the Buddha Married
by Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D.
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May all beings everywhere be free from suffering and
the root of all suffering.
May all beings everywhere find happiness and
of all happiness.
Buddhist teachings provide a wonderful foundation to
understand why relationships work and why they don't.
They help us develop awareness so we live in the present
and become alive to ourselves and our loved ones. Our
exploration of vital, loving relationships will include
Buddhist concepts of impermanence, lovingkindness,
compassion, attachments, the nature of our conditioned
responses, and the underlying unity of All That Is.
Buddhist teachings apply to everyday living as well
as intimate relationships. Indeed, there is no
separation between the awareness of how we breathe,
think, talk, eat, walk, rest, work, play and the
awareness of how we relate to others and to all sentient
life. As we team to bring attention to whatever we are
doing, we find that all of life is a form of meditation.
There is simply the experience of the moment, and our
task on the spiritual path is to be engaged fully in
whatever is happening right now, without judgment or
We come to realize that happiness, pain, sadness, and
joy are the passing winds of our ever-changing
experience, closely aligned with our identification with
our mind and thoughts. As our mind becomes quieter, we
are more able to attune to the present moment, which
allows us to see into the heart of things. We come to
accept that for everyone, life is unpredictable,
difficult, and wondrous. This, in turn, allows us to
cherish, forgive, and love our brothers and sisters on
this imperfect human path.
When the prince Siddhartha Gautama became known as
The Buddha, meaning "the enlightened one," he
had spent five years being intentionally celibate.
Before he left the palace of his father and mother,
however, to find a solution to the universal suffering
of humankind, he was married to a beautiful princess and
was the father of one son. So, we are faced with the
paradox that prior to enlightenment, Buddha was married,
and when he began his spiritual search for the causes of
suffering, he became celibate. One might rightly ask,
then, why would we look for wisdom on marriage from a
man who left his wife and child for a life of celibacy?
The answer lies in his exploration into the roots of
human suffering and the profound wisdom of his teachings
that lead to joy, compassion, and loving kindness-traits
that free us to form loving relationships.
Buddhism is more about experience than beliefs. There
is no concept of a supreme God--no father, mother, or
unseen being out there, guiding us, controlling us,
comforting us, or giving us a hand to hold. There is
also no one judging us, or telling us we are right or
wrong. Rather, we take refuge in the teachings, and the
support of our community of like-minded brothers and
sisters. We gauge the clarity and goodness of our
actions through attunement to our heart and mind, asking
if we are being guided by kindness and compassion in all
things. As a couple, we are full and equal partners on
the path of awakening, joining together, learning from
each other, yet each on our own journey. Buddhism embraces the belief that all life is sacred
and interconnected. That underneath our surface
behaviors and thoughts lies the essence of our being, a
unifying force that flows through all of us.
Buddhism has no concept of sin. Rather it embraces
the belief that we harm others out of our own
unconsciousness or ignorance. If we were fully awake we
would experience that to harm another is to harm
ourselves, and that to harm ourselves is to harm
another. There is no separation. As we come to fully
understand this, we become less reactive to others and
respond without fear or malice in our hearts.
Here is an overview of some basic Buddhist principles
that are central to loving relationships.
1. Emptiness is form, form is emptiness: we are all
This concept, which lies at the heart of Buddhism,
asserts that everything is made of emptiness. Said
another way, there is a unifying energy that underlies
all life. At our deepest level, we are essence--the
universal I Am. But we also live in a physical body and
have a set of beliefs, values, and expectations that we
have adopted. Unfortunately, we often identify with
these beliefs to, the exclusion of experiencing our
essential nature, which some people may call Source,
God, Spirit, All That Is, or Essence. To be at peace
with ourselves and to create intimacy, we need to
connect with our deepest essence and realize we existed
prior to all these learned thoughts, habits, and beliefs
we adopted. If we peel back the thoughts and perceptions
we have learned and try to find something solid to
identify with that is uniquely who we are, something
that goes beyond conditioning, we find that everything
dissolves and we drop into essence. There is simply
nothing solid we can adhere to that defines who we are.
This is both frightening and freeing--frightening to
our mind and ego, freeing to our heart, which wants to
Paradoxically, it is through this emptiness that we
find our wholeness and experience love, because there is
nothing in the way. We are completely unified.
We can extend this idea of unity to everything in our
daily lives. In his commentaries on The Heart of
Understanding, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "Everything
contains everything else." He uses the phrase
"inter-are." We are the clouds, the water, the
forest, the earth that is contained in the food we eat,
the air we breathe, the water we drink. We also are
permeated by the vibration of our partner's touch,
voice, laughter, kisses, smiles, and frowns. Everything
becomes a form of energy, moving and shifting within us
and between us. It is only an illusion that we are
separate. As we become conscious of the deep level of
"interbeing" with our partner and all people,
we become exquisitely aware of the importance of being
mindful of our behavior and words.
2. Using the four noble truths to create awareness
At the foundation of Buddha's teachings are the four
noble truths. They show how we create our own suffering
through our attachments, expectations, and demands that
people and situations be different than they are. By
examining our attachments, we see the numerous ways in
which we try to control others instead of accepting them
as they are.
The first noble truth is that suffering is inherent
to life. The second noble truth asserts that we suffer
because of our attachments--our craving, clinging, and
demanding. The third noble truth is that Nirvana--equanimity, peace, and cessation of craving is possible
and available to all when we cease our attachments. The
fourth noble truth is that there is an eightfold path
that leads to being free of attachments. They often are
called the signposts to being on the path. They include
Right Understanding, Right Aspiration, Right Action,
Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right
Concentration, and Right Mindfulness. I would add the
signpost of right relationships.
I first came into contact with the concept that I
create my own suffering through my attachments in 1980
at the Cornucopia Center founded by Ken Keyes, author of
Handbook to Higher Consciousness. It was perhaps the
greatest single awakening of my life. I learned that
when someone yelled at me or appeared not to like me, it
meant they were attached to my being different, not that
I was bad. Similarly, I discovered that when I felt
impatient or angry, this reflected my attachment to
someone behaving differently. I learned that my conditioning and expectations
created my turmoil, not the words or actions of the
The belief that we do harm out of ignorance doesn't
take away our responsibility for our actions, but it
suggests that we might better explore the pain or needs
beneath our behavior rather than judging ourselves
harshly or sinking into shame. This awareness was key to
changing my relationships because it removed all levels
of blame and shame, and helped me to realize that
everyone is just doing what they are conditioned to do. Though I felt greatly relieved to understand this
teaching, I did not instantly stop feeling hurt, angry,
or sad. However, more and more often, I could interrupt
my habituated responses by stepping back and witnessing
that my reactions stemmed from my attachments. It was
like creating a pause that allowed my mind to switch
gears. Needless to say, becoming aware of attachments
takes daily practice.
To love better and feet more openhearted and unified
with others, start to notice your attachments to
thoughts and behavior of yourself and your partner.
Whenever you are agitated, upset, angry, mad, or hurt,
you have an attachment to something being different than
it is or you are afraid of the outcome. You are
resisting the "what is" of the moment. As you
observe your experience and all the accompanying
feelings, realize you are creating your emotional state.
In relationships, people become attached to praise,
validation, sex, security, status, and affirmations of
their worth. Sentiments like, "You make me feel so
bad" or "You make me feel so good" are
both forms of attachment because no one can make us feel
secure and our partner is not here to tell us we're
okay. This doesn't mean that loving couples donít
validate or give support to each other, itís that they
donít depend on it from their partner. It is given as a natural outpouring of love and care.
As we loosen our attachments, our mind starts to
quiet down and we feel more attuned to others. Our
attachments donít disappear, but we see them for what
they are--the chattering of our conditioned mind. When
we step back and ask, "Now what am I demanding
that's making me so upset?" we become a witness to
the unfolding drama of our lives. We start to see it as
a passing show. We are in it, but not of it.
A word of caution: Some people hide behind the
concept of attachment to stay in a harmful relationship.
They rationalize abuse by saying, "I'm just
attached to his being different." This masks the
deeper attachment, namely, that the person is staying in
a painful relationship for security, or because they
fear being alone. So, remember, take these teachings in
spirit and use them to create greater happiness in your
life, not to hide.
It's a habit of yours to walk slowly
You hold a grudge for years
With such heaviness, how can you be modest?
With such attachments, do you expect to arrive
3. Experience lovingkindness.
My religion is kindness.
Wishing: in gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease...
Let none, through anger of ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings.
Can you gaze at your beloved and completely wish him
freedom from suffering and the root of all suffering?
Can you look at your partner, and with all your heart
wish her the fullness of all that she can become? Do
your actions and words reflect these loving wishes? When
two people fully open their hearts, wanting only the
best for each other, they ease through the boundaries of
their separateness. This is the essence of
The foundation of lovingkindness is bringing an
unconditional friendliness and acceptance to ourselves.
We realize that everything is part of our Buddha nature
and there is nothing to reject. Kahlil Gibran writes in
The Prophet, "In our giant self lies our goodness,
and that goodness is in all of us. Lovingkindness is
like bringing a vast embrace to all we are and feeling
the radiance at the center of our being."
From this place of self-acceptance and expansiveness,
we feel steady, natural, and unafraid. When
lovingkindness permeates our being, we are so
transparent and at ease within ourselves that anger and
hostility have no place to take root inside. Once we
have experienced the wonderful expansiveness of
lovingkindness, we become highly attuned to the
constricting nature of holding on to grief, anger, hurt,
One step toward experiencing lovingkindness comes
from immersing ourselves in our own lives, following our
heart and giving ourselves fully to whatever we feel
called to do. This allows us to cheer completely for
others as they come into their power and find their
path. If we stand in the shadows of our own lives,
shrinking from the vast possibilities before us, we are
likely to be jealous or uncomfortable around people who
fully explore their own potential.
Lovingkindness does not mean we fake a smile or do
not protect ourselves. Sharon Salberg, in her wonderful
book, Lovingkindness, tells a story of a woman
who was riding in an open rickshaw when she was suddenly
attacked by two people trying to steal her purse. She
later asked a spiritual teacher what he would have done.
He said something to the effect of With lovingkindness,
I would have taken my umbrella and whacked them on the
head. We can say no with lovingkindness, we can end a
relationship with lovingkindness. It's simply that we
see people doing what they are conditioned to do, and at
the same time we take care of ourselves.
Experiencing joy also brings us to lovingkindnes. Joy
is like an effervescence of the heart bursting open with
awe, wonder, and a big smile at the predicament of
living. Many people are more comfortable bonding in pain
and sadness than coming together in delight and
pleasure. Joy is a powerful energy that sweeps through
our bodies, breaking up tension, exposing our wounded
places, and expanding our ability to embrace all
feelings. The freer our energy, the more spacious we
When we stop making a big deal out of our inner
experience by either running from it or dramatizing it,
we start feeling lighter about these human traits. As a
result, we feel our commonalities with others--"I
know where that comes form: I've done that. I've stolen,
I've fudged on the truth, been afraid, or arrogant."
This allows us to be present to the pain of another,
just to be right there, doing nothing but providing a
safe space for our partner to feel. From this silent yet
alive place, we will start to feel more connected to
ourselves and our beloved.
Copyright © 2001 Charlotte
Kasl. Excerpted by permission from "If the Buddha Married" by Charlotte
Kasl, Penguin Putnam, Inc, 2001.
Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D., has an M.A. in Music from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Ohio University. Dr. Kasl was a Licensed Psychologist in Minnesota for fifteen years and is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in Montana. She is a Certified Addiction Specialist in the areas of chemical dependency and sexuality, has had a private psychotherapy practice for twenty-five years and has been a Reiki Master Healer for eighteen years.
Dr. Kasl was part of a task force funded by the State of Minnesota Department of Human Services to create a model treatment program for Chemically Dependent Women. She has served on several advisory boards including the Women's Recovery Network, the Women's Action Alliance for Alcohol and Drug Education, and the Organization for Secular Sobriety, also known as Save Our Selves (SOS). She was invited by the National Center for Substance Abuse Prevention to participate in a synthesis conference to make recommendations on the needs of women. Dr. Kasl has consulted with numerous treatment programs and is a founding member of ATTACH (The Association for the Teaching and Training in the Attachment of Children).
Dr. Kasl is the author of seven books and has begun work on her eighth book. The thread running through all of her work is helping people find their own voice, accept themselves and develop a spiritual and social consciousness that increases understanding and compassion for all people. Dr. Kasl writes with clarity, warmth and immediacy that allows her to connect with a wide range of people. She has also written numerous articles and has appeared on over 200 radio and television programs, including New Dimensions Radio, Donahue, Joan Lunden, Sally Jessie Raphael,
Geraldo, and People are Talking. Dr. Kasl has taught a wide variety of workshops and talks on relationships, addiction, sexuality, spirituality, community, healing from incest and abuse, casting out internalized oppression, preventing burn out, quantum healing, empowerment, and finding joy.
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