Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why Relationships End

Upon learning that the Buddha was about to pass away into parinibbana, Venerable Ananda leaned against the doorpost and wept, saying, "I am still but a learner. I still have to attain perfection. But alas, my master who is so compassionate towards me is about to pass away."

When the Lord Buddha heard of it, he sent for Venerable Ananda and said, "Enough Ananda, do not cry. For have I not taught that it is the nature of all things beloved that we must suffer separation from them and be severed from them? For that which is born, come to be and compounded is also subject to dissolution. How could it be otherwise?"
The ending of a valued relationship (e.g. romantic, platonic, kinship etc) often brings sadness, grief, sorrow and tears. As the Chinese saying 天下无不散之宴席goes, all merry feasts must come to an end, regardless of whether the end is premeditated or natural.

There are many reasons why relationships may end, such as unresolvable conflicts between both parties, physical separation, objections from other parties, death etc. Leaving aside death, let us investigate how we can seek a harmonious separation from a relationship.

Buddha identified several factors that lead to the appropriate termination of a relationship: the other party's continued wrong conduct which goes on unchecked, danger arising from the relationship, or the identification of the futility of continuing it.

In deciding to end a relationship, Buddha does not support hasty, adamant and lopsided conclusions; rational and ethical evaluations should precede any final decisions. One must make sure that one's decision will benefit, rather than adversely affect, the people involved in the relationship, including oneself.

Buddha also advised that one should first leave aside hatred and revengeful thoughts toward former companions even if they have caused distress in a relationship as one would never find inner peace as long as one clings to the misdeeds done by another person in the past. Taking appropriate actions against maltreatment is always recommended. However, pursuit of hatred would only aggravate the agony that has already sprung from an unhappy relationship.

People make their lives miserable by dwelling on broken relationships, but they may find harmony in life by learning to forgive and forget. Also, numbing ourselves from our feelings with intoxicants or addictions (e.g. shopping, eating, gaming) will not help to alleviate our suffering. If we can cultivate a mind of loving kindness and be grateful for what the relationship and the other party has taught us, that will be most beneficial.

In his final words to Ananda, the Buddha praised the former's efforts and showed him the way out of grief: "For a long time have you, Ananda, served the Tathagata with thoughts, words and deeds of love, graciously, pleasantly and with your whole heart. You have gathered great good. Now you should put forth energy and soon you too will be free from the defilements."

The only way to be truly free from grief and sorrow is to truly see our feelings for what they are and to reduce our attachment to them. In truth, our mind loves misery for that leads to pity for ourselves and thus reinforces our false sense of a lasting self as we believe those transient feelings are ours. Let us be able to call our feelings bluff for they are but ephemeral emotions and thus steadily progress to a state of peace and equanimity.

May we accumulate wonderful wholesome karma for the attainment of nibbana and be liberated from grief and sorrow.

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