At first analysis, two celibate spiritual teachers may seem like an interesting choice for a discussion about male-female relationships, but Shree Maa and Swami Satyananda have some unusual credentials.
Swami Satyananda is an American who, as a young graduate student, decided to travel around the world before settling into corporate life. He fell so deeply in love with India that he lived there for twenty years and became a full Swami. He offers the perspective of a westerner intimately aware of the issues facing men and women today and a swami who understands relationship karma as seen from the Eastern point of view.
About Shree Maa
After Shree Maa graduated from college in Assam, India, she walked off alone into the jungles of India. There she became so absorbed in God that she spent eight years eating only a touch of sandal paste smeared on a betel leaf as her daily meal. Although a well respected saint in India, Shree Maa came to the US with Swami Satyananda to bring the spiritual wisdom of the East to this country.
Because She is involved in the daily lives of her many devotees in the United States, she understands the melodrama of relationships as we play it, and also can see our dilemma from the perspective of someone completely outside our paradigm.
Here are some of their views about male female relationships as told to trans-personal psychologist, Charles Hogan.
Men and Women: What’s the Point?
Why do you think so many marriages end in divorce in this country?
Shree Maa: This country? It’s happening all over the world. Relationships have become competitive instead of being an opportunity to learn respect. Everybody wants to win, but where is the peace?
So competition and selfishness are at the root of the problem?
Shree Maa: Yes. We have not yet learned how to give. If each person would practice giving to their partner, their relationships would be peaceful and harmonious.
Instead, most of us are selfish. We are only thinking about ourselves. Therefore in the Indian system, this time in the history of this planet is called the Kali Yuga, or the Age of Darkness. Another reason for unsuccessful relationships is overpopulation.
How does overpopulation affect our relationships?
Shree Maa: People are increasing the population, but they don’t have a goal or purpose. They are bringing souls to the earth and not teaching them spiritual wisdom. Therefore, individuals are competing for resources which are growing ever more scarce.
What does a person do who doesn’t have a purpose?
Swamiji: I suggest that a person without a purpose better find one. Without a purpose it is difficult to have a meaningful life. How can you find the path, if you do know the goal? How can you accomplish anything if you don’t know what your path is? We need to find a goal in life that will be worthy of our commitment.
Certainly our goal in life would not be to have a transient relationship with someone who doesn’t have a purpose either. That’s where most of us make our mistake. We don’t have a purpose of our own, and we feel empty and look for another person to give us fulfillment. But they don’t have a purpose either. Then we have two people without purpose, trying to give meaning to each others lives.
It’s hard enough when you have a partnership with common goals. But if you don’t have common goals, and the purpose of your relationship is just to assuage your loneliness, then as soon as your needs are no longer being fulfilled the relationship is history.
The best thing to do is to stop and think, “What would be a commitment worthy of my dedication? What do I want to give to this world?”
What is the purpose of men and women having a relationship?
Shree Maa: For the illumination of true consciousness and bliss, it is necessary for the masculine and feminine principles to unite, for men and women to harmonize their various natures to work together.
Swamiji: When you put the qualities of men and women together, you have a more dynamic capacity for working effectively in creation. If a man can treat a woman like a Goddess, she will turn him into a God. If a woman can treat her man like a God, he will make her into a Goddess.
How do you treat someone like a God or a Goddess?
Shree Maa: Love and respect them with all your heart.
Swamiji: Completely surrender to your partner.
Shree Maa: This body is not eternal. Inside is God. You have to wake up!
You have to see the God within?
Shree Maa: Yes!
How do you do that?
Shree Maa: How did you get here?
You mean here to this ashram? (laughing, not knowing where she is going.)
Shree Maa: Do you think you decided to come here, or did somebody send for you?
Somebody sent for me?
Shree Maa: Yes. The divine power.
Swamiji: Who told you to come to this ashram? The consciousness within you. The divine spark said, “I want to find out what those people are doing, to see if they have something I can add to my life.” That was the divine being within you. If we can pay respect to that being within our partner, we can recognize his or her Godliness.
That’s hard. We tend to see the personality and the body, and we don’t see the God within the other person.
Shree Maa: Yes. Nowadays it is very hard.
Swamiji: Having a relationship is a sadhana, a spiritual discipline.
Do you have any suggestions for how people can see God in their partners?
Swamiji: We suggest learning puja or worship, which trains you to see the God within.
So if you practice performing worship to a Goddess, you will be better able to see the Goddess in your partner?
Swamiji: Yes, and you can perform puja to your spouse, which will help you see the God within him or her.
Let’s say you are with your partner and she is doing something that irritates you and you are upset with her. For instance, she left her dishes in the sink. How do you see the God in her at a moment like that?
Swamiji: In these kinds of situations, we want to develop the kind of communication where we can discuss any problems that arise. Those moments will occur, but they can be diffused with appropriate communication. In a healthy relationship, we will find a way to talk about everything.
Shree Maa: You have to prepare yourself internally first, so that you can see everyone as God.
Is that the purpose of relationships, to experience that state of realization?
Swamiji: Absolutely. Relationships require us to surrender our selfishness and in doing that we attain Godliness.
I know many people have trouble with the concept of surrender. I’ll bet when they hear that, they’ll think, “I surrendered to Joe, and he cheated on me and broke my heart.”
Shree Maa: We are not talking about surrendering blindly. We are talking about surrendering your ego. You have to surrender to your own self.
Swamiji: In English, surrender is the last thing we want to do when we have exhausted all other options. In Sanskrit the term we use is samarpana, to offer ourselves in equilibrium. It is the goal of all our spiritual longing.
When we talk about surrender, it does not absolve us from discriminating. In surrender, we offer ourselves in equilibrium to the God within, our partner, and ourselves. That doesn’t mean we obey their every order. We have a duty to discriminate: what is part of my path and what is not. Then we’ll say to our partner, “Please explain to me how what you are asking is going to manifest our purpose, our highest Godliness. If it does, I’ll probably be all for it. If it doesn’t, I still respect the God within you, but I can’t do what you want in this case.”
Is it enough for one person to surrender, or do both need to surrender?
Shree Maa: If you live together, it is important that both people surrender.
What if you live with somebody who doesn’t want to surrender?
Shree Maa: You will never have peace. There is a great verse in the Lalita Trishati which says that Shiva and Shakti revolve around each other mutually and reciprocally. Who understands this, understands the center of energy.
What do you do if your partner is sabotaging your spiritual practices? Let’s say they make fun of your meditations, but you really love them, and otherwise you get along?
Shree Maa: We are back to our first discussion. Why would we have a relationship without a common goal?
Swamiji: If you do have a relationship without a common goal, you had better stop right now and say, “Partner, what is the purpose of our being together, and how can we make that purpose manifest itself. If we can’t manifest our purpose together, let’s be honest about it and either make it happen alone or with another partner. Let’s see how we can negotiate, how we can support each other’s goals. Otherwise, both of us will have to come back to this planet and start all over again.”
So, you are saying that the purpose is more important than anything else?
Swamiji: The romance, the attachment, the infatuation, the honeymoon stuff is so transitory. Unless we have a common goal, it will be very difficult to make it through life. As soon as we wake up and become aware of this, let’s get to the business of defining our purpose and working together to make it manifest.
How should we deal with the loneliness of not having a partner? Is there a lesson to be learned in that situation?
Swamiji: Yes, there is a lesson. The reason we don’t have a partner is because we are not a good partner, nor are we ready to become a good partner. We should cultivate a partnership with God. When we are alone, but not lonely, we will become a good partner. If you are lonely and don’t want to be alone, and you meet someone who is lonely and doesn’t want to be alone, then you start a relationship based on fulfilling each other’s needs. That’s not the same as having a relationship because I love you and have something to contribute to you.
Once you have a relationship with God and you have divinity inside you, and you are not lonely, you have a direction in life. Then you can find someone with a similar direction with whom you can relate on many different levels at the same time. If you have a relationship with God, you will automatically come to a point where you will have a relationship with God’s children. You have to give your love away in order to make it grow.
Do you advise celibacy for someone who is single?
Swamiji: My suggestion is promiscuity brings confusion and conflict, and relationships without commitment don’t bring satisfaction. They create a transitory fulfillment on a very superficial level, and there remains an unfulfilled need to be accepted one hundred percent. Celibacy is a fact of life, not a discipline. Many people practice celibacy by thinking about what they are trying to avoid. We carry our desire with us and perceive the world through an unfulfilled desire. So real celibacy, I believe, is not a practice. It is where the thought doesn’t come to our minds. As long as the thought comes to our mind, and we are forcefully restraining ourselves, we are practicing celibacy, not living it.
What is the best way to choose a partner?
Swamiji: The best way to begin to search for a partner is to clarify your goals. What do you want? What are your values? What is important to you? What is your life-style? From that understanding of what you want, you can ask potential partners what their goal in life is. You can develop a list of issues that are important to you. Then you have to determine if people are giving you the answers they think you want to hear, or if they are sincere.
Next, get involved in pursuing your goal. When you do that, you automatically come into contact with other people who have similar goals. You are liable to meet someone in the context of that pursuit, rather than finding someone who has no long-term goal or vision.
What is the logic behind arranged marriages in India? That approach to choosing mates seems very strange to Westerners.
Shree Maa: First, someone looks at your horoscope. From looking at the horoscope, they determine what you should do on this earth. What are your basic tendencies and what are your strengths and weaknesses.
Is your fate in the stars? What does the chart tell you?
Shree Maa: We are born on this earth, but we have a relationship with the whole universe. Various planets at various times are closer to us and they have a greater capacity to attract our energies. When we take birth, an astrologer determines which planets are closest to us and which planets are most influential in our growth and development. Some of the planets have malevolent influences, which can be cured through our sadhana.
Before coming into this lifetime, do we decide who we are going to have as a partner?
Shree Maa: I believe we do, but it looks like they don’t believe that in this country. They think they choose their partners. But ultimately God does.
It’s all planned in a way. Is that why the astrologers can read our charts?
Shree Maa: In the Indian culture our faith is that birth, death and marriage are written before we come into this world.
Swamiji: We will enjoy the fruit of our karma, whether we like it or not, and we still we have the choice of whether or not we want to change it. Both are occurring at the same time. Our Mother is the Goddess Parvati, who presides over the law of cause and effect. Our father is the Lord Shiva, who allows us free will to choose.
Shree Maa: Ultimately we have to change, and that is God’s blessing.
What are some ways to get started on getting a purpose if we are totally clueless as to what we want to do?
Swamiji: Travel is an amazing education. Explore different cultures and different ways that other people are making their contributions to society. See if any of those ways appeal to you. Develop a questionnaire to ask people you meet, and then ascertain the sincerity of their answers.
Some things to ask:
Why do you love to do what you do?
Would you do it even if you didn’t get paid?
Do you get sufficient compensation from doing what you love so that you can live the standard of living you choose?
Do you need a special talent, temperament, education or training to make a contribution in the way that you do?
How long would it take to become proficient at making such a contribution?
Also, try to put together a list of things that you would like to incorporate in your life style. For me, that list is as follows:
I like to sing
I like to dance
I like to chant Sanskrit
I like to write
I like to create
I like multimedia projects
I like to meditate
When I put all these ingredients together, I chose to be a sadhu. Make your own list, and in it you will find your purpose.
How do we know when we’ve progressed enough in our purpose that having a relationship would be productive, not just a way to avoid loneliness?
As we progress in our purpose, we will naturally come into contact with others who share a similar purpose. We will find ways to work with those people to compliment each others’ goals and aspirations, and then find that our whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That means, in essence, that sharing together creates a greater joy and efficiency for both partners than either partner could attain alone.
If the aspiration of our interaction with our ‘partner’ is merely social and does not generate itself towards any greater contribution to life, then the avoidance of loneliness is the major focus of the relationship. But when partners work together and take joy in inspiring ever greater creative expression in each other and themselves, know that the relationship is a partnership, a friendship, which seeks to make each partner a better person.
What is the extent to which conflict in a relationship should be resolved and worked through? How can you tell when arguments signify irreconcilable differences and it’s time to go separate ways?
When we recognize arguments are about strategy (i.e. determining the most efficient way to reach our collective goals), then negotiation is definitely recommended. It is necessary at that point to establish rapport, to create a conducive environment to reaffirm our commitment to our ultimate goals, and then search for trades, so each can give and take and feel enhanced by the relationship.
When one party begins to consistently make inappropriate demands, which may not be negotiable, then it is time to take a closer look at the ultimate objectives of the relationship. If those goals of the relationship are no longer relevant, then it is time to negotiate a peaceful resolution.
What can and cannot be forgiven in a relationship?
Everything can be forgiven; not necessarily forgotten, but definitely forgiven. We give others our forgiveness just as we ourselves want to be forgiven. But there must be sincere repentance so that we do not continually repeat the same mistakes again and again. If we do find a pattern of continual repetition, then it may be time to reexamine our goals.
All relationships involve some kind of compromise along the way, right? So how much can/should we sacrifice for our partners?
We should want to sacrifice everything, especially that which we hold dearest to our hearts. If we are prudent in defining our goals from the outset, our partnerships are designed to lead us to the fulfillment of our highest aspirations, then there should be so much trust in the relationship that there is nothing that we cannot sacrifice for it. In fact, it should be a privilege to make such a sacrifice just to have the opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of our love.
If you find that you are resisting making such a sacrifice, then you had better look to your personal values, making sure that they are still in harmony with the goals of the partnership. Then you can decide how much you want to sacrifice in furtherance of the partnership and also simultaneously see how your and your partner’s goals are diverging, determining the extent to which you two will thus create separate paths.
When we know it is time to end a partnership, how do we end it properly?
Effective communication is essential, and in this, fairness is the main ingredient. A negotiated approach, without demands, is the most effective way. A realistic timeline to separation is also the most practical method in this situation.
Oftentimes, upon separation, one partner simply says, “That’s it!” And then both partners become sentimental and cease to cooperate with each other. Rather than falling into this situation, transitioning partners should try to reach out to each other and ensure that even each departure leaves the other enhanced rather than depleted. This is essentially because spirituality means giving more than we take. If we want to be spiritual while moving on to the next step of our lives, we should search for how we can edify each other even in the process of transitioning.
Can partnerships in trouble be salvaged (i.e. can goals be reworked at all)? Can a partner inspire you to formulate a completely new goal? What is the validity of the new goal?
Certainly every two individuals will share their goals with each other, and inspire each other to participate in both their individual goals and their collective goals. AS partners work together with greater efficiency, the inspiration grows, and we formulate completely new goals. In this way the partnership evolves, the individuals evolve, and the circle of influence of that community grows accordingly.
When a partner does something that hurts us, how do we handle it?
First, we must contain our zeal to respond emotionally. An emotional response may very well exacerbate the situation, and add to outcomes that we never intended.
The more prudent course of action would be to wait until both partners are cool and the environment is conducive, and then explain to our partner how we felt hurt by their words or actions, and ask from him or her whether this is the direction that we want our relationship to evolve? More effectively we could ask, “How do you think we could have handled this situation more efficiently so that neither of us felt imposed upon?”
We all realize that we are never going to find a relationship that does not take work and sacrifice. We will feel hurt from time to time because of the attitudes of our partner. But the goal of our working together is to evolve to a state of equilibrium from which we cannot be moved. Therefore, the expression of our hurt must be in such a way that both partners can grow so we don’t repeat that kind of behavior in the future.
How much should we expect from our partners (i.e. what rights do we have on things like fidelity, time commitment, etc.)?
That is totally dependent upon the type of partnership we have, how we define our goals and expectations. In the optimal partnership, we could define total commitment. There is nothing which takes precedence over this relationship.
We know that circumstances in life are constantly changing, and to maintain this ideal is a tremendous privilege. Each set of circumstances will help to determine in which ways are the partners required to work together to come as close to the goal as possible.
How should we handle any anger we feel in relationships against our partner?
Stop! Say your mantras! Think of your goals! Cool off!
Never negotiate from a position of anger. You will not be successful. Please, remember what you are trying to achieve and defuse the anger. Put yourself in balance and then talk objectively without all the emotion. Intense emotion is only going to create a bigger mess. So please try to remember to stay calm in such situations.
What is a good way to talk/work through conflicts together?
The first and most important step is to create the most conducive environment possible in which to solve the dispute. Start by freeing yourselves from all distractions. Take the phone off the hook, turn off the TV, and stop all other actions so you can focus on one another. Begin the discussion with a review of your respective and shared goals. Then go on to a review of the processes you’re using to achieve these goals. Then only can you initiate a discussion about what’s obstructing your goals. Finally, look for points of resolution. From an angry confrontation, the conflict should quickly transform into an objective and effective troubleshooting process.
How do we work past the pain that breakups cause us?
First, we must realize that the root cause of our pain is attachment, not attachment to the broken relationship, per say, but rather, attachment to whatever unfulfilled desire that we had hoped that the relationship would fulfill. Once we understand that and really deeply intuit that knowledge, comprehending that all of our pain has no actual connection to the ex-partner themselves, then we can get busy preparing to devote ourselves to new goals worthy of our pursuit.
Suddenly, somewhere along the way, we get busy with life and forget about the pain of our loss. Then again we get excited about our current endeavors.
How do you stay friends with an previous partner?
If we really have common goals, partners could continue to work together, recognizing that they are not lovers, but partners pursuing a common goal. If partners no longer share common interests, most probably they will go in separate directions and have no further contact.
Is infidelity an unpardonable transgression? I.e. how do we deal with a partner who has been unfaithful?
No, infidelity is not unpardonable, but a moment’s indiscretion can surely erect major difficulties that must be surmounted in order to continue the relationship. As far as the relationship goes, such suffering as those obstacles can cause is never worth it.
It is said that those experiences which begin in enjoyment and end in pain are tamasic. Those experiences which begin in hardship and end in delight are surely sattvic. Reflecting upon the feelings with which the relationship began and with which it currently produces/ended, we must choose which types of experiences we will want to pursue: sattvic or tamasic.
Is marriage only once in a lifetime?
We must first distinguish between marriages made in Dharma and marriages made for fun.
A Dharmic marriage is not once in a lifetime alone. It is only once, period. Dharmically connected partners find a relationship based upon the ideals of perfection. Maintaining those same ideals from lifetime to lifetime, they therefore find the same partnership over and again. Ram recognized Sita immediately; Krishna understood that Radha was his soul mate. These are examples of Dharma patnis, or relationships devoted to expressing the highest Godliness.
However, a Bhog patni, a wife for enjoyment, may stay in a marriage as long as it is enjoyable. Such a relationship would be an example of an experience which begins in pleasure and ends in pain. Obviously in these cases, there will be a multitude of partners for each person, as people will continue to search for new relationships when the enjoyment is no longer present in their current one.
How do we deal with the pain of separation? What are ways partners can cope when they are not physically with each other?
If they are really partners, then they realize that they are apart in order to achieve the objectives of the partnership. That is, they are still working together across the distance, albeit separately.
Today it is so much easier to maintain communications across vast distances. Using these channels, like the internet and phone calls, partners can remind each other how much each other’s sacrifice is appreciated and thereby increase the energy of inspiration.
How important is sharing the same geographic location to a partnership?
From time to time non-verbal communication is important, so geographical proximity will be important. In order to read each other’s body language, feel each other’s intensities, and sense the vibrations from our partner, we will want to be in geographical proximity as much as circumstances allow.
What would be your advice to young people trying out being in relationships for the first time?
First of all, think about why you want to have a relationship. Is it because everyone else does it, or is it because you have actually found a compatible spirit, who complements your attitudes and inspires you to become better? Then go back to goal setting and paint a picture of how your relationship will expand each other’s capacities. Think: what can you gain from each other, and what will you enjoy to give?
How do we learn to give up our selfishness when it comes to our partner?
If we truly imagine the greatest gift that we can offer our partner, ultimately, it is be our selfishness; in other words, the best thing we can give up and let go is our self-centeredness. We must strive to remember that the most wonderful offering, or rather, sacrifice, is that of egoism and selfish attachment, and that is the demonstration of the sincerity of our love.
How do we know when we are being selfish or simply respecting ourselves?
In my opinion, most so-called “self-respect” is actually selfishness. It generally is born out of the desire to recognize ourselves when we feel we are not getting sufficient recognition from others. However, if we always demonstrate sincere respect to others, we ourselves will always be truly respected and have no need for our own “self-respect.”
Can you love a person too much?
No. Love requires that we sacrifice. Hence, the next question will be, ‘Can we sacrifice too much?’ Again, the answer is, ‘No.’ All sacrifice is an offering to God.
Can you love too many people?
No. But you can have too much misplaced attachment and too many unfounded expectations and unlimited desires, which may be destined for dissatisfaction.
In marriage, when is it time to resort to divorce? If there is the desire to stay together on both ends, can all issues be worked out?
Most marriages that end in divorce had no plan or common goal. If a couple has a plan and common goals, then all issues can be worked out. Divorce comes about when a couple no longer has anything in common. There is just separation into ‘yours’ and ‘mine.’
What are some goals that people with separate career dreams/causes can share together? In other words, can goals be things other than physical projects?
Absolutely. Goals are not only “physical projects,” but rather, any activity that partners can plan and execute together. For example, partners can have a goal of spending quality time together on a regular basis. There are many spiritual goals that partners can share as well. ‘Goal’ does not only refer to one’s occupation or profession. Instead, we must define our goals according to the values which the partners share, not their careers.
Can a goal/effect of a partnership be to teach us to expand our empathy, to gain a more loving view of the universe and a greater sense of our places in it?
Yes, but remember that the goals of our partnership should have some verification process. If we make all of our goals altruistic in nature, then there is no way to certify that we have attained them or not; it’s entirely subject to personal opinion without outside qualifications. Hence, choose goals that have a practical application. For example, if we define a goal as wanting to be in love all the time, how can we prove that we are attaining that goal? Conversely, how can we define what happens when we forget that goal, or, in other words, show the flip side? Thus, we must define the goal in question. For example, if we define our goal as wanting to spend a specific amount of time with the beloved on a regular basis, it will be easy to determine if we did or did not accomplish our goal.
What is a way to help ourselves get over our selfishness? What are things to tell ourselves at challenging moments when our immediate instinct is to speak to our own ‘needs’ rather than the goals at hand?
One of the first and most primary goals for us to remember is that we are striving to be a “we”, not an “I.” In doing so, we should ask ourselves what is in the best interests of our communities? As individuals trying to be a “we,” we must think, ‘What can I give, surrender, sacrifice, for the edification of our community that would really demonstrate the sincerity of my love?’
How important is officially getting married to lifelong partnerships?
Marriage is extremely important. When partners can stand before their families, their communities, the legal system, and God, and proclaim their sankalpa to work together, it intensifies the commitment tremendously. By not solemnizing a marriage, we are leaving an errors and omissions clause in our agreement, a “fallback” point if you will, so that the “What if it doesn’t work out?” issue can always be addressed with the easiest and most cowardly solution.
What does our tradition’s marriage ceremony signify, and what the particular rites mean?
There are a few ingredients which are common to all the Vedic marriage ceremonies, regardless of the region of India. First and foremost amongst these common links is the circumambulation of the divine homa fire, repeated seven times. This act acknowledges the surrender to Divine Consciousness on seven levels. This means that the partnership being solemnified respects that the relationship is not only “till death do us part” but is, more importantly, a union of souls which transcends our physical bodies and continues into eternity.
A bride and groom also take seven steps together, demonstrating that their partnership embodies respect on every level of consciousness. They also worship each other as deities, indicating that they share a deep and mutual respect.
Does physical intimacy make a difference to partnerships?
It most definitely does. Physical intimacy creates a special bond of attachment and thereby indelibly impacts our objectivity in relationships. When we open ourselves to such intimacy, we allow ourselves to be extremely vulnerable. That vulnerability can be extremely comforting, particularly in its enabling us to think that we can trust another individual so completely. However, it can also become a source of great pain, if our partner is perceived as using that vulnerability for manipulation.
Physical intimacy may be appropriate once the bond of trust has been truly proved in other ways. Before that, it is a gamble.
What can having children add to a partnership? What can it detract?
Having children can add the amazing experience of seeing a replica of ourselves in real time. Almost every action we see our children perform is a re-enactment of some behavior they have witnessed. That is why it is said that Mother is the first Guru and Father the second. By in large children mimic the behaviors they experience and view. Seeing our children is a wonderful opportunity to correct our attitudes and behaviors so we can be the examples we want our children to follow.
Often parents see in their children all the aspirations that they long to achieve. Frequently we condemn our children for becoming just what we ourselves have become, for assuming all the attitudes and prejudices that we, ourselves, exhibit. If we are not content with what we have become, we could very well share that discontent with the next generation. Our children have the capacity to show us just how unfulfilled we actually are, or how close to our goal we may possibly be.
How do a couple know they are right to have kids? What makes a good parent?
Unfortunately, too few people ask this question before they begin families, and I appreciate your asking it in advance. It is time to begin talking about the possibility of having children when a relationship is not just secure and stable but also has so much love that that love calls to be manifested in a greater commitment of sharing. When we feel so full to overflowing that we want to share our abundance, that is the time to begin the discussion of we might go about doing that through having children.
A good parent would be an individual who has tremendous patience, knows their goals in life, and wants to sacrifice one way of life for another, in order to demonstrate the sincerity of his or her devotion. A good parent is simultaneously both a good teacher and a good student, and will rejoice in sharing the learning experience of family growth.
Oftentimes, after the initial ‘honeymoon period,’ the initial spark that creates a relationship dies. While not wanting to separate, people begin to lose interest in each other. How can a person regain interest in their partner?
The honeymoon period is generally easy and fun. The Gita says that those events that begin by being easy and fun but later become difficult and full of pain, are ‘tamasik,’ or ‘born in darkness.’ In contrast, those events which begin with effort and ultimately become easy and fun, are ‘sattvik,’ and hold the quality we should strive for in all actions in our lives. Rather than asking how to revive the fun, the real question should be, ‘Did we do our homework on what this relationship is about before entering into it?” Through such self-probing and resulting analysis, we should strive to avoid relationships which are all ‘honeymoon’ and no substance.
How do we cope with pain in relationships? How do we emotionally manage ourselves during rough patches?
Emotional pain is a consequence of attachment. If we want to continue the relationship, then the obvious requirement will be to surrender the attachment. Accepting our partner’s behavior is another opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of our love and eliminate pain.
Does having doubts about a relationship mean it’s not meant to be? In other words, is it okay to have doubts sometimes?
Certainly we all have doubts from time to time. At those times we want to reinforce the positive aspects of our partnership, reaffirm our goals, and surrender our negativities.
Essentially, we have to do the accounting, so to speak, and if the relationship is right, the outcome should be the understanding that our togetherness is more empowering than our being separate.
Is the saying that, “if there’s a will, there’s a way” really true? What do we do to rallying flagging wills? How do we motivate ourselves to keep trying?
Generally, it is true that sufficiently motivated people will find a means to accomplish the desired results. However, sometimes we keep on running and come smack into the brick wall in the midst of our path. Sometimes we need to take at least break, realign our plans, reconsider our methods, make sure they are in conformity to our values, and replenish our energy and resources. Then, after refreshing and reminding ourselves what we’re after, we can determine if this endeavor becomes a back-burner project, or if it remains an important priority.
Can something that starts out enjoyable, and then becomes hard (i.e., tamasic) be transformed into something sattvic?
Yes. When we understand that the goal of a relationship is not just selfish enjoyment but also an opportunity to unite in spirit, we can transform our purpose in said relationship to make our activities an expression of our love for God. That becomes sattvic karma.
Motivation and its source are the key determinants of the quality of actions. As most of our functions have mixed motives, our actions are often of mixed character. What may begin with selfish consideration, may ultimately become a manifestation of divinity.
Are all things that are enjoyable from the start tamasic?
Not necessarily. If we engage in an activity for selfish reasons, that activity will be tamasic. But if we control our selfishness and act from divine inspiration, enjoying it all the while, our actions are not tamasic.
How can we bring the sattvic into what might be a tamasic relationship?
First we must consider if a relationship is tamasic, is it worth pursuing? Should we actually put out the effort to bring sattva into such a relationship? Or should we think just to abandon such a relationship which will not (by definition) take us to where we want to go?
If there is a possibility of the relationship being appropriate for our future growth, then we must move back to our goal setting and define what is our common aspiration and where can we most effectively work together. Basically, we need to decide what will be the most efficient means of getting back on target, so to speak.
How do we begin to reveal our more spiritual sides to partners who were not necessarily reared in a religious tradition? (This question deals with self-consciousness, not the accepting nature of the other partner; assume the other partner is accepting if somewhat an atheist).
We will want to distinguish between our spiritual sides and our religious traditions. Being spiritual means to be a giver. It is not necessary that spirituality is connected with religion. If we are really loving and generous and kind, we are spiritual, whether or not we choose to celebrate God in any particular language or religious structure.
What is the importance of monogamy?
Monogamy is important because it saves us from unnecessary conflict. When we engage in multiple relationships, we are torn with regards as to how to divide our attention. With such internal conflict, every external commitment comes into question, for, if we cannot fully trust ourselves, whom can we trust?
How do we reconcile tales of ancient, righteous Hindu kings, such as Dasarath, and sages, who had more than one wife, with the value of monogamy today?
While it may have been a custom in many cultures to practice polygamy, societal structure was different in those situations. The economies of those eras made marriage more of a financial and social relationship, rather than an emotional bond between two people.
Furthermore, the involved parties of those relationships understood themselves to be part of an extended family and did not expect more. Today, most partnerships look at themselves at forming the basis of a nuclear family and expect all that goes along with that role, emotionally and practically; such a situation becomes difficult in a polygamous marriage.
Lastly, even looking at polygamous marriages from that era, we see what difficulties occurred as a consequence of jealousy and disruption of the family’s harmony. In the case you cite above, Dasarath gave up his life, Ram and Sita went into the forest, and Kaikeyi spent a life time of repentance.
What exactly is the role of the householder as described in the scriptures?
The householder is the primary earning member of society, so he or she will be the support of the other members of society. In other words, the young and the elderly are all dependent upon the householders.
The householder is supposed to make a contribution to society. To pay off our debts to the Gods, we householders should strive to make this world a better place because of our having been here. To pay off our debts to our ancestors, we must show respect to the elderly in the way that we will want to be respected when we are old. Finally, to pay off our debt to the Gurus, we should live in accordance with their wisdom.
When one is free from debt and has satisfied the roles of the householder, only then can he or she aspire to lead a life of renunciation.
If done well–lovingly, happily, and sincerely–is there still shame in the role of the householder?
No, the householder is not to be shamed or disparaged at all. All of society is dependent upon the householders. That is why the householder’s status is far superior to all of the other ashramas.
What does Hinduism say about dating before marriage. This is of course a question that comes up with teenagers often. I know it is not something encouraged but I can’t find reasons that teenagers would understand to back it up.
Sorry, it was never an issue dealt with in scripture before.
From my own perspective, these kids are Americans and Hindus. It will be important for us to help them cultivate our highest values, and then let them experiment as to how these values will empower them to make the best decisions for their lives.
At this age it will also be prudent to cultivate friendship with our kids, so that we can be assured that we deserve their full confidence.
How do partners from different faith traditions reconcile them?
Partners from different faith traditions must share the understanding that their ideals, their love, and their partnership is so much more enduring than religious tradition. Then they both can participate in each other’s tradition without feeling like outsiders.
Again, it is a privilege to be able to discriminate between spirituality and religious ceremony. Utilizing that blessed discrimination, both partners can participate in all ceremonies regardless of “tradition” and never feel imposed upon.
How do they (partners from different traditions) raise their children with regards to tradition?
They would raise their children as spiritual beings who respect every tradition. The children could learn about all traditions and live spiritual lives irrespective of specific faith tradition.
When two faith traditions directly contradict each other in a relationship, how do the partners decide what is the “right” path to follow?
This takes us back to our original discussion about common goals. Ramakrishna said it so definitively: As many as there are individuals, so many are the paths to God.
If partners define their goals prior into entering into partnerships, then they already know the “right” path to pursue to their attainment. They have created their own brand of religion: the religion of their partnership.
What is the best course of action when someone you love and are in a relationship with does something violent towards you? My choice was to cut off all communication and get away from this person though it is painful. Why does someone do violence to someone they love? What is the spiritual reason for this? I appreciate your writings.
People lash out in violence because they feel they no other way of being acknowledged. There is no way to justify their violent action, but the reality is that if we could reach out to the person who wants to be heard and cover them with love and understanding, we could probably abate all the violent tendencies before they manifest.
The reason it takes place with people who are beloved is that there is so much attachment to that relationship, so much longing to be received, understood, accepted, and where else could one go to vent their frustrations except in a loving, trusting relationship.
The real joy and challenge is to be able to diffuse violent explosions before they occur by stopping the conflict from spinning out of control. Just stop and consider our goals. What are we trying to get from the circumstance? And then go ahead and negotiate the outcome to its logical conclusion.
My spouse and I are considering breaking up and I am wanting to approach the issue from as spiritual a perspective as possible. I would like to do whatever is best for everyone and am wondering if God ever wants spiritual aspirants to stay “out in the world” even if they have no sex drive? Would one have to stay in relationship to just to fulfill karma even if they want to know God?
First you must ask yourselves what is the object of your partnership, what is your common goal? When you know where you are trying to go, it becomes a lot more easy to understand how you are going to get there, and with whom you want to travel. Sex need not be a distraction from spirituality. But there is much more to your relationship than sex. Quite possibly in these circumstances it might be good to spend some time in solitude and make a plan for the next steps in your life.
Spiritual life means to give more than we get. How do we translate this so that we do not allow ourselves to be exploited in the name of giving. Can you please share your thoughts Swamiji?
To be sadhus we must be efficient. Efficiency demands that we budget our time, resources, etc. To be a spiritual giver means to give the best that we can as is appropriate according to time, place, circumstance, etc.
How can you build a life partnership with someone who tends to have an understanding that there is ‘one’ way to God, who doesn’t hold Sri Ramakrishna’s wisdom that there are as many paths to God as there are individuals?
The first question we must ask is Why we would want to struggle with a dogmatic approach to life? Are we talking about a relationship of pure love and total acceptance which seeks to support each other mutually and reciprocally in achieving our common interests? Or are we thinking more in terms of an overwhelming physical attraction, which has given rise to infatuation.
A dogmatic approach to life will most probably manifest not only in regards to religion, but also in terms of having one’s own way even in relatively insignificant decisions. That does not portend to a mutual and reciprocal give and take and sharing relationship. First, I would look towards common values and common goals before seeking any commitments for a longer or permanent relationship.
Is it possible to build an ‘inclusive’ spirit of how to know God with someone who has little belief or interest in understanding other ways?
Probably not. We can only teach people who are inspired to learn. There must be a recognition of some kind of lack or paucity for people to want to change. Until they do not want to change, it is impossible to believe that they would become interested in other ways of looking at life.
How might you navigate goal-setting discussions in this regard? Can you actually build a successful relationship with someone who tends to not hold valid or wish to honor the sacred in your own spiritual wisdom and path?
I believe that if someone is not interested in honoring the sacred in your life, it cannot become a successful relationship. I cannot see any commonality in your goals or life processes. What is there to negotiate?
What if ‘dogmatic’ is just one of the ways in another person – much as hardheadedness is in mine? And what if I also see a heart for mutual and reciprocal give and take and sharing? If I sit in pure love and total acceptance, does not this make all of this infinitely okay?
Again, what do we want to do together, what is our aspiration? What could we do together to make a real contribution to creation, to make this world a better place because of our having been here, working together?
Can we do that if one of us is dogmatic? How can we pursue our objective together unless our relationship is mutual and reciprocal?
If both of your hearts were actually aspiring towards pure love, acceptance and mutual support, there would never be an occasion to depict a partner as dogmatic. It may be very romantic to adore your partner as the fulfillment of all your dreams, but it will be sufficiently difficult to negotiate future incompatibilities if you do not at least show a desire to compromise from the beginning.
I see people around me that are very selfish and those who give so much that they are drained. Can you please advise us on how to keep the right balance? Is it possible to be in a relationship and not to have any expectations of the other?
Not really. We all gravitate to those relationships in which we receive the greatest amount of nourishment. We expect the relationship to be reciprocal and mutual.
Is the Guru-Disciple relationship cultivated based on disciple doing the sadhana prescribed by the Guru? Can someone do another sadhana that they feel drawn to and consider you as their Guru?
Yes. A guru is an example of a quality or attitude we want to practice and perfect in our lives. That will be our sadhana. It does not need to be the sadhana of the Guru. In most cases it is not. It is the attitude of the Guru. It may be the attitude of discipline. It may be the attitude of compassion or love or any other bhava which the Guru exemplifies. It may be the way She cooks or writes or maybe we can’t explain it.
What are the kinds of questions that a student can ask a Guru to know if the teacher is the right Guru for them?
There are various intensities that we are searching for in our relationships. The Guru is someone we want to allow inside, we trust to allow ourselves to be completely vulnerable, whose example is one that we respect and want to emulate.
Can you please let me know how the ideal disciple-Guru relationship should be?
A love affair.
How does a student know when a certain teacher is the Guru for him/her?
How do you know when you have fallen in love?
You just know…
How do you, or how did your Guru, evaluate progress by aspirants?
By the type of sadhana they are performing, the questions they ask, and by the glow in their faces.
Is attachment to the Guru beneficial/not beneficial for one’s spiritual growth?
Necessary. Totally desirable. How can we become a shishya, a perfect reflection of the Guru, without attachment? The shishya says, “I love you so much I want to become like you!” That is a very positive attachment.
Why do so many Gurus insist on loyalty and either state explicitly or implicitly that without this you cannot progress on the spiritual path?
Loyalty makes a consistent discipline. It allows us to experience unselfish love. It allows us to surrender in the face of obstacles.
What does the Guru’s protection mean? Does it mean that the Guru saves us from each and every calamity that can befall us or does the Guru show us by example how to deal/face that calamity?
I like your second alternative better, but I will like to offer another.
The Guru gives a new inspiration to pursue new directions, new goals for our lives. When we engage in the new pursuits, the old attachments no longer have the same relevance as they did when they were the sole focus of our lives. Therefore, it is no longer regarded as a calamity when we don’t achieve our frivolous desires.
Can a Guru take the karma of a disciple?
It depends how karma is offered. If we complain that I don’t want this, then the Guru probably won’t want it either. If we are so overjoyed that we want to share it, the Guru will probably be present to share with us.