up to be like his father, and he's always asking questions about Buddhism, and of course he always asks father the questions about Buddhism. And for instance he wants to know the meaning of certain things that daddy does. He wants to know well, what is daddy doing when he's sitting quietly in the bedroom with his legs crossed and his eyes closed - what is it all about? And daddy of course would like to tell him and even encourage him to sit like that, but mummy won't hear of it or at least she rather discourages it, she's a bit cold when it's mentioned. The little girl incidentally ...

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