You make me happy through and through, The way the sun lights up the sky —Wendy Cope
Relationships don’t work… There never was a relationship that worked. —Charlotte Joko Beck
There is a song by Jackson Browne in which the narrator declares himself to be “caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender.” This song, like most so-called love songs, misses the point. The longing for love and the longing for money are the same thing. They are both greedy, materialistic desires.
We want material things to make us happy, and they never do. We want relationships to make us happy, and they never do. They can't—because the selfish desire for personal happiness or personal salvation is precisely what prevents our being happy. Relationships are exploitative by their very nature.
Think about any “love story” you have ever read, or watched on a screen. Have you ever seen one in which two people meet, fall in love, and everything goes well? Of course not. There would be no story to tell, and besides, that has never happened and never could happen in any relationship. Instead, love stories, whether comedy or drama, follow a formula—two people meet, everything is wonderful, then something goes wrong. One becomes angry with the other, who then has to find a way to make it okay again. Once that is achieved, the story ends, commonly with a kiss.
It has to end there, because, of course, the pattern is going to be repeated. The reason one partner becomes angry with the other is that they are not getting their way. The other person is not doing what they want them to do, and so the relationship is not providing them with the pleasure it did before—and it is this pleasure that we mistake for happiness.
And so, all relationships fail. Some fail by breaking up, while others fail by bringing lifelong misery to the people who share the relationship. This is true of marital relationships, work relationships, political relationships, relationships in communities, relationships between siblings, between parents and children, between friends. Every relationship fails.
They fail because they are about one person, or one group, wanting something from another. Relationship is about separation; there is me, and there is a person or thing or experience that makes me feel good. If it is a person, then the words “I love you” can be applied. But we can also say “I love rum” or “I love steak” or “I love cocaine.” Whether the subject of the “love” is a person, a drink, a food or a drug, what we are saying is that we love the pleasurable feeling we get. And, as soon as we stop getting that pleasure, “love” turns to frustration, anger or indifference—because it never was love in the first place.
I am not suggesting that we should split from our partners, families, friends and colleagues to go and live alone in remote caves. If we did that, we would still be in relationship—relationship with ourselves, and with the caves. Our view would still be self-centered.
An authentic love, an authentic happiness, does not arise from relationship, but from union. Union with each other, so that we no longer think or feel terms of self and other. Union with what we are doing, so that we no longer think in terms of us doing something, and the thing that is being done.
This can be seen in koan practice. If we are asked, say, “What abides outside of the realms of existence and non-existence?”, and we try to work on it, try to figure out the answer, we will get farther and farther away from any understanding. It is only when we give up working on the koan, abandon a relationship with the koan, and actually become the koan, that we awaken to its meaning.
Life itself is a koan. The people we love, the people we do not love, the people we find interesting, the people we find dull, all of it is a koan. When we fall into relationship, a dualistic view, we suffer. When we move out of relationship and into union, we move into understanding, compassion and love. We experience others as ourselves and ourselves as others without discrimination, because what we experience in every instance is the Buddha—perfect, complete, lacking nothing.