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The Most Important Relationship

What is the most important relationship? It is the foundational relationship, the one upon which all the others rest. Which one is that?

[It’s important here not to be misled by words. If you are unfamiliar with it, click here for the relevant terminology I happen to use, which is “Being” and “Becoming,” and then please return. You may prefer words like “Self” or “God” or “Life” to refer to what I refer to using “Being.”]

The most important relationship for you is your relationship with whatever form(s) Being takes in the present moment.

Forms are objects. They are all temporal; they are all in the domain of Becoming. For example, physical objects, thoughts, and emotions are forms. You almost certainly identify with a certain set of such forms (namely, your body, your thoughts, and your emotions) and take yourself, this set of forms, to have a life span of so many decades.

If so, the most important relationship for you is dysfunctional.

If that is correct, it would, you must admit, explain a lot. For example, it would explain your whole history of dissatisfaction.

If your most important relationship were working well, you would be wholly at ease.

This is a central teaching of the Buddha. He said:

“Let not a person run back to the past / Or live in expectation of the future; / For the past has been left behind /  And the future has not been reached.  / Instead with insight let him see /     Each presently arisen state . . . ” (Translation by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi of the Majhima Nikaya, 131, Bhaddekaratta Sutta.)

The most important relationship is occurring right now.

Being unfolds in each moment. As Sengcan, the third Zen ancestor, puts it: “one instant is ten thousand years.” (Rochester Zen Center translation.)

Being is the essence of each form. In that sense, Being has many disguises. Being is what-is. Note that Being is not personal; it is non-egoic.

There are only two fundamental attitudes to what-is: nonresistance (acceptance, allowing, surrendering) or resistance (nonacceptance, disallowing, fighting). [Click here for more on nonresistance and click here for more on resistance.]

Nonresistance is identification with Being. [Click here for more on identification.] Nonresistance is realizing Being. [Click here for more on realizing Being.] This is the way of the sage.

Resistance is nonidentification with Being. This is the way of the fool.

Each of us has a tendency to be a fool. “The ego” is the name of the fool. As Eckhart Tolle writes in A New Earth: “The ego could be defined simply in this way: a dysfunctional relationship with the present moment.”

The most important relationship question for you to ask is: “What is my relationship to the present moment?”  Please ask it frequently.

If there is no inner resistance to it at all, if you do not mind at all what is happening, then you will be at ease. This is identification. Without resistance, there is no ego, no fool.

If there is any inner resistance to it at all, if you do mind what is happening, then you will be dissatisfied. This is nonidentificaiton. With resistance, there is ego; there is a fool.

As Tolle argues, inner resistance by the ego manifests itself in one of three ways, which are the three prevalent failed varieties of the most important relationship.

Probably the most common one is to take the present moment as a stepping stone to a better, future moment, as nothing but a means to some other end rather than as an end in itself. This is ignoring the intrinsic value of what we do [click here for more on intrinsic value].

This fails because, since you are always trying to be elsewhere, you are never fully here in the present moment and it’s impossible to live well without being fully present.

A second way to resist is to take the present moment as a problem to be solved, as an obstacle to be overcome.

This fails because, as the Buddha pointed out, when you solve one problem another always replaces it, this is just another futile way of resistance.

A third way to resist is to take the present moment as an enemy that should not even exist. This attitude that you know what is best for the world always leads to hatred, war, complaining, and blaming.

If your “inner” reality is one of war, your “outer” reality will reflect it. Life becomes a constant battle, which is why this fails. It’s impossible to be at ease in the midst of war.

What if you were to get the most important relationship right?

What would happen if you dropped all resistance by letting go of all thoughts of past and future?

What would happen if you stopped dragging all your intellectual and emotional baggage into every moment? What if you just let go of all your desires and fears?

Here’s what would happen: the ego would dissolve! Without time, there is no ego.

You think of yourself as a separate person, a separate ego. What would happen if, as the Buddha suggests, you dropped that thought?

You think of yourself as having a lifespan. What would happen if, as the Buddha suggests, you dropped all such thoughts?

You think of yourself as being temporal. What would happen if, as the Buddha suggests, you identified with Being rather than Becoming?

Doing these things is the core of all spiritual practice.

What would happen?


Why? Because suffering requires separation, to drop all separation is to drop all suffering. That’s how sages enjoy liberation from suffering.

Letting go of time and ego is the only way of directly experiencing liberation.

Nobody can do it for you.

Will you find out for yourself?

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