When I first read this teaching, it seemed to me to fly in the face of everything that had been covered so far. What happened to embracing and being compassionate towards everyone? What’s all this ‘examine your relationships’ business?
I think it’s important to point out that, in The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama mentions this lesson in the context of conflicts in marriage.
However, the discussion between Cutler and the Dalai Lama that ensues can definitely be applied more generally, because they frame the teaching in terms of all relationships, not just that of marriage. It’s important, the Dalai Lama says, to examine the underlying basis of any relationship when there are problems, because it tells you whether it is built on strong or shaky foundations.
For example, imagine a prince being friends with other princes from different kingdoms. This is just hypothetical (and I’m sure there are numerous prince-based friendships that are perfectly good!), but say this prince, for some reason, did something wrong and as a result lost his princeship. He subsequently wasn’t accepted by his other prince friends, because he was no longer on equal footing with them in terms of status, so they couldn’t maintain their relationship with him.
The prince could have saved himself the hurt of these lost friendships, according to the Dalai Lama, by looking at what the relationships were based on - namely, status. Of course, a relationship might start based on something like status, wealth, etc. and then blossom into something a lot deeper, which is great.
But I think the key message from the teaching here is to look at our relationships, and just approach them with the mindset of ‘how can I make this bond as deep and meaningful as possible’. When I first read the principle, it kind of sounded like the lesson was to doubt all your relationships and, despite everything so far being so focussed on cultivating trust and openness, to just fall back into a cycle of mistrust and hostility.
Of course, this is not the message. If anything, it seems to be more about trying to strengthen our relationships through an understanding of what a good, strong bond is centred around - namely, feelings of compassion, love, honesty, and so on.
“When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter/Yeah the paint could peel, the glass could shatter”
I picked ‘The Bones’ because, apart from being an amazing song anyway, it’s perfect for this teaching. It’s all about building a relationship on sturdy foundations so that no matter what obstacles come your way, they’re never enough to destabilise it.
“Yeah life can sure try to put love through it, but we built this right, so nothing’s ever gonna move it”
This song is especially pertinent because I wanted it to be clear that this isn’t about doubting your current relationships - like I said, that’s only going to lead to negative feelings of mistrust and hostility. In Buddhism, doubt is one of the five hindrances of the mind that prevents us from clarity and believing in the path.
Instead, we should trust our intuition and ‘the feeling in our bones’, and if we’re true to ourselves in that sense, everything should seem a lot clearer. In ‘The Bones’, there’s no overthinking or doubt involved, and there’s no superficiality to it. But I also love that in the story of this song, the bones also represent the core base from which the relationship is created, making for a nice metaphor.
“The house don’t fall when the bones are good”
From experience, it’s obvious that our relationships with our loved ones play a key role in our wellbeing and happiness. So it surely makes sense to pour a lot of effort into making these bonds as loving and strong as possible. Linking this back to a previous post in this project, a key way of ensuring this is to be as compassionate and empathetic as possible to those around us (Song 9).
“Let it rain, ‘cause you and I remain the same”