Marriage and Partnership as Dharma Practice

Marriage and partnership can be a particularly fertile ground for practice. On the 19th of September, 2018 (10th Lunar day), Phakchok Rinpoche performed a marriage ceremony between two students during a pilgrimage to Bhutan and had the following advice:

What is a Marriage?

A marriage of husband and wife is not just a union of one person to one person. Actually we need to build and combine skillful means, wisdom, and enlightenment.

Likewise you build your own strength of each other to build purpose of life, benefit others and likewise to benefit each other. My own advice to you and any other couples, is that devotion goes up and down, but it is very important to maintain respect. And our respect changes all the time. So we want to build respect not with conditional respect, but unconditional respect. Then just having respect is not good enough.  So you need to gain understanding—you need to be aware, and discuss and share.

Another thing is that it is important is to put dharma practice into the relationship. I want to give an example. Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche was exercising and going around, and always asked us to ask Damchö Zangmo [his wife] how many times he needed to go around. Then she said, “Okay, go ten more times,” and then he went ten more.

Marriage: The Importance of Trust

I asked, “Why do you need to listen to her?” and then Rinpoche said, “I have trust that whatever she says, she is not going to say something harmful to me.” So that trust is very important. Trust does not come easy. Spiritually, trust does not come easy. Likewise, in a relationship trust does not come easy, so you slowly build relationship trust, and likewise spiritually slowly build spiritual trust. Make sure your relationship is beyond just emotion—this is more steady.

One thing that I want to say is that Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche and Damchö Zangmo, and Norbu and I, have a purpose in life. Norbu and I have a purpose in life. Our purpose and focus is practice, our purpose and focus is dharma, our focus is to teach people.

Relationships: Respecting Differences

We are not perfect; we quarrel and sometimes we fight. Sometimes our opinions on things differ. When that happens, you need to remember to give each other respect and understanding. You also need to be compassionate towards each other because the other person is very different. I think very differently than my wife; my wife thinks very differently than me. So I never will understand 100% how she thinks, and she never will understand 100% how I think. But what we know is we trust each other. We feel the love, and respect should come from that nature. Then understanding comes a little bit more naturally.

And why should we quarrel? How long we can live? We live for happiness and enlightenment. We cannot be happy every day. It is possible to be enlightened. Try to be happy. And don’t think, don’t say like, “Oh, I don’t know how to be happy.” Don’t say things like that because it become a pattern and then you will think more like this.

Confidence and Dignity

So say more, “Yes, I try my best, I am happy.” Have more confidence, more dignity in your relationship and more dignity in yourself. When you have no self-respect, you cannot respect others. If you cannot have dignity yourself, then you cannot have dignity towards others. If you don’t have confidence within yourself, then you cannot have confidence towards others. If you don’t trust yourself, then you cannot trust others.  When you understand your own feelings, and sufferings, you have compassion towards others. Then as you build the spiritual dimension within yourself you can see this grow in the relationship and in your children, like this.

Life is all about improving, and of course there are challenges. But I pray that you two will be happy and have goose bumps like in the beginning and until the time of your death. And I wish you much more happiness and spiritual growth. Please cherish your life, despite any downturn that happens, and whatever small conditions that occur. Likewise all the couples here, don’t try to improve each other or fix issues. Just try to be natural, it is nicer.

Acceptance in Relationships

For example, look at my hair; today it’s so long, so ugly. I wanted to cut it this morning, but the timetable was so bad. I needed to eat, cut hair, then wash. Not perfect, so I said, “Okay, don’t worry about it, okay I’ll have this ugly hair, no problem.” I know that some hair will stand up here—it´s not going to be perfect. But I accept it, and it’s okay and then I don’t think about it.

Likewise a relationship is like that. Have respect, and trust and slowly compassion grows. Trust slowly, slowly, spiritually same, slowly, slowly, grows very nice. If you go too fast….boom…I don’t like that. Myself, I grow slowly, slowly, I grow, grow, grow, slowly. Likewise relationships slowly grow, giving you a purpose of life. Make a purpose, spiritual purpose, and even a samsaric purpose, a meaningful purpose—so this is my prayer for you.

Normally I like flowers, I think you know, both of you. But now we are on top of the mountain. So because it is very difficult to find a lot of flowers we are going to use two white scarfs for you two to share with each other. Then I am going to pray, and then I will give you a secret matrimony in front of my teacher.”

Transcribed by Diana Carey, and lightly edited for readability.

Invitation to Share

As we noted above, marriage and relationships provide many opportunities for spiritual practice and development. If you’re in a relationship how do you use the advice that Rinpoche offers here to keep that strong and healthy?

What pieces of this advice strike home for you? How do you integrate your Dharma practice with your deepest relationships? We’d love to hear your comments in the section below!