RELATIONSHIP AS A VEHICLE FOR CONSCIOUSNESS
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
Summary: By making us aware of the effect our actions have on others, relationships can help us inquire into our deeper motivations and intentions so that we can make more conscious choices.
Relationship forms the core of our experience as humans. We define ourselves and are defined by the nature of our relating. The Buddhist concept of interdependence affirms that nothing exists independently. Everything exists interdependently. In relationship, we do not and cannot exist independently of one another.
It is through relationship that we come to know ourselves. It is through relating that we hold up a mirror to others for them to come to know themselves. Others do the same for us, providing us with information about ourselves that we could not see without the lens of relating. In this way, relationship provides us with a path of revelation. As we learn more about ourselves, our experience takes on richer meaning.
In the Mind Only School of Buddhism, it is understood that everything we experience in our external world is function of our mind, or our internal world. This internal world is difficult to see and understand if it is not projected onto external reality. We generate relationships as we project aspects of our internal worlds outward. By examining the nature of these relationships and the ways in which we act and react in them, we begin to perceive aspects of ourselves that would remain hidden otherwise.
When we look at how we function in relationship, our habitual ways of reacting are among the first things we notice. Our habitual ways of functioning create our experience of reality to such an extent that we often do not realize that the experience of reality they they create is not objective. We often do not realize that others are not experiencing reality the same way we are until we start interacting with them and find that their priorities are not our priorities. In examining our reaction to this gap in experience, we begin to perceive that our habits of reacting are forming our reality.
Our habits of reacting are, in Buddhist thought, a function of something called karma. Karma refers to the consequences of actions. All actions are the consequence of previous actions. And all actions generate consequences. When we are unaware of the consequences of our actions, we tend to make choices in poorly informed ways. Simply put, the forces of karma help us become aware of the consequences of our actions.
When we become aware of the consequences of our actions, we become more aware of our motivation. As we become more aware of our motivation, we learn more about our intentions. And as we learn more about our intentions, a window opens into a deeper level of our inner world.
One of the first ways we become aware of the consequences of our actions is through the effect our actions have on other people. And the way we react to others actions also shows about our habitual response. This is the dance of karma that is hidden in all of our inter-relating. If we learn the steps to this dance we become aware of the nature of our karma.
In Buddhist thought, this dance takes place over a series of lifetimes. The actions we take in one lifetime may have consequences in another. If we are unaware of our intention and motivation, we lose control over the way we participate in this dance. Buddhist practice is designed to make people aware of their intention and motivation so they can participate in this dance more consciously – or even choose not to participate at all, by dissolving all the karmic actions and reactions that have been generated from one lifetime to the next.
Obviously, this is a big task, and we need all the help we can get to undertake it. Within this context, the information we receive through our interrelating becomes quite crucial. Without the information our interrelating provides us, we do not become aware of the consequences of our actions. Therefore, we are not motivated to look at our intention. If we don’t look at our intention we cannot know how our actions are generating karma. If we do not understand the forces that are driving us karmically, we become imprisoned in unconscious action and reaction.
In Buddhism this is called samasara. Samsara is the consensus reality we all share. In Buddhist thought, this is generally considered to be a reality that is dominated by suffering. This suffering is caused by our habitual reaction to reality. Our habitual reactions are based on our desires, our aversions and the way we remain unconscious about what is motivating our desires and aversions.
We emerge from the suffering generated by the unconscious choices we make, first, by understanding the consequences of those choices. Through their reactions to our choices, others give us important information about our desires and aversions and what is motivating them. So, it is through relationship we become more conscious. Relationship, then, becomes a vehicle for expanding consciousness.