We finish out our interview with Bo Lozoff, founder of the Human Kindness Foundation with these questions:
I understand that you and Sita don’t view marriage as a relationship, a concept that flies in the face of our cultural view. What is a marriage if not a relationship?
Marriage is a union, a single entity, while a relationship exists between two separate individuals. The great problem in our culture is that the idea of getting married and maintaining separate identities is considered a healthy view. Yet the only way that marriage can really work is if we realize that the act of getting married fundamentally and forever changes us. We are one part of a committed couple. That’s the reason we wear a ring, so that everywhere we go people can recognize at a glance that we are not representing only ourselves. In the ancient Hindu tradition, the bride and groom poured their “birth fires” into one clay vessel. The resulting fire is a new, inseparable entity.
Lots of other things can be defined as relationships, but marriage is a merging of two fires into one, a mystical union. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to be like on the other side, but we have to be open to never being the same again as we were when we were single. You can love your home, you can love the area of the world that you live in, but by putting the ring on your finger your are saying, “This above all else is my reference point, this union.”
As long as I’m married to Sita, I don’t care where I am. I could be in Alaska flipping burgers it wouldn’t matter. The same goes for our son, Josh. In fact, early on we were in California but Josh decided that he hated school there, so we moved back to North Carolina.
There is an old biblical passage that states, “No greater love hath man than laying down his life for his fellow man.” The cult of individualism that we have fallen into in America is so strong at this point that we cant seem to fathom the meaning of this passage. We seem to think that the only important thing is individual success. If your kids stand in the way, too bad. If your husband stands in the way, leave him. Your personal success is all that’s important. If it breaks the heart of your whole family, hey, they’ve got to understand. Let them get counseling.
I don’t mean to imply that those who get divorced are failures. My point is that divorce is part of a widespread cultural phenomenon thats very much supported and rarely questioned in our society.
People often speak about “healthy divorce.” But the truth is that divorce is tough on everyone involved. Divorce distorts children’s perceptions of love, loyalty and even the sacred language of the marriage vows. But perhaps worst of all, it fuels our obsession with individualism by affirming that neither wife, nor husband, nor children, nor family life should stand in the way of what we like to call our personal happiness.
When His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “Perhaps in some cases a marriage must end, but when there are children involved divorce should be unthinkable,” he, too, is speaking in favor of personal happiness, not against it. He is not asking us to stay together in loveless marriages. He is reminding us of a deeper kind of happiness that comes from honoring ones commitments. He is exhorting us to devote ourselves to each other once again, to rediscover whatever wonderful qualities we once saw in our beloved other, to sacrifice our self-centered conflicts and ambitions in order to create that most essential component of civilization: family life. What greater achievement is there than raising happy, secure children?
Love is the ground of all reality. Love is what enlightenment feels like. Enlightenment is not an accomplishment; it’s better described by the word realization. If I say I am self-realized, I have realized a truth. That doesn’t mean I have accomplished or attained something that you haven’t. Its more like this: You and I are both wearing blue shirts, but Ive just realized I’m wearing one and you haven’t yet.
In all the traditions, the overwhelming description of the enlightened or realized state is love, devotion, gratitude. Marriage and family life help us touch love. Not to touch just the romantic love for our spouse, nor just the parental love for our kids, but through romantic and parental love to touch the unconditional love that includes everything and everybody, the love thats universal.
Let me explain by using the example of my son. Every day I say a prayer and offer a blessing of good will to him wherever he may be. When I feel all of my love for him, then Ill say a little prayer along the lines of, “May I love all beings and my son equally.” I use this love for my son to trigger that infinitely greater love, not only for him, but for all beings. Ultimately that is the only way that it is really love. It’s an impossibility to truly love my son more than I love Charles Manson. I’m either in the state of love or I’m not. True love is a profound, revolutionary force.
You’ve said you think people should choose carefully before getting married, but how do you know when you’ve met the right person?
When I talk about being more cautious, I mean reflecting first on your view of marriage. It’s good to have a clear idea beforehand and discuss it openly with the one you’ve fallen in love with. Does it have to be this passionate, chemical Beverly Hills 90210 kind of thing? Or does it have more to do with deep trusting and friendship?
So many marriage books focus on how to keep the passion and romance alive. They are filled with all kinds of degrading techniques for deluding your partner. That’s silly because it assumes that your initial passionate infatuation is extremely important. With this orientation, we become afraid that we are failing if we feel the romance sliding. Instead we must ask, “What has meaning for us in this union?” And then, ìIs our partnership deeply connected in this meaning?î Also we must not be afraid to go in the direction opposite of the culture. When it comes to marriage we should be able to say, “We don’t have much romance in our life and that’s fine.”
Sita and I have less and less romance and sentimentality in our marriage and that’s great. What a relief! In this way we will eventually reach a point where there is no difference between Sita and me as husband and wife, brother and sister, or best friends. Where we’re going is way beyond groping each other’s bodies for a few minutes, a few times a week. It’s living together as life partners and pursuing truth together.
Are there certain practices that you recommend to build and maintain intimacy in marriage and family life?
The most powerful practice is to forge a simple lifestyle so that both partners are not working their tails off just to pay elaborate mortgages, car payments and so on. Create a life that puts a premium on family time rather than on how the family lives. This allows us to spend a maximum of time being a parent, enjoying life, enjoying music, watching the sun come up and go down. Thats a practice whose mantra is the best things in life are free.
I believe our task is to rediscover our personal responsibility toward the greater world rather than merely toward our private lives. Each of us has a mission to contribute something positive to the world, and we cannot become truly happy if we don’t fulfill that mission. In any society, marriage and family life are the most basic units of that mission. A family has the capacity to bring new human beings into the world and raise them in a loving, calm, unselfish environment, and the equally awesome responsibility of helping spouses, parents and family members die in a loving, calm, unselfish environment. Cherishing each other from birth to death is what taps us into the sacredness of family life. It’s such a tragedy to allow it to become so degraded that the members of a family hardly even eat meals together, let alone face life’s deepest challenges and mysteries together.
Simple living, dedication to service, and daily spiritual practice are my own family’s recipe. It’s really very simple.