#326 Interpersonal relationships: a Zen perspective by Harish 9 Aug 20

Interpersonal Relationships – A Zen Perspective

Interpersonal relationships are relationships between you and the people that you contact during your daily lives; your spouse, your children, your siblings, your colleagues and the people outside your own sphere.

Let us examine how the relationships are born, are developed, and how they may impact your daily lives. Upon birth, a human being is all alone, helpless, unaware of what is in store for him or her in this vast world. The parents nurture the child physically. Slowly, he or she starts to develop thoughts about the people around him, his parents, brothers and sisters. (For the sake of simplicity I am using the term “He”. It could also be used for “She”.) He learns to respond to their interaction with him. Sometimes he gets praise, other times he gets scolded. And then through the school years this interaction continues with other children, other relatives, teachers, neighbors. This interaction continues with work colleagues, superiors and those under him. Eventually, a vast web of inter personal relationships is built up.  Some of these relationship are very encouraging and supportive – conducive relationships others not so – non conducive relationships. How does one handles these relationships? Our natural instinct is to hold on to conducive relationships and to stay away from the non-conducive relationships.

Furthermore, these relationships are of different kinds with different people. Also, these relationships evolve with time. You have positive emotions of love, compassion, respect, encouragement and pride etc. Then there are the negative emotions of fear, hatred, jealousy, anger, attachment etc. The key to handling the interpersonal relationships lies in how well one can handle these emotions. We need to integrate emotions of the mind with the rationality of the intellect. Our mind is fed by the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The mind reacts differently to different situations. Take for example the death of a child. If that child happens to be your own child, your mind will experience tremendous grief and anguish. If, however that child is someone distant to you, it does not create the emotion of anguish to the same extent. The phenomenon that happened in the outer world is “a child died”, but the mind reacts to it differently in different situations.  There are countless examples how the same event creates different emotions in different individuals or even in the same individual at different times. So how we view our interpersonal relationships depends on how our mind operates.

Zen tells us to accept what is happening with the person that you are in contact with. You can handle these relationships by being non-judgmental. The key to controlling the behavior of the mind is mindfulness. Regular meditation helps us to delve into the workings of the mind. The more you practice meditation, the more you become aware of the mechanics of how the mind operates. The greatest benefit of meditation is single-pointed ability. Once you can do it, it becomes easy to handle interpersonal relationships.