‘If you cannot see God in the human face, how can you see him in the clouds, or in images made of dull, dead matter, or in mere fictitious stories of our brain? I shall call you religious fro m the day you begin to see God in men and women, and then you will understand what is meant by turning the left cheek to the man who strikes you on the right. When you see man as God, everything, even the tiger, will be welcome. Whatever comes to you is but the Lord, the Eternal, the Blessed One, appearing to us in various forms, as our father, and mother, and friend, and child—they are our own soul playing with us.’
We and Our Relationships
Let us make it clear at the beginning: self-control and self-transformation is the key to nurturing interpersonal relationships. Everyone who has experienced—and everyone does experience—the pain and joy that accompany all human dealings, knows this. Whenever pain comes, if one attempts to locate its source with a fair degree of detachment, it is mostly born of wrong values, or non-practice of right values. In other words, pain is caused by not following the higher values of life. If one wants lasting joy in inter-personal relationships, one needs a higher scheme of life, a spiritual scheme.
Our relation with the ‘world’ begins with our birth. To be a child implies that there is a mother and a father and that is the first relationship one forms. From then on, till the end, one has to pass through a series of relationships. A child becomes youth and a youth becomes old. One’s station in life keeps on changing. In the process of one’s growth, one discovers one’s relationships, their deep roots, their fruits, their joys and perils. One suffers or rejoices. One feels blessed to be related to somebody or feels unhappy, ashamed. One’s life meanders through this network of experiences, and one keeps discovering newer meanings, fresh purpose. The life goes on.
Understanding the ‘Person’
One cannot speak of inter-personal relationships without understanding the person, the core as well as the connecting link of the whole process. What is man (the term includes woman)? Is man merely a lump of flesh and bones, with some sentiments and intelligence to complete the picture? Much has been thought and said about what a human being is. Many explanations, authentic or run-away, have been given and continue to be given. Despite all such attempts, man remains a mystery to himself.
Vedanta, the oldest system of thought and the most ancient tradition in mysticism1 however, is very clear about what a human being is. Standing in the remote, mercurial time zone of civilization, an ancient Vedic seer declared: ‘Hear! O children of immortality, even those who dwell in the celestial worlds. I have realized the great effulgent Spirit beyond the darkness of ignorance’.
This, then, is the human being in essence divine, the ‘sharer of immortal bliss.’ But, where do we see this divinity in our everyday life? Most people see neither the divinity nor the joy associated with it. They see only human beings—with all their shortcomings and frailties. And these are real to them. They have to deal with others’ (and their own) jealousies and anger, greed and passion, meanness and narrowness. In short, divinity is nowhere in the sight—only matter, gross materialism, is all that is visible to most eyes.
Life, let us remember, is a journey. And as a man journeys through life, he makes newer and higher discoveries about himself as well as others. Says Swami Vivekananda, ‘You must remember that humanity travels not from error to truth, but from truth to truth; it may be, if you like it better, from lower truth to higher truth, but never from error to truth.’
Human weaknesses are a truth, but the divinity of human beings, a higher truth. We keep travelling from lower to higher, from the ridiculous to sublime, from meanness to generosity, from hurt to forgiveness. This journey, though inner and hence invisible, has its outer and visible expression. For, it is the inside that becomes the outside. As this ‘inner’ keeps evolving, becoming wiser and purer, the ‘outer’ also experiences this change. This is all about the story of inter-personal relationships.
Inter-personal relationship is a manifestation of this inner man. What a man does ‘outside’ is an expression of his state of being. The more calm, deep, pure and integrated a person is in his inner life, the greater is the expression of honesty, love, compassion and understanding in his dealings with other human beings. One is the cause and the other is the effect. Inter-personal relationships, thus, begin inside first.
Building healthy inter-personal relation-ships or relations is difficult but necessary. That it is difficult, everyone knows. But the need to nurture them is not well understood. If the need were well understood, people would have paid attention, spent their time and energy for it. Most people do not even know that interpersonal relationships can be nurtured, that there is a cause and effect relationship governing them and one can nurture the cause.
By nurturing inter-personal relationships we do not mean becoming more social or outgoing. Though there are people who want to go around and know more people, and it has its own place in social life, nurturing relationships does not mean this. What we mean is nurturing relationships with higher values, making virtues of love and fairness percolate down into everyday dealings.
Sooner or later one discovers that unless there is an ultimate goal in life, mere becoming socially well-known is meaningless. One may have many friends and acquaintances but that in no way helps in finding out meaning in life. Without a higher ideal, relationships can only add to our ego; our connections may lead to more restlessness than peace of mind.
This should not be construed to mean that one needs to avoid people. In the name of spiritual practices, people can become extremely self-centered and self-seeking. True spiritual progress is to be measured in terms of development of love and purity of mind. Meditation, for instance, is a well-known spiritual practice. In meditation, One attempts to withdraw his mind and focus it on a divine personality or some symbol of divinity. His meditation on the divine implies negation of the illusion of separateness that is the source of mundane life. Our mundane dealings are with ‘others’ whereas, in meditation, we try to discover that we and others are all pervaded by the same divine principle. Now if a person meditates on this unifying divine principle, at least a part of this unitary consciousness should trickle down into his daily life. When this unitary consciousness starts pervading our human dealings, we step into nurturing our relationships with unselfish love and service. Says the Gita: ‘He who judges of pleasure or pain everywhere, by the same standard as he applies to himself, that Yogi, o Arjuna, is regarded as the highest.’3 Or as the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, said, ‘Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.’
There are two sides of nurturing relationships: first, nurturing one’s higher values, and second, removing the obstacles that come in the manifestation of these values in our daily lives.
Our dealings with others reveal our values. These values come from what we consider as ultimately important for us or real to us. One may not be able to write or give a scholarly talk but one may be a perfect example of these values. Chandramani Devi, the mother of Sri Ramakrishna, was a simple village woman who knew nothing of reading or writing. In all her simplicity, she once asked, ‘What is untruth?’ She had no idea what falsehood is!
Expression of these higher values becomes possible only through practice, repeated practice. As one practices, one discovers one’s inherent blockades, one’s unwillingness and inability to part with them; samskaras look so obstinate and conspiring. One needs to become one’s own observer. Thus, self discovery alone paves the way for fine-tuning the practice of these values.
The Gita speaks of cultivation of these higher values in various ways—daivi sampat (divine treasure of values), jnana yoga lakshana (the characteristics of a follower on the path of Self-Knowledge), the signs of an ideal devotee, description of a man free from the snares of three gunas (primeval qualities that constitute the human personality), and in many other similar descriptions. The whole idea is that unless a person consciously tries to live a higher life, his dealings with others cannot be of great order. And as we struggle with others, we discover how much of the struggle really lies within, and not outside.
Love is one word that everyone who wants to improve or nurture interpersonal relationships, knows. But love is the least understood word. Love is not a mere sentiment anyone can fiddle with. Love requires inner growth. it requires maturity. Writes Erich Fromm, the eminent German American psychologist and humanistic philosopher, Man is gifted with reason; he is life being aware of itself; he has awareness of himself of his fellow man, of his past, and of the possibilities 0f his future. This awareness of himself as a separate entity, the awareness of his own short life span, of the fact that without his will he is born and against his will he dies, that he will die before those whom he loves, or they before him, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all this makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison. He would become insane could he not liberate himself from this prison and reach out, unite himself in some form or other with men, with the world outside.’
Erich Fromm speaks of love as consisting of four elements: care, responsibility, and respect and knowledge. He says that ‘they are mutually interdependent. They are a syndrome of attitudes which are to be found in the mature person; that is, in the person who develops his own powers productively, who only wants to have that which he has worked for, who has given up narcissistic dreams of omniscience and omnipotence, who has acquired humility based on the inner strength which only genuine productive activity can give.’
Love is, thus, a faculty of human personality that needs to be developed. The person who practices love, should be able to respond to others’ needs, feel responsible for his or her growth. But this has its own perils, and one should clearly understand this as the major obstacle. Explaining this, Erich Fromm writes:
Responsibility could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness, were it not for a third component of love, respect. Respect is not fear and awe; it denotes, in accordance with the root of the word (respicere, to look at), the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality. Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me. If 1 love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with him as he is, not as I need him to be as an object for my use. It is clear that respect is possible only if I have achieved independence; if I can stand and walk without needing crutches, without having to dominate and exploit anyone else.
Indeed nurturing inter-personal relationships is always possible only when a person is mature enough to understand the need for love and respect in one’s dealings with others.
Relationships are Everywhere
One can discover the call to nurture relationships everywhere—at homes, in factories, offices, schools, shops, temples, in buses and cars, even in forests. What one does not find everywhere is the right individual whom one could love. But is this the real problem? Erich Fromm, on the other hand, points out that the problem love is not the problem of finding a perfect object but the problem of an underdeveloped faculty called love. Once one develops love, forgiveness, patience, loyalty and understanding—the factors that form the basis of happy relationships—naturally emerge and flood our and others’ lives. The purpose of life is not to just have happy relationships but make our relationships as means for spiritual growth. One should have aspiration for higher life if one wants to spiritualise one’s relationship with others.
Sri Ramakrishna’s divine life and his timeless message are well-known. What is not generally discussed is his extraordinary love and maturity in dealing with other human beings that he came in touch with. He was the personification of selfless love and all his disciples vouchsafe of this. When, once Swami Vivekananda was asked to speak about Sri Ramakrishna, he became so emotional that he said that ‘All I can say about him is that he was L-O-V-E personified.’ The same can be said about Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swamiji himself. Books are not wanting that record the mature and divine relationships that they nurtured in their lives. In fact, this can be seen in anyone who has gone forward in his spiritual journey and discovered the inherent divinity that underlies all creation.
All said and done, one has the real issue of dealing with people, particularly difficult people. One needs wisdom and a helping hand to do this. One needs consolation and strength and a perennial source of inspiration. This is what this volume tries to highlight.
The following pages contain several insightful ideas on this subject as also reminiscences and anecdotes that highlight the practical ways of how these can be put into practice. Written by learned contributors, monastic as well as lay, these articles were originally published by The Vedanta Kesari, the English monthly published from this Math. Besides thoughtful articles and elevating reminiscences this volume of the outstanding writers in order to draw a more complete picture of the subject our thanks to all the publishers whose publication we have made use of.
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