Intimate relationships

This post reflects my own views on intimacy. These views have been informed by Lester Levenson and D. T. Suzuki; however, the manner in which they are expressed is my own.

[Drop desire] and eventually you get to the place where you can drop the whole remainder of the mind. To sum it up, celibacy does not give realization. However, you won’t get realization without it and also the dropping of all desire. – Lester Levenson (1993, “Healing”)

Being an ego-soul is experienced as a feeling of being alone in a prison; yet we are given many opportunities to break free from it during our lives. In his essay entitled “Introduction” (1949), D. T. Suzuki says that the first and greatest opportunity is when we reach adolescence: “This is the first time the ego really comes to recognize the ‘other’. I mean the awakening of sexual love.” Falling in love is the first time (or the second time, if you count falling in love with your mother) that one loses oneself in ‘goodness’.

Love makes the ego lose itself in the object it loves, yet at the same time it wants to have that object as its own. This is a contradiction, and a great tragedy of life. This elemental feeling must be one of the divine agencies whereby man is urged to advance in his upward walk. God gives tragedies to perfect man. . . But this is not the topic we are concerned with here. What I want to emphasize in this connection is this: that through the awakening of love we get a glimpse into the infinity of things. . . . When the ego-shell is broken and the ‘other’ is taken into its own body, we can say that the ego has denied itself or that the ego has taken its first steps towards the infinite.” (p. 17)

When another person indicates his or her willingness to open up and allow an interpenetration of identity, one eagerly seizes upon this as a way out of the ego. Intimacy is, then, the expression of a mutual desire to escape the lonely prison of the ego and unite with something else, and this something else feels like goodness itself, because it is love, giving, surrender of the self.

However, as Suzuki and Lester Levenson explain, happiness cannot be realized in intimacy. This is so for two reasons. First, the union isn’t a real union; one ego-soul cannot truly unite with another ego-soul, and the feeling of losing oneself lasts for only a brief moment. Second, that “goodness” with which we seek to unite by escaping from our ego-soul isn’t to be found in another being, but within. That goodness is God.

It doesn’t take long for a couple to realize that God isn’t to be found in the other (that the other isn’t an angel), that they are still trapped, still lonely. I remember a policeman who in the months leading up to his marriage was very much in love; I believe he even wrote a poem to his fiance. But when he came back to work after his honeymoon his attitude had changed completely: his beloved was now ‘the wife’!

When this disillusionment happens, either both accept that they are still separate egos, still lonely, or they break off the relationship. After that they can continue to seek God out there, in other relationships, or they can seek God where it is to be found, within themselves.

I do believe in you
And I know you believe in me
And now we realize
Love’s not all that it’s supposed to be

Knowing that you would have wanted it this way
I do believe I’m feelin’ stronger every day

I know we really tried
Together we had love inside
So now the time has come
For both of us to live on the run

Knowing that you would have wanted it this way
I do believe I’m feelin’ stronger every day

After what you’ve meant to me
I can make it easily
I know that we both agree
The best thing to happen to you
The best thing to happen to me

Chicago – “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”

 

I once met a Zen painter. Although she was a masterful artist, she was an indifferent Buddhist. Since this was the time when I had just had my awakening, when I spoke to her about it I became teary-eyed with joy. For some reason she tried to comfort me by hugging me, which made me extremely uncomfortable. I also attended a Reiki training (a really stupid idea, I know) and there was obligatory hugging there as well. I understood why Buddhists don’t hug each other: it felt wrong. Buddhism is a means of coming to know what you are, and what you are lacks nothing and needs nothing because it is everything. If you tell an awakened person, “I love you,” you only confuse her, because she sees everything as “I”, and dividing the unity into “I” and “you” just doesn’t make sense.

I will end with my favorite Buddhist path, that of Padmasambhava. He actually had a consort or two, but Buddhism is seeking the truth without any judgment of good or bad, right or wrong. However, Padmasambhava’s reputation for licentiousness may be no more than wishful hagiography, as Alexandra David-Neel (1937) explains:

Padmasambhava belonged to the degenerate sect of tantric Buddhism. Yet, nothing proves he was naturally intemperate, as some of his followers wish to make us believe, to justify their drunkenness (p. 13).

Padmasambhava is said to have described the stages of the mystic path in the following way:

1. To read a large number of books on the various religions and philosophies. To listen to many learned doctors professing different doctrines. To experiment oneself with a number of methods.
2. To choose a doctrine among the many one has studied and discard the other ones, as the eagle carries off only one sheep from the flock.
3. To remain in a lowly condition, humble in one’s demeanour, not seeking to be conspicuous or important in the eyes of the world, but behind apparent insignificance, to let one’s mind soar high above all worldly power and glory.
4. To be indifferent to all. Behaving like the dog or the pig that eat what chance brings them. Not making any choice among the things which one meets. Abstaining from any effort to acquire or avoid anything. Accepting with an equal indifference whatever comes: riches or poverty, praise or contempt, giving up the distinction between virtue and vice, honourable and shameful, good and evil. Being neither afflicted, nor repenting whatever one may have done and, on the other hand, never being elated nor proud on account of what one has accomplished.
5. To consider with perfect equanimity and detachment the conflicting opinions and the various manifestations of the activity of beings. To understand that such is the nature of things, the inevitable mode of action of each entity and to remain always serene. To look at the world as a man standing on the highest mountain of the country looks at the valleys and the lesser summits spread out below him.214
6. It is said that the sixth stage cannot be described in words. It corresponds to the realization of the “Void”215 which, in Lamaist terminology, means the Inexpressible reality.

214. Compare Dhammapada: “When the learned man drives away vanity by earnestness, he, the wise one, climbing the terraced heights of wisdom, looks down upon the fools. Free from sorrow, he looks upon the sorrowing crowd, as one that stands on a mountain looks down upon them that stand upon the plain.” The Dhammapada is a work belonging to the Buddhist canonic Scriptures in Pali language.
215. In a general way, one must understand here, the realization of the non-existence of a permanent ego, according to the Tibetan current fomula: “The person is devoid of self: all things are devoid of self.” (pp. 164-165)

 

 

David-Neel, Alexandra (1937). Magic and Mystery in Tibet. London: Penguin Books. (https://www.theosophy.world/sites/default/files/ebooks/magic-and-mystery-in-tibet1931.pdf)

Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Phoenix, Arizona: Sedona Institute. ISBN 0-915721-03-1 (download)

Suzuki, D. T. (1949). Essays in Zen Buddhism (First Series). New York: Grove Press.

 

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