A revolutionary view on relationship

When one has a dedicated meditation practice, one of the things that is unmistakable in watching our thoughts, bodily sensations, reactions, emotions, mental wanderings, and the like is that everything is impermanent. Anicca. How does the idea of a committed partnership or love relationship reconcile with this very basic fact of life, the arising and passing of everything? In many ways it doesn’t. And yet, there is such a good reason to work at it, and commit to relationship as practice, as long as we keep in mind the following reflections / remembrances.

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health.
There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.
There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

Remembering this, I believe there is a totally different way of approaching relationship. Below are some excerpts that speak to this revolution. And if you haven’t read any J. Krishnamurti, his writings / talks on relationship are essential teachings. He had a strong influence on both Toni Packer and Vimala Thakar. More on K in another post.

JokoWhy are relationships such excellent practice? Why do they help us go into what we might call the slow death of the ego? Because, aside from our formal sitting, there is no way that is superior to relationships in helping us see where we’re stuck and what we’re holding on to. As long as our buttons are pushed, we have a great chance to learn and grow. So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy–it often doesn’t–but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

– Charlotte Joko Beck, from Everyday Zen: Love & Work

More from Joko Beck’s dharma heir, Barry Magid (teacher at Ordinary Mind Zendo, NYC)

tonipacker…We think, we dream, and we talk about happiness and security. We also talk and dream about love–imagine it, long for it, pray for it, promise it to each other, and pursue it strenuously. But genuine happiness, security, and love aren’t products of anything. They cannot be made intentionally. They cannot be possessed. And if they are dreams and ideas they are not genuine. They come uninvited when the mind is still and open, not engaged in the conflicting movements of self-centeredness. They arise unexpectedly when the mind is not in want or fear and therefore not in pursuit of anything…

…Discovering, understanding, and caring do not arise in a mind that is enclosed in fixed ideas about itself and others. In living together, can there be openness and genuine interest in whatever my be coming up in both you and me at this moment–be it desire and longing, prejudice and fear, tenderness or tension, anger or pleasure, misunderstanding, loneliness, rejection, blockage, a feeling of isolation or whatever?…

…What does it mean to see each other exactly as we are? Past memories about ourselves and each other are not what we are right now. Memory is an incomplete and inaccurate recording of the past. Now is something entirely different. Quietly looking and listening now is not memory. It is an entirely different mode of mind. It is a cleansing of perception…

…Can we human beings share life on earth together without trying to own each other or trying to get rid of each other? The idea of possessing each other gives an illusory sense of security. Along with it inevitably goes the fear of losing what we have become accustomed and attached to.

With the loss of another–real or imagined–comes the pain of grieving, of feeling forsaken, abandoned, lost, and sorry for oneself. With the idea of losing someone to somebody else comes the agony of jealousy, anger, hate and violence. One can verify all this thoroughly by oneself.

We may cling to each other for fear of losing each other, but possessing someone has nothing to do with love. Possessions cause pride as well as fear, dependency, and sorrow. Love knows no fear and no dependency. It has no possessions and no attachments. Love is without sorrow…

– Toni Packer, from “LIving Together”, The Work of this Moment

Leave a comment


  1. lawyermommy

     /  July 1, 2009

    “We may cling to each other for fear of losing each other, but possessing someone has nothing to do with love. Possessions cause pride as well as fear, dependency, and sorrow. Love knows no fear and no dependency. It has no possessions and no attachments. Love is without sorrow…”

    I agree with everything except the sorrow part. Those we love can hurt us and cause us great sorrow!

    • sharanam

       /  July 2, 2009

      If we approach relationship (and love), like life itself, as not a means to an end but an end in itself, then there is nothing to attach to. It is with this attitude that Toni Packer suggests love is absent of sorrow. There is real physical pain, and that is not what we are talking about here, but is psychological pain something that we inflict on ourselves ultimately? Can anyone else cause us sorrow? Or is it the obsessive thinking of what someone has done to us, the future that no longer awaits us, etc., that causes us distress?


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