The Buddha’s Wife – Blog

Spiritual “we”

“Commitment to any spiritual path requires ferocity of purpose and finding a shared spiritual practice.” (p. 190, The Buddha’s Wife)

To welcome the New Year, many find it an auspicious time to renew vows, commitments, and promises. A New Year becomes an opportunity to look at our purpose and aspirations.

For couples, it can be an especially exciting time to renew a shared path. When couples share a path that integrates both the ordinary and extraordinary, the everyday with spirit, there is an opportunity to awaken together as a spiritual “we.” Moments of deep connection, when we are truly present with the other, supports and expands the relationship into a spiritual dimension.

Dialogue and deep listening are steps that can expand couples mutuality—a way of being with each other in a safe holding circle of intimacy. If you have a shared commitment with your partner to become a spiritual “we,” here are three practices from The Buddha’s Wife:

  1. Write a relational purpose statement. What are our spiritual aspirations for the relationship?
  2. What are our vows and commitments to each other?
  3. What are some simple phrases or mantras to remind ourselves of these commitments? For example: “We do it together.”

Remember to also have fun throughout the journey—laughter is a beautiful way to connect heart to heart!

The movement of connecting

“A movement in which each joins and feels joined, sees and feels seen, moves and is moved by the other.” (p. 124, The Buddha’s Wife)

The movement of connecting is a moment of joining—of being with, co-arising with mutual presence of mind, heart, and spirit. Therefore, when we say, “we connect,” we’re relating to each other in such a way that we join with an energy that unites with mutually responsive empathy. It becomes a shared experience with specific benefits, as described by Dr. Jean Baker Miller in her book The Healing Connection; there are “Five Good Things” that come from connecting:

  1. Zest
  2. Empowerment
  3. Knowledge of self, other, and the relationship
  4. An increased sense of worth
  5. A desire for more connection

These five qualities are experienced by every participant in the relationship—signs that the relationship is mutually beneficial and healthy. Participants continuously, and even simultaneously, adapt and align, offer and receive in the relationship…instead of turning away, we turn towards the other and are present with and responsive to him/her. To “show up” in such a way is to take the first step.

Ripples of change

“One of the great cultural challenges of our time is to widen our circles and spiritual communities to become welcoming and affirming to diverse groups.” (p. 230, The Buddha’s Wife)

Fostering an open, compassionate awareness and engagement with diverse groups of people, especially those that are marginalized or oppressed, is necessary to embrace if we are to widen our circles of peace. When we continue the separation and “invisibility” of others who are different, then what emotional and spiritual seeds are we planting? Seeds of alienation, inequality, and conflict.

Widening our societies and communities, there needs to be a shared intention of compassionate and relational activism, where inclusivity and healing are supported. This is a particular challenge to religious and spiritual communities, who may take on a dogmatic belief system as a universal absolute. Intolerance, prejudice, and anger or violence can stem from this belief that “we” are not the same as “them,” and therefore, against us. This often becomes a dangerous and harmful belief, where life becomes an extreme of black and white, then there is no room for dialogue and understanding. There is no space for appreciating the other’s sacred interbeing.

There are practices and reflections that we can each cultivate to start taking compassionate and relational actions—to meet the other where he or she is at in order to build a bridge of dialogue. Here are a few steps inspired from The Buddha’s Wife:

  1. Notice which groups of people you most identify with, and those you identify the least. Observe how they are different and similar. Consider how these qualities reflect your life and beliefs.
  2. The groups you identify the least—whether due to race, religion, political belief, or lifestyle—is there one you are curious about? Or perhaps feel disconnected and uneasy about? Is there ways you can expand your understanding and compassion with this particular group? Try one idea out.
  3. Meditate on the appreciation of our diverse world. Perhaps focus on someone you may not know, who you feel is very different, and practice sending him/her an affirmation of gratitude.

Spiritual friendships

“In spiritual friendship, we commit to the awakening of oneself, the other, and the relationship.” (p. 180, The Buddha’s Wife)

In The Buddha’s Wife, a beautiful and profound friendship develops between Princess Yasodhara and Channa, Siddhartha’s manservant. Their story unfolds and intertwines as the two confront the grief of Siddhartha’s departure from the palace and their lives. Both loved him deeply, and their devotion to him as wife and servant, ultimately becomes a way they can help each other.

Their friendship is remarkable not only in terms of class (princess and servant) but also gender. Their relationship grows simultaneously with the growth of Yasodhara’s spiritual sangha with the women of the palace, and Channa is invited, whereby he becomes a member and a spiritual friend and confidant to her: “A metaphor for the relational path could be a garden…. Plants, like humans, bud, bloom, flower, fruit, and die. Each grows separately aboveground but roots intermingle and are mutually impacted. Sometimes, it is far easier for one friend to see deeply into the true nature of the other.” (p. 180)

Four qualities of spiritual friendships from the book include:

  • Sharing spiritual community
  • Committing to self and each other
  • Learning together
  • Become listening and speaking partners

The path of devotion

“Never underestimate the joy, and never underestimate the suffering of the path of parenting.” (p. 174, The Buddha’s Wife)

Parents, caregivers, and nurturers know that the devoted responsibility and love for another being is a relationship that can be filled with such conflicting or contrasting emotions. To care for and raise a child for example is said to be one of the most difficult jobs and at the same time one of the most rewarding.

A friend shared this video link about becoming a first time parent, and at the end of watching it, you are ultimately left with the sense that parenting truly is a profound gift with all its complexities and mysteries. The highs and lows, the joys and despair, the bliss and pain, the fun and the worries…is there any relationship that doesn’t face all these expressions?

For Yasodhara in The Buddha’s Wife, she comes to realize the extraordinary gift the spiritual path of devotion is for her as a mother, daughter, friend, and wife. “Walking a compassionate wisdom path together. This is what makes the ordinary extraordinary” (page 49). This path of devotion honors and illuminates the complexity, beauty, and staying power with a particular person in everyday life; the path can open to a wiser and greater compassion and appreciation of our larger human connectedness.

Together we can make a difference

“If not now, when? If not here, where? If not together, how?” (p. 118, The Buddha’s Wife)

Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. was remarkable in many ways. His humility, open kindness, and authenticity has made him an inspiration to many individuals whether Catholic or not. He is especially gaining attention for his challenging call to action from citizens and governments to actively participate and heal our environment and conflict-torn world—he is essentially calling us to be relational activists.

From his address before Congress: “We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.” And he went on to challenge Congress and America with this passionate plea: “…to break out of its cycle of paralysis and use its power to heal the ‘open wounds’ of a planet torn by hatred, greed, poverty and pollution.”

If not now, when? If not here, where? If not together, how? These questions from Yasodhara ring loudly in our world today, and whether you follow a particular faith or not, the importance lies in our humanity and responsibility to one another—citizens of a global world that needs all of our united goodness and respect. Fostering the well-being and “the right to liberty” for all of our fellow men and women rests on us to model and embody in our everyday lives and decisions.

Deep listening

“The practice of deep listening to the honest, vibrating details of another’s life story can open hearts into connection.” (p. xvi, The Buddha’s Wife)

Deep mindful listening means to listen without judgment and interruption. In relationships that foster deep listening and speaking, we are offered an opportunity to touch into core truths that can be shared in dialogue.

How can we listen more deeply, more mindfully? Here is a practice for you to do with a partner or circle from The Buddha’s Wife:

  1. Sit in silence, facing each other with eyes open (if a circle then partner up).
  2. Be mindful and attentive to the breathing in and out—attending to the in and out breath of your partner as well as your own.
  3. Sit in silence, just breathing for 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Take turns to share the experience in simple words, listening deeply, and speaking the truth from the heart.

Piercing the heart

“Breaking through, piercing the heart of each to each other so that there is nothing else but compassion.” (p. 60, The Buddha’s Wife)

The traumatic image of the drowned Syrian 3-year old, Aylan Kurdi has pierced many, many hearts throughout the world. When the image appeared in The New York Times article on September 3rd, it sent waves of emotions—shock, anger, guilt, and deep sadness. The question many confronted from seeing the image of Aylan: How could we let this happen?

Subsequently, the image and the tragic story of his family drowning—Aylan with his older brother and mother—awakened a stark and brutal reality of the current migrant crisis. The response has been quick on many sides, and activists and countries are stepping up and opening their borders and homes to help. We are all being called to touch into our compassion and collective responsibility. Any sense of differences in nationality, culture, language, and beliefs—these identities are fading into the compassionate call to help one another as fellow humans: mother, father, son, daughter, grandparent, relative, neighbor, friend.

When your heart has been pierced by the life of another, it’s important to be mindful of our first reaction, whether it be outrage, fear, or sadness. These emotions can create a follow-up reaction of resistance, denial, or anger that will close off your heart. This is a ripe condition to meet your feelings and lean in rather then walk away, and for the other children like Aylan and the thousands of other personal stories that are occurring right now for the migrants and refugees in Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, US, and anywhere, they are in critical need for us to open our compassion and share the responsibility of our global sangha and interbeing.

The great ocean of compassion

“What can never be held in the single human heart may be held in the great ocean of shared human compassion.” (p. 6, The Buddha’s Wife)

One well-known Buddhist story, commonly referred to as the “mustard seed,” is about a young mother, Kisa Gotami, whose infant son dies from illness. Stricken with deep grief, she’s unable to accept that her son has died, and instead, carries her baby around the village seeking help to bring him back. No one, of course, is able to help her, but one sympathetic villager tells her about the Buddha. She immediately goes searching for him.

Upon finding the Buddha, Gotami, falls upon her knees and begs him to help her son. He instructs her to bring him back a mustard seed from the first home she visits that has not experienced death, and with this mustard seed he can make a remedy. Gotami knocks door after door, visiting every home in the village and surrounding area, and not one was able to give her the sought-after mustard seed…every home and family had experienced death and grief from losing a loved one.

Through this search for the mustard seed, Gotami “wakes up” to the insight that all beings experience death, and the reality of life’s impermanence. She discovers for herself, through the Buddha’s instruction, the wisdom and enlightenment of shared experience and compassion. She is then able to bury her son, and open her heart to life again.

In our book, Yasodhara says the quote above to her circle of women, and its significance is the understanding: we are not alone. When you feel or believe that your heart can no longer “hold” grief, it is an opportunity to reach out to others…and realize how we all share the same life tragedies and pain. Through the pain can compassion enter. Cultivating compassion is a window to another’s heart and life, and ultimately, to our own.

Take a moment today to reflect on how the mustard seed story is relevant to your own life: Is there a grief from loss that feels too enormous to face on your own? Is there someone you might reach out to? A friend or someone you know who might have a shared experience, or finding a circle of people? Perhaps a grief counselor? There are caregiver support groups, Al-Anon, hospice bereavement organizations…take action and show up for your self and it will most likely benefit others too.

The heart of the universe

“We together weave the invisible thread at the heart of the universe that connects us all.” (p. 110, The Buddha’s Wife)

This quote appears at the end of the fictional narrative of part one in our book, and these words spoken by Yasodhara are repeated by her spiritual friend Channa to the Buddhist nun Kisa Gotami. She comes to visit the palace upon hearing that Yasodhara has passed away.

Channa, who was originally Siddhartha’s manservant at the palace, remained a faithful and close spiritual friend to Yasodhara, who recounts her last years to Gotami: She continued to practice the Path of Right Relation and listened deeply to those who sought her compassion, and her dharma of love that for Yasodhara was the heart of the universe.

Spiritual circles, the sangha, and our relational interconnectedness weave threads upon threads of what the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing.” It means we are not isolated beings, rather dependent. Spiritually, interbeing signifies our co-arising together in all our diversity and uniqueness. (Read more on interbeing: “The Fullness of Emptiness.”)

The thread of our interbeing is created out of love…our love within and our love shared with each other. When we are kind, compassionate, and selfless, we can weave a net that can hold and carry us, and as author Joanna Macy writes: “out of which we can never fall.”

In The Buddha’s Wife, we teach Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Four Love Mantras” from his book True Love. Mantras are simple phrases to focus your presence and meditate on as well as a practice to do with others. Two of the mantras’ intention is to be present with joy:

1. “Dear one, I am really here for you.”

2. “Dear one, I know that you are here, and it makes me very happy.”

Practice these mantras today and throughout the week with your family and friends, and then after some time perhaps these mantras can be practiced in the presence of people you work with, neighbors, or the person right in front of you at the checkout line. We can all take part in strengthening the threads that connect us.