Buddhism and Relationships

At memorial services, I have been sharing an insight that I recently had: that Buddhism is very much about relationships.

If you learn about Buddhism only from textbooks or the internet, then this may not seem obvious — in fact, it may not make sense at all! What do relationships have to do with meditation? Isn’t the Buddhist ideal to leave the family and embark on a quest for enlightenment?

Other schools of Buddhism might not emphasize relationships, but in Jodo Shinshu, we can see the importance of relationships in a number of ways. Let’s start with the obvious — interpersonal relationships. Perhaps the earliest relationships we have are with family, such as our parents, siblings, and if we’re lucky, extended family such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. These relationships are so important, with a deep impact on how we develop as we grow.

We also encounter other people outside of our family — some of them even become friends. I am fortunate to still be in contact with someone who was my first friend — we had moved from Japan to Massachusetts, and our next-door neighbors in our new house had a kid about a year younger than me. I have pictures of us playing while we were infants. We moved to a different house soon after, but fortunately, our families stayed connected.

Sometimes, though, we encounter people who don’t become friends. I have a clear memory of my mother taking me to a local nursery school to check it out. We went into the place, and it was chaos! I remember kids screaming and yelling — I was terrified! I must have begged my mother not to leave me there because I didn’t end up going to nursery school. That was maybe not the best move — it just isolated me from other kids that much more. In hindsight, we may have just had bad timing — it must have been recess