Dharma and the Family
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
Mid-America Buddhist Association (MABA), Augusta, Missouri
June 7-9, 2002

Venerable Chodron led MABA's June workshop with a discussion of the influence that Dharma practice can have on family life. She spoke about love and attachment (sections 1a-1e), wanting to fix others (sections 2a-2c), redefining boundaries (sections 3a-3d), and communication/conflict styles (sections 4a-4c).

[RealAudio files]

1. Love and Attachment

1a. Love and attachment
Their differences and similarities. In our society, we sometimes call attachment "love." Love actually goes equally to everybody, but attachment is focused on one person. In our family relationships, there is a lot of both.
The extended family
With the breakup of the extended family, we tend to put everything onto one person. This kind of unrealistic expectation creates tension ~ The extended family is good for children, because it's important for them to have many adults in their lives: aunts, uncles, close family friends. These relationships should be nurtured by the parents.
[12 min] : Download | Listen

1b. Problems with attachment; Impermanence as an antidote to attachment
What happens with attachment is that we get dependent on the other person. When that happens, it's good to remember the teachings on impermanence, which help us see that the dependence just brings us sorrow and suffering. Thinking about impermanence allows space for things to change, and we are able to accept the fact that relationships do not stay the same throughout our lives. [7 min] : Download | Listen

1c. Childhood and adolescence -- the parent as role model. [12 min] : Download | Listen

1d. Question & Answer - Part 1
Q: How can we make changes in the patterns of behavior we've learned from our family? It's good to notice and be aware. It's also important to look at the positive influence of our parents, to notice and appreciate their kindness in raising us, and not just focus on the negative.
[10 min] : Download | Listen

1e. Q&A - Part 2
Q: In Buddhism, how can we experience love for our friends? ~ Our relationships are always a mixture of love and attachment. It's good practice to try and expand our affection for those who are close to us, such as our best friend or our children, to everybody. We should try and cultivate that equanimity that's free of attachment.
[10 min] : Download | Listen

2. Wanting to Fix Others

2a. How to effectively help others, with awareness and bodhicitta.
It's easy to look at someone's life and diagnose their problems, but we actually need to pay attention to our own problems. [9 min] : Download | Listen

2b. "Stickiness" of blood relationships
Q: Isn't it part of our practice to stay in the stickiness of blood relationships and try and work our way out of it? Blood relationships are only sticky because our mind makes them sticky. It's the mind that makes the attachment. This is where the meditations on love and compassion and joy and equanimity can be very helpful. [8 min] : Download | Listen

2c. Changes in family relationships
Family relationships will change: between spouses, between parents & children. Kids grow up and that has an effect on the parents. The relationship between partners will change. Our parents can suffer from the effects of aging, and there could be role reversal, with us taking care of them. In situations like this, familiarity with impermanence and change is important.
[23 min] : Download | Listen

3. Redefining Boundaries

3a. Knowing our mind, our capabilities & what's appropriate/inappropriate behaviour on the other person's part
What boundary means: not something cast in stone ~ What to do when a family member wants something from us that we are not able to provide? We can talk to them about it, but we should also check and see: is our self-centeredness standing in the way of our helping?
[7 min] : Download | Listen

3b. Boundaries and our feelings of guilt and obligation [9 min] : Download | Listen

3c. Acknowledging our own faults. Apologizing and accepting apologies. Healing relationships within families. [11 min] : Download | Listen

3d. Question & Answer session
[4 min] : Download | Listen

Questions covered (beginning time for each question is indicated after the question):

  • What can I do when family members want my time, but I just don't have the energy at the moment to give it? I feel guilty about that. (0:00)
  • I've read some Buddhist texts that put doing things for your mother and father very high. Is that just erasing all boundary issues for them? Is that just a free pass? (2:21)

4. Communication/Conflict Styles

4a. Five conflict styles
Aggression, avoidance, accommodation, compromise, collaboration. There are good and bad to all of these.
[11 min] : Download | Listen

4b. Knowing the conflict styles of family members
Not talking about conflict styles can lead to a lot of pain and suffering. It's good to try and observe our and our family members' habitual patterns of dealing with conflict. We can be more effective, more helpful, more compassionate, if we understand how differently people deal with these issues. The same approach might not be best for everyone. [7 min] : Download | Listen

4c. Q&A and Final Comments
[23 min] : Download | Listen

Questions covered (beginning time for each question is indicated after the question: the questions themselves are not audible, and only Venerable's answer is recorded):

  • Some people's behavior doesn't match what's inside. Some volatile people are not really being critical, while some people who act like they're avoiding the situation can actually speak very critically. (0:00)
  • There are some people who say things will change, but then nothing happens. (4:35)
  • Patterns of behaviour are harder to break when you're older. This is hard to deal with, especially with our parents. We might like them to be different. (6:17)
  • What about someone's behaviour, such as smoking, which will eventually hurt them, and affect me, but they have no intention to change their habit? (7:08)
  • A question about a woman whose husband died of lung cancer 20 years ago, but she's still bitter about his exposing her to second-hand smoke. (11:28)
  • What about divorce and its effect on kids? (16:38)

Final comments (18:54) : We have to remember that this is samsara: there is no magic pill that will make it nirvana. The problems are not external. We always go back to the Four Noble Truths.


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