I brought ¼ of myself to work today: A Buddhist Perspective on Quiet Quitting

I brought ¼ of myself to work today: A Buddhist Perspective on Quiet Quitting

TLDR: As employees, we probably all know the practical reasons and benefits of Quiet Quitting. You don’t invest more time or effort than you are required to, and you have more time to explore other passions or priorities outside of work. In this article, we explore the impact of Quiet Quitting from other lenses, such as the Coaching lens and the Buddhist lens. 

What is Quiet Quitting ? 

Quiet quitting doesn’t actually refer to quitting a job—it means completing one’s minimum work requirements without going above and beyond or bringing work home after hours.

Corporations and individuals are struggling to adapt to these phenomena in this ‘post-covid’ world. The idea of Work and our attitudes towards it have shifted, prompting many individuals also to adopt their own coping mechanisms such as ‘Quiet Quitting’. 

Cost of Quiet Quitting

From my personal experience as a career and leadership Coach, I have heard all sorts of reasons why people ‘Quiet Quit’. Some employees cite burnout as a key reason, and others think that ‘going above and beyond’ is simply not worth it.

One of my coachees has put in many late nights and volunteered to lead extra projects at work, for the sake of pushing for a promotion.

After a year of doing all these, the management decided to restructure, and it meant her promotion just wasn’t on the table anymore.   

My first question to my client is ‘Why don’t you just quit for real?’. It is important to understand what’s holding us back from throwing the letter and to grasp what is the cost of staying but not being fully engaged in the current job. 

There are of course many different circumstances of ‘Quiet Quitting’, where individuals argue they are still fulfilling the minimum expectations of the job. There are some employees who still fulfil basic tasks mindlessly, often not putting in much effort nor being very efficient. 

They tend to say things like “since I can’t change the stupid processes, I will just follow lor.” 

There are other employees whose work does not resonate with their personal values and purpose. Hence they often cannot find meaning or fulfillment in their work, and tend to look outside of their day job for it. 

Also, some individuals are already plateauing in their role, therefore not finding their work challenging anymore.

Without a sense of challenge, it is hard to feel any sense of professional growth or achievement. They might just ‘cruise along and maintain status quo’. 

The cost of Quiet Quitting is also detrimental to the employer, who struggles to get a productive workforce, and the team, who has to deal with a mentally checked-out individual.

It might affect the team dynamics negatively, where other team members have to pick up the slack. When the employee has lost motivation, there might also be a ripple effect on the overall energy of the team. 

In extreme cases, the Quiet Quitter is resentful, perhaps due to perceived unfairness or stuckness, and can demonstrate strong negative emotions at work.    

But what about the Quiet Quitter? What are the unseen costs to the individual?

The unseen costs of quiet quitting.

While Quiet Quitting might seem to be a plus for the employee who can slack off and get to what interests them, as a career coach, I am aware of the detrimental side effects to both the individual and his/her/their relationships. 

When we spend 8 hours of our time every day on something that does not resonate with us, it is hard to find joy and fulfilment. Even if we tell ourselves it is just for a paycheck, it is hard not to feel stuck. 

“What is the cost of doing this, to yourself?” I might ask the Quiet Quitter. “If you had only 1 month to live, would you be doing this?”. 

Sometimes I would ask my coachees, ‘How do YOU feel going to work every day?’ I have not had a single client who said he/she was truly ‘Happy’ or even ‘At peace’. 

As most of us reading this probably still hold onto a sense of Self’  [1] to some degree, this unhappiness stems from not being resonant with your true ‘Self’ at work. It is hard to feel satisfaction at work when you are not being your true/best ‘Self’. 

When we think about this from a Buddhist perspective, are we really being kind [2] to ourselves, and colleagues around us? Is there still Suffering’ [3] , even if we have mentally checked out?  

So with a boundless heart

Should one cherish all living beings;

Radiating kindness over the entire world:

Spreading upwards to the skies,

And downwards to the depths;

Outwards and unbounded,

Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down

Free from drowsiness,

One should sustain this recollection.

This is said to be the sublime abiding.

By not holding to fixed views,

The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision…

The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness [4]

If we are being kind to ourselves, our colleagues, our family and our friends, what do we want for ourselves and others? As Buddhists, do we not want to radiate kindness, love, and freedom to all beings around us? 

My coachees often say they want clarity in life. Sometimes clarity appears when we explore metaphors and visualizations.

“When you say you want to feel free of ill-will, what image comes to mind?” One of my coachees, Mr S from California said to me last week, “If only I could pick up my surfboard again and feel the sun on my back, fearlessly riding the waves in the ocean.” 

Another coachee in Switzerland told me, “I want to put down my very heavy backpack. I have been carrying my husband and three kids in it for the last six months, climbing up the Swiss Alps. I just wish to put it down by the lake and the kids can come out and play happily.”

We might not be a hundred percent clear of what exactly we want, but we know exactly what we don’t want. Try asking ourselves, “How do we want to Feel?” instead. 

We might want to feel the warmth of the sun, the carefreeness of surfing, the achievement of riding the big waves, the lightness of not carrying everyone or the joy of having fun together. 

What’s next? 

The purpose of this article is not to judge whether ‘Quiet Quitting’ is right or wrong, nor to tell you what to do next. It is simply to bring awareness to your situation and what you are feeling. 

 Some questions to help your contemplation if you noticed you are Quiet Quitting: 

  • On a scale of 1 to 10 how engaged are you at work? (1 being your soul has left the building, 10 being super engaged and flourishing)
  • What’s stopping you from being fully engaged? 
  • How much is this job aligned to your Values?
  • What are the benefits you can get from this job? (monetary and non-monetary such as knowledge, experience, network etc) 
  • How could you reframe your perspective or reshape your role?
  • What is the cost of staying in your current job? (any negative emotions, physical tension/pain etc) 
  • If money is not a consideration, what options are possible for you next?

As we contemplate, do bear in mind that our jobs are impermanent, our emotions are impermanent, and the economic crisis is impermanent. And we probably will be talking about another new trend a couple of months from now. 🙂


References: 

  1. Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic
  1. Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness
  1. Saṁyutta Nikāya: Connected Discourses on the Truths
  2. The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Breaking the Guilt Cycle: How the Dhamma Helps Working Moms

Breaking the Guilt Cycle: How the Dhamma Helps Working Moms

TLDR: Being a working mom is a difficult balancing act, with emotions often ranging from guilt to joy. But with the right approach, it is possible to find inner peace and a sense of fulfilment in both work and family life.

Being a working mom is a difficult balancing act. Embracing the present moment, as advocated by the Buddha and his many disciples, can be a powerful tool in helping working moms to deal with feelings of guilt. 

By focusing on the here and now, and taking time for self-reflection and mindfulness, working moms can learn to appreciate the unique joys and challenges of both motherhood and their career.

While working moms’ guilt happens more often than fathers’ guilt, these principles can be applied to fathers who experience the same feelings too!

The guilt we feel as a working mom and why it is a problem

As a working mother, one might experience guilt for many reasons. 

One of them is feeling torn between the desire to continue working, and having mixed feelings over leaving one’s child with the maid or at the child care centre, for your child will be pleading for you to be around.

At work, you completely forget that you are a mother, and at 6 p.m., you need to rush off to pick up your child but all of your colleagues are still working; the guilt sets in for not being a full-time stay-at-home mom or a team player. 

Also, stay-at-home moms’ guilt is just as real – you worry that you aren’t helping out with the household income.

When you lose your temper, you feel inadequate because you regret that moment you yell at your child and you aren’t the perfect, calm mother you should be.

As you may have discovered, guilt often seems to come and go with no rhyme or reason. So, while you may feel guilty at certain times, you may also feel guilt-free at other times. These shifts are completely normal. 

Your feelings of guilt could also be a sign that you are trying to be someone you are not. Guilt, when experienced in excess, can result in feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. This can be dangerous for working mothers because it can make it far more difficult to accept and appreciate all that they do.

The opportunity for balance

As a working mother, you put up the utmost effort to live up to all of the demands placed upon you, only to discover that you frequently feel terrible for not being the ideal mother, wife, daughter-in-law, daughter, or coworker.

This is perfectly normal, of course, but you may be trying to do it all “right.”

For example, late-night meetings eat into the quality time with your child; you feel burnt out from juggling work, family dinners, and housekeeping; trying to live up to your spouse’s expectations; or you could never be there for your mum’s doctor appointment.

However, guilt, when driven by societal norms, is rarely helpful. To find balance, it is helpful to remember that being a working mother is not something to feel guilty about,

since it is a perfectly valid and worthwhile way to bring in income while maintaining a close relationship with your children. 

Moreover, keep in mind that despite the fact that work and family life often come with challenges, they are also opportunities. 

One should be aware that it is difficult to accomplish everything, even in all the mentioned situations above. Sometimes, we just need a helping hand, from siblings, our parents, or even our helper. 

It is about learning what your priority is, and choosing what is important to you, including self-care. 

Appreciating Both Motherhood and Your Career

One of the most important ways to deal with guilt as a working mother is to appreciate all aspects of motherhood and your career. 

For example, if you feel guilty because you are not sharing enough quality time with your children, remember that you do not have to spend all your time with them. It is important to reframe your idea of self-care. This is similar to putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before putting it on your child in any aeroplane emergency.

As with any aspect of your life, being a working mother can bring with it both joys and challenges. Keep this in mind as you strive to find balance in both your working life and your family life. Working mothers should recognize that it is okay to feel pride in both their career and their motherhood.

As a working mother, it is important to accept that you are doing something incredibly valuable for both society as well as your family.

How the Dhamma helps

Dealing with guilt as a working mother can be facilitated by the Dhamma. One important Buddhist concept is mindfulness, the practice of being fully present in the here and now, without rushing through life or getting bogged down in thoughts about the past or future.

When working mothers turn to Buddhism, they often find a sense of reassurance in the teachings on impermanence and the ephemeral nature of all things.

Sarah Jacoby, a US associate professor of Tibetan Buddhism, shared something that resonated deeply with me, “Motherhood can be the ideal practising ground for working with anger, nurturing compassion, and coming to terms with impermanence, pain, and grief.”

Buddhism teaches compassion for all living beings and we should show compassion to ourselves too. 

Everything in the world—including both career and motherhood—is subject to change. One helpful reminder to working mothers is that guilt is often associated with the urge to hold on too tightly to any one thing. That leads to immense suffering if we try to be ideal moms on Instagram and fall short of that image.

If we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of our kids and partner. As the Buddha pointed out in Sedeka sutta, “By looking after oneself, one looks after the other”.

We cannot pour from an empty cup. I share some practical tips below on how you could try to deal with that guilt.

Practical Tips for Working Moms

  1. Make time for yourself and your thoughts, that’s being kind to yourself and giving your heart space for self-compassion. Write a list of positive thoughts to counteract the ones that fuel your negative thoughts. Or, you can write down the tasks you have to do, and break them into bite-size tasks which are less overwhelming.
  2. Prioritise self-care, and take care of your inner child. Take a day off once a month just to do what you like to do when you were younger and later had no opportunity to do.
  3. Be accepting of the ups and downs of career and motherhood, and remember that you are not alone.
  4. Recognise and accept healthy guilt and find support through friends, family, and mentors. Speak to your partner about the role they can play in easing your load!
  5. Catch the tendency to slide into thoughts about what an “ideal mom” should be like; reduce social media usage if you find that it’s a source of endless comparison
  6. Develop a mindfulness practice (e.g. 2 minutes of meditation before the kids wake) or a short walk home without music. These moments create space to dissociate yourself from the crushing expectations that might be created in your mind.
  7. Live in awareness of the present moment so that you can stop reacting destructively to your spouse and children.
  8. Don’t be afraid to apologise to your children (or spouse) when you are in the wrong.
  9. Tell yourself, you are a “Work in Progress” to be that better person and mother you want to be.
  10. Remember the nature of impermanence, and know that whatever situation occurs at work or at home, it shall not last. 

Taking time out for yourself and for self-reflection can be a valuable way to keep guilt in check while ensuring that you are balanced and ready to take on new challenges.

Conclusion

There is a common misconception that working as a mother is something “guilty.” This, however, is not the case. Working mothers can embrace the present moment, and find the balance between career and family life, by cultivating the Dhamma practice of mindfulness and compassion. 

Guilt can be a frustrating and difficult emotion, especially when experienced in excess. As such, it can be helpful to turn to a technique, like meditation, that emphasises acceptance and non-judgment. 

When working mothers engage in practices that cultivate acceptance and non-judgment, they are more likely to experience feelings of liberation and forgiveness. This makes it easier to turn towards the positive attributes of work and family life, like appreciating both motherhood and career.

Remember that all phenomena are interdependent, 

“The thought manifests as the word;

The word manifests as the deed;

The deed develops into habit; 

And habit hardens into character.”

-Wise Sayings

So watch the thoughts arising from your mind, and know that you have done your best! 

We are all “works in progress”. 


Wise Steps:

  • Remind yourself to take time off for personal care and not feel guilty about feeling guilty
  • Apply one of the ten practical tips to reduce mental suffering as a working mom
  • Find social circles that can help you through difficult times!
Buddhist Pride: Practicing the Brahmavihārās with the LGBTQIA+ community

Buddhist Pride: Practicing the Brahmavihārās with the LGBTQIA+ community

TLDR: The Brahmavihārā are more accessible than you realise. Read on to find ideas on how to practice them in your daily life. Learn more about the author’s first-hand experience of the LGBTQIA+ Buddhist community, Rainbodhi Singapore.

When we think of the Brahmavihārā, or the Divine Abodes, we may think of this heavenly state of mind, as something that exists only when you are able to achieve the elusive and hard-to-attain states of mind called Jhāna.  

As human beings, we naturally crave happiness and shun suffering, hence I too have been chasing the elusive happy state of mind. While on a meditation retreat, I chanced upon the practices of the Brahmavihārā, and I was able to achieve a taste of the pleasant states of mind, which has been alluded to as living like Heaven on Earth.

Who would not want that experience?

The practice of the Brahmavihārā can also help us better manage our emotions when dealing with the 8 worldly concerns in our daily life. And you can have a taste of the Brahmavihārā without going through an intensive meditation retreat.    

Here, I would like to share my experience, of encountering the 4 Brahmavihārā of Mettā – Lovingkindness; Karuṇā – Compassion; Muditā – Appreciative Joy; and Upekkhā – Equanimity, in the Rainbodhi Singapore* community here.  And, how you can practice the 4 Brahmavihārā in your own daily life. 

I faced anxiety and dread in my first meeting with the Rainbodhi Singapore community, as discrimination and judgment can sadly occur even within the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Internalised homophobia hurt members of the LGBTQIA+ community. As a minority, an outsider, and a non-local, I face challenges in finding a safe space across communities. Fortunately, my experience with the Rainbodhi Singapore community is different. 

Mettā – Lovingkindness:

As I walked and panted up the steps at Fort Canning Park for Rainbodhi Singapore’s first monthly picnic, I kept wondering to myself if I should turn away. As this could be a potentially socially awkward event for the shy, introverted me.

Yet, I told myself that, I  already came so far, and I should just show up. Showing up is half the battle won, I often remind my friends, that I should practice what I preach. 

As I inch closer to the picnic site, from afar, I saw the smiley and happy face of Kyle Neo, the founder of Rainbodhi Singapore, waving his welcoming hands at me.

Kyle’s face radiated so much lovingkindness and friendliness that it melted away my fear and doubt about this meeting. 

It was still early and there was just another person, Koh An Ding, at the picnic, but seeing her smile and nod happily as I approached the picnic mats further welcomed me into this new community for me. 

What did I learn from these simple gestures from two relative strangers? Lovingkindness can manifest itself in a friendly smile or nod, making a world of difference to those around you. We can spread Mettā around us, getting on the bus, a smile, or a nod at the bus driver. If you try, this can enormously impact everyone’s life.

Karuna – Compassion:

Continuing my picnic story, being part of a community is key.

We self-identify as members of the Rainbow community. This shared identity allows us to understand and connect with one another easily, even if it is our first meeting.

And this allowed me to open up about the challenging work experience that I was going through at that moment in time. Being heard and being seen by my new friends, I felt the wave of compassion washing over me, not because I am part of the minority group, but because I am a fellow human being, who is experiencing pain and suffering in life, at the workplace.

Compassion – bearing witness to another suffering, does not take away their pain, but it strengthens the bond of humanity when we recognize the 1st Noble Truth – that “There is Suffering”, and that we are not alone in the broad theme of “Sufferings of the World.”  You can relieve the suffering of important people or even strangers, by just lending your listening ear. 

Muditā – Appreciative Joy:

The repeal of Section 377A in Singapore, the law that criminalises sex between men, was officially repealed in November 2022, and I witnessed much joy and appreciation within the Rainbodhi Singapore community.

However, there is much left wanting by the community in terms of freedom and understanding from broader society. At times, some members of the community feel it is up against an ongoing slew of oppressive expectations and stereotypes.

Nevertheless, this does not stop one from rejoicing in the success and freedom of any groups within the rainbow community.

Living our life on a hedonic treadmill, we feel that we must constantly chase after happiness, to constantly get the dopamine kick, the feel-good chemical spark in our brain. And that can be a challenging thing to happen in our life.

Just like playing your favourite mobile game, levelling up to the Beginner’s level is so much easier and faster than trying to level up to the Expert’s level instead.

Hence, trying to seek happiness and joy to happen in our life would be frustrating, because it would be further and fewer in between. 

How about trying this instead?

How about in our daily life, you choose to rejoice in others’ happiness, and you can multiply the joys in your life much easier and faster.

This provides an ongoing stream of happiness, joy, and gratitude to come into our life, not dependent on good news happening to us alone, but also builds upon the goodness that showers on others. 

I always wonder if this is one of the secrets of the happy monks and nuns that we see in temples and monasteries when they are constantly rejoicing in laypeople and fellow monastic goodness, that they can stay perpetually happy. 

Upekkhā – Equanimity:

While there is a win for LGBTQIA+ rights with the repeal of Section 377A, it also comes with the news of the amendment to the Constitution with the intent to protect the definition of marriage, to narrowly define it between the marriage of a man and a woman.

It creates the split feeling of a win (with the repeal of Section 377A), yet a loss (with the greater restrictions of the marriage definition), banning the possibility of same-sex marriage in Singapore, for now. 

Some members of the Rainbodhi SG community encourage calm and patience, in securing greater gains for the LGBTQIA+ community, over time.

To me, it is a good example and portrayal of Equanimity, in the face of the mixed wins and losses in life. Trying to stay balanced amid the salad mix of emotions is what the practice of Equanimity calls for. 

In our life, we may be shocked and overjoyed with the different ranges of emotions that may come up, when faced with different life events. And given enough time, we find that the initial emotions usually wear down and become less intense.

Hence, I would say that we all have practised Equanimity in our life, more than we realised. Just give it time, for time will heal all wounds. Khanti (Patience) is one of the 10 Pāramī (Perfections) that are encouraged to be developed after all.  

Conclusion:

June is typically celebrated as Pride Month. Finding Rainbodhi’s community has been a joyful experience. I hope this inspires more LGBTQIA+ Buddhists and allies to learn and join Rainbodhi Singapore’s activities. Do explores your own ideas on how you can further practice the Brahmavihārā in a practical way in your daily life. 

Wish to find out more? You can visit the Rainbodhi Singapore website here or join the Telegram group for event updates here.


Wise Steps:

  • You can be creative and innovative in practising Loving-kindness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy, and Equanimity in your daily life.
  • You can deepen your practice of Lovingkindness and Compassion towards the under-represented community in Singapore, such as the LGBTQIA+ community in this Pride month and beyond. 

Note:

* For those unfamiliar with Rainbodhi Singapore, this is the community of Buddhist practitioners in Singapore, who also identify as members or allies of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Three Levels of Acceptance in Interfaith Relationships

Three Levels of Acceptance in Interfaith Relationships

TLDR: Nico shares her tips for a harmonious interfaith relationship. This includes having space for self, partner, and community acceptance.

“Huh? He goes to church every Sunday then you are not Christian how? Can make it work not? Are you going to convert? Can get married not? Next time kids how?” I’ve received multiple variations of these questions from concerned relatives and friends over the years.

Depending on how much time they have, I’d either smile, nod, and shrug nonchalantly, or go into a deeper explanation of our plans for compromise. 

I recently got engaged to my fiance and we’ve been together for close to 9 years (and counting!). He identifies as a strong Christ believer and I am a spiritual-based Buddhist. Those external prompts are no surprise to me as I myself have ruminated over these thoughts one too many times over the many years.

Till today I admittedly don’t have all the answers. I try to welcome well-intentioned advice and try to stay clear of those that cast doubt and fear.

But beyond that, what I’ve also noticed and learnt over time is that couples could break up due to reasons beyond religion or stay together even with different ones. I’ve learnt to focus instead not on bridging these differences (there are and will be endless ones in the course of one’s life), but on finding uppekha (equanimity) and acceptance in the divide.

It’s not a catch-all but these are some musings I have regarding acceptance on three levels to build a lasting interfaith relationship: individual, partner, and community. 

1. Individual  

I find myself needing to reflect within myself and ask introspective questions like “What is the role of religion in my life? What does faith and spirituality mean to me? Is it a code of morality I adhere strictly to or do I lean into the community and network that religious institutions provide? Is it something I want to practise quietly and journal about, or be an active member of a group and apportion a greater amount of time to serve?” 

To be honest, I still oscillate within this spectrum but broadly speaking, coming to terms with what role religion plays in my life is crucial for knowing how I should carry myself, what fundamental beliefs I hold close to, and where I should draw the line in the sand during disagreements.

I am thankful Buddhism is an all-encompassing inclusive religion that I draw on for strength and allows me to learn to be more compassionate and invest in developing wisdom for personal growth. 

My individual acceptance of what religion means to me allows me to be freed of the ‘ego’ in the ‘Buddhism’ label, and detach from the fear of ‘losing myself’ if I am ‘forced’ to ‘convert’.

To me, religion is as straightforward as trying to live a life of love and compassion, and if it brings about peace and harmony, then why attach strongly to certain labels that are important to some but not to you?

2. Partner

Nico & her partner

When both parties are self-assured in first understanding the role that religion plays in their own individual lives, this then allows us to come together to find areas where we have common ground and can mutually compromise on. 

It takes two to tango but two left feet to trip and fall. And in the dance of life, it’s important to be in lockstep through the various rhythms and music changes.

I find asking these questions useful in helping me meander through our ebbs and flows: “What role does religion play in my partner’s life? Is it a huge part of his community and identity? Are shared beliefs crucial for him in his practice or is he open-minded about us practising separately? Am I willing to let go of preconceived notions of my partner’s religion and truly understand how they practise through their own unique lens?” 

I’ve learnt the marked difference between superficial acceptance out of necessity and active acceptance out of wisdom.

Beyond just passively recognising the difference, practising the “we can agree to disagree” thought, and sweeping tough conversations under the rug, can I go the extra mile and build a more nurturing relationship by showing interest in learning more about his beliefs? It might not be intuitive but can our varied religious beliefs and practices be instead a binding tool for us?  

By practising “ehipassiko(loosely translated as “come and see for yourself”.), I feel encouraged by my religion to seek and explore knowledge gaps, to be curious about his background and way of thinking, and try to carve a role that I can play whenever he faces difficulties and taps on his religion for courage and guidance. 

Instead of merely giving him space to pray in times of adversity, can I cultivate myself to be an additional pillar of support for him using his way of coping? If I am equipped with some knowledge of their religion, I can better help be their second line of defence.

For example, am I able to help cross-reference some of the biblical quotes to soothe and comfort him? Or maybe in a tongue-in-cheek way, mention that “if God doesn’t answer your prayers, try meditating and wait until he does?” 😉 

3. Community 

Nico pet sitting with her partner

Falling in love is easy, effortless, and ephemeral. Committing to a long-term relationship, on the other hand, requires a different mindset—it’s not merely about the spark, the butterflies, and the initial gooey-eyed red-roses lens anymore.

It’s about unsexy practical things like aligning financial goals, assimilating each other into respective communities of parents/friends/coworkers, and managing projects on building the best nest for yourselves (e.g. house, renovations, weddings, kids, etc. And in generally high-cost country like Singapore, I am sure all these milestones cause undue stress.) 

Even if both parties have a mutual agreement on our different faiths, what about the family we came from or the one we want to build? Will our parents accept that neither of us will be going to family service/retreats together? Will our offspring be torn between two seemingly conflicting sets of beliefs? How should we navigate the practical constraints around this? 

I know of situations where couples break up because their partner’s families are unsupportive or have created an environment where it becomes unhealthy for the relationship to progress any further.

They absolutely can’t be faulted—for some people, religion is closely intertwined with the way they were brought up.  

I know my parents value their religious practices—they go for yearly meditation retreats (bhavana), volunteer their time and resources at local Buddhist centres (dana), and strive to lead a life guided by the triple gems (sila). My dad even once shaved his head and stayed in a monastery under Ajahn Brahm in Perth. 

My partner’s family is equally diligent about their faith—they show up weekly at church together, say grace before meals, and share daily biblical verses in their family Whatsapp group. His family also grew up religiously and adopted similar family rites.

It is very apparent that religion to both sides is inextricably linked with familial bonds. If we impose our beliefs on each other, we risk breaking the entire fabric of these decades of precious ties and shared memories. 

A healthy hike

That leads us back to the first two levels aforementioned as well—what does religion mean to your partner? Is it more than just his individual beliefs, but something he wants to be replicated in the other areas of his life too? A healthy interfaith relationship takes acceptance from yourself as an individual, your partner, and also your wider community. 


“So how, can work not?” to that I answer, “See whether I accept, he accepts, they accept lor.” And thankfully, these levels have been conquered and worked out well so far, such that hopefully I continue to live to tell the tale.


Wise Steps:

  • Contemplate: What is the role of religion in my life? What does faith and spirituality mean to me?
  • Understand: What role does religion play in my partner’s life? Is it a huge part of his community and identity?
  • Learn: What does religion mean for my partner’s family?
Building a Spiritual Bridge: Introducing Buddhism to My Non-Buddhist Partner

Building a Spiritual Bridge: Introducing Buddhism to My Non-Buddhist Partner

TLDR: We naturally seek a spouse who is physically, emotionally and spiritually compatible. However, compatibility may not need to be rigid definitions. Sometimes, we fall in love with people that we think are religiously incompatible. Ze Wen shares his experience (not dating advice) on how he navigated his journey of introducing Buddhism to his non-Buddhist spouse and in-laws.

“What are your requirements for a partner?”

“She needs to be a Buddhist,” I replied.

I grew up listening to stories of familial relationships that turned sour because of different religious beliefs. I never expected to end up in an interfaith marriage.

Years ago, my opinions were more absolutist, thinking that it was nigh impossible to live the rest of my life with someone who didn’t share similar spiritual views as I did. I imagined the insurmountable conflicts and effort we would go through in our daily interactions; with our families, friends and the community.

All that changed after I met my spouse.

While I wouldn’t dare deny that affection made me reconsider my stance, there was plenty to learn about my own seemingly non-negotiable beliefs. What exactly made me think that non-Buddhists were incompatible life partners?

I listed some methods that helped me change my perspectives, and subsequently introduce Buddhism to my spouse.

Investigate

The first step was to ascertain that my partner was spiritually and morally compatible to a certain degree. I knew that we were of different faiths even before we dated. This made me doubt whether our relationship would work or not. After thinking about the various differences in our spiritual beliefs and how it was an obstacle to me, I recalled the Discourse on Highest Blessings, Maha-mangala Sutta[1] . There, the Buddha exhorted that it is a great blessing to associate with the wise, and disassociate with the foolish. 

 By no means the Buddha meant that non-Buddhists were all fools! [2] The Dalai Lama himself had a close friendship with the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This was where I had to reflect on the definition of “wise” and “foolish”. According to the Buddha, there is a simple metric to identify the fools and the wise – the wise see transgressions as transgressions, and pardons another for confessing their transgressions.

This led me to reflect that it wasn’t our religious beliefs that made one “wise” or “foolish”, “wholesome” or “unwholesome”. Rather, our moral values, life principles and intentions are much better determinant factors. For this, the Kalama Sutta is another resource that helps discern between “wholesome” and “unwholesome” qualities that are in line with Buddhist values. 

As I got to know her better, I was elated to find out that she was someone who was responsible, would go out of her way to help those in need, and had a soft spot for animals! She was also accepting of Buddhism, as she grew up learning Buddhist values in Tzu Chi as a child before being baptised.

Thanks to this, her family also had a favourable view of Buddhism. It was crucial to ascertain her family’s initial stance on Buddhism, as it would form the basis of my approach to communicating my personal practices to them.

Ze Wen & his wife

Communicate

During my early dating days, I gently but sincerely explained to my spouse that I would maintain a lifestyle that was in line with Buddhist principles: dana (generosity), sila (moral precepts) and bhavana (mental cultivation). I explained mostly the part of the Five Precepts, as non-Buddhists may not be familiar with them. These are:

i)           Abstaining from killing living beings.

ii)          Abstaining from taking things not given.

iii)         Abstaining from sexual misconduct.

iv)         Abstaining from false speech.

v)          Abstaining from consuming intoxicants (recreational drugs and alcohol).

Although they may seem like common sense, I realise that many non-Buddhists do find it peculiar to abstain from killing insects (First Precept), telling white lies (Fourth Precept) and drinking alcohol (Fifth Precept)! So, I focused on explaining these three precepts to my spouse.

First Precept

For the First Precept of abstaining from killing, I explained that respect towards all forms of life, even for animals and insects, helps cultivate a life of non-harm and loving-kindness (metta). This precept lets us be a safe refuge for ourselves and the people around us, which protects those close to us, such as our spouses and family members. 

I shared with my partner my personal experiences relating to insects, especially cockroaches. As a child, I had no qualms about killing small insects around the house.

Over the course of several years of upholding the First Precept, I was able to observe how my fear and aversion of cockroaches gradually subsided from mindless panic, to grudging avoidance, to mindful acceptance now. Of course, it is a work in progress; the flying ones still terrify me!

Second Precept

For the Fourth Precept of maintaining truthful and wholesome speech, I shared with my partner that it inculcates a habit of responsibility within us, for it will make us more mindful of our statements and promises. Besides that, upholding kind and wholesome speech habits also enforces the habit of non-harm and compassion (karuna). 

Not saying white lies is another frequently disputed topic about the Fourth Precept. I explained that although the intentions behind a white lie may be to alleviate suffering or to help somebody, it is still ultimately a form of deceit. 

Once the truth unfolds, the trust and faith that others have in us could be irreparably compromised. Furthermore, even telling white lies will give us a subconscious habit and acknowledgement that it is okay to lie, giving leeway to a looser tongue.

I also explained that in a world where fake news runs rampant and people are becoming more vocal and visible with their views, it is more important than ever to know how to express ourselves truthfully in skilful ways that are non-confrontational.

Fifth Precept

To me, justifying the Fifth Precept (abstaining from intoxicants) was the most challenging to me. Many would argue that drinking a little bit of alcohol wouldn’t muddle the mind and that it is important to socialise. 

Nowadays, I explain to curious folks that it is a matter of personal choice and principle. I further elaborated to my spouse that I take this precept as a disciplinary practice. Although I may still retain my mindfulness and composure after a few sips of alcohol, even a slight compromise of this precept may lead to intentionally breaking all precepts. 

However, we had to define how to work around upholding this precept, as it may inconvenience the people around me. For example, my mother-in-law likes to cook drunken chicken, and while I also have explained my precepts to her, she may not choose to practise it. Hence, whenever it is respectful, I do consume food that incorporates alcohol in it, but I draw the line at drinking beverages that contain alcohol.

Also, I did not impose any of these precepts upon my spouse. After all, it is important to not demand the understanding of others upon our own personal practices but rather to explain the reasoning of our stances to encourage acceptance towards our personal practice and motivations. 

After explaining the Five Precepts to my spouse, she was also able to accept and accommodate them. This was also helped by the fact that she had been exposed to Buddhist values at a young age. Now, instead of killing insects, she lets me catch and release them!

Explaining the precepts clearly was an important skill for me to cultivate, so that my partner could communicate this to her family to allay any doubts or concerns they have about having an in-law from another faith. 

One example of communication would be whether my family would need my spouse to conduct ancestor worship. I assured them by explaining that we offered food to my ancestors as a token of respect and gratitude and practising compassion to alleviate their suffering by transferring merits.

Accommodate

A couple shot

I wanted to introduce my spouse and her family to an accurate understanding of Buddhism. However, being too direct may lead to defensiveness and apprehension.

  So I began by accommodating her personal beliefs and religious family traditions. I attended a few church masses with my spouse and her family. Truthfully, I felt out of place.

Engaging with people there didn’t help me feel better. Some conversations made me feel there were expectations upon me to convert to their faith because of my relationship with my spouse. 

Although I felt discontent arise within me, I knew that they only had the best interests of the family’s harmony at heart. 

In order to overcome the discontent, I reflected that if the roles were reversed, I would also similarly want to welcome another community member into my own faith. With sympathetic joy (mudita) and mindfulness of my own emotions, I was eventually able to come to terms with the church-goers’ expectations, and accept them with equanimity. However, I still do find myself at a loss for words whenever they directly ask me when would I convert my faith!

In return, my spouse and her family were open to me bringing her to attend Dhamma talks. We visited a few temples and centres, and she also attended regular online services together with me during the COVID-19 lockdowns. 

I was happy my partner even showed interest by asking me questions after the Dhamma talks! In time, even my mother-in-law began to ask for beginner resources for introduction to Buddhism, so she could understand it at her own pace. For her, I passed the book “What Buddhists Believe” by the late Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda to her, which was ideal for anyone who wants to know more about Buddhism from an outsider’s perspective.

Demonstrate

Being open to experiencing my spouse’s culture and religion helped reassure her family that I wasn’t spiritually imposing nor demanding of them. However, it isn’t enough to introduce them to Buddhism. More effort needs to be taken to demonstrate Buddhist principles and practices in a non-directive way.

As expounded in the Kalama Sutta, emulating the values of goodwill, appreciation, humility, compassion and equanimity leads to welfare and happiness. Embodying these values in simple acts such as helping out with the house chores and practising mindful speech and actions will go a long way in fostering intrigue and admiration for Buddhistic values.

As an added benefit, I noticed that demonstrating consistent spiritual ethics over time helps to disarm her peers and family members from suggesting I convert from my faith to theirs.

Initiate

I initiated opportunities to introduce Buddhism to her family only after I felt there was enough familiarity and rapport with them. I mentioned the lessons I learnt from Dhamma talks when I stated the basis of my opinions. When Wesak Day drew near, I would verbally share my practices and the significance behind taking the Eight Precepts, which builds on the Five Precepts I had explained to my spouse.

The opportunities to share specific discourses were rare, but eventually, I even brought my spouse to Buddhist temples and centres to attend Dhamma talks and Sunday Service.

Compromise

We sat down at the beginning of our relationship and discussed some of the things that we foresee could potentially be an issue in the future. Unsurprisingly, the nature of our interfaith relationship became a topic of our discussion. 

First, we discussed each other’s expectations of conversion. Since her childhood, my spouse had the notion that in order to maintain marital harmony, she would need to compromise and convert to her husband’s faith upon marriage. I understood where she came from because both of us have witnessed conflicts in marriages where partners had differing religious beliefs on the concept of personal salvation. 

With regard to personal salvation, both of us believe that a person’s decency is defined by his/her/their deeds and intentions more than his/her/their religious beliefs. This belief stemmed from our observations of seemingly “pious” people contradicting their religious values by behaving in amoral ways outside the religious institute. 

While I welcomed her intention to follow my faith, I explained to her that I viewed religion as a personal choice and I had no intentions nor expectations for her to convert simply because of marriage. In turn, she also was able to view Buddhism as a liberal practice that emphasised personal moral cultivation, rather than compliance and obedience.

Next in our discussion of maintaining an interfaith marriage was the topic of having children. Some faiths encourage having children, yet both of us shared the same view that it should be a personal choice, instead of one dictated by religion or social pressures. 

If we were to have any children, they would be free to decide whichever faith they wanted to choose, as long as they had a clear idea about the tenets of that faith. This was because we were also brought up in families where we were given the freedom to choose our spiritual path.

Last but not least, we discussed the wedding rituals. As we had friends and family from different faiths, we decided that our wedding would need to be as neutral as possible in order to be fair to each side. This decision was conveyed to our parents, and we were blessed with their support for our decision. Besides being respectful, obtaining the blessings of our parents in this matter was important for another reason — they were the main channel of communication with our relatives. We had relatives who wanted us to go through a church wedding, but our parents helped behind the scenes to allay their concerns. 

Thus, we had to go out of our way to search for non-religious marriage counselling sessions, instead of the readily available Christian ones from her church. Both of us also had to give up our initial wedding dreams. She had to forgo her dream of a church wedding, and I had to compromise on having a Buddhist-themed one. Instead, we opted to solemnise our marriage according to Chinese cultural traditions.

I’d like to share another example where I wanted to find a place to place a Buddha-rupaṁ (Buddha statue) at our rented unit. I realised that although my spouse would not outwardly disagree with me displaying it, it would still symbolise a physical display of my faith in our residence. Understanding how it may cause discomfort with my spouse’s religious orientation, I instead obtained her consent to place the Buddha-rupaṁ in an unassuming manner.

Reflection

Cake cutting ceremony

Like any relationship, differences between our views and beliefs will arise occasionally.  I found that adopting the methods above helped greatly to reduce conflicts and to introduce Buddhism to my spouse and her family. The methods of investigating, communicating, accommodating, demonstrating and compromising are all essential and need to be adopted concurrently. 

Moreover, the crucial elements that allowed me to apply them were alertness of my state of mind (sampajañña) and patience (khanti). Without alertness and patience, I would not be able to accept different views with an open mind. 

The universal qualities of the Dhamma are not exclusive to Buddhists and are accessible also to anyone from any faith. I am beyond grateful that I chanced upon someone who accepts and encourages the practice of wholesome qualities found in Buddhism.

This marital journey has made me revise my views on interfaith relationships. I used to think that I would remain single until I met another compatible Buddhist. Yet, the moral values and personal qualities that my spouse exhibited were so compatible with mine, that it made me challenge my own views on the basis of this former requirement. Interacting with my spouse made me clarify my own views on what constitutes a “wise” individual from a “fool”. 

The occasional discontent or little moments of realisation that I have mentioned before allowed me to proactively cultivate loving-kindness (metta), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). As a result, I am now more understanding and accepting of differing beliefs and views. This whole experience made me and my spouse critically reflect on our beliefs, which has led to an even richer spiritual experience for both of us.


Wise Steps

●  Most of us have preconceived ideal criteria for our life partners. Carefully reflect on these criteria. How many of them are genuinely grounded on the principles of the Dhamma?

●  Our practices and views may start off as foreign to our spouse, his/her spouse’s family and communities. This is natural. We can learn to investigate, communicate, accommodate, demonstrate and compromise. Patience, acceptance and understanding are all essential to foster harmony in an interfaith relationship.

●  At times, it may be necessary to agree to disagree on certain views with our spouse or in-laws on religion and practices. Don’t be disheartened at the practice. Keep on at it consistently, gently and diligently.

4 suttas that helped my relationship thrive after it nearly crashed.

4 suttas that helped my relationship thrive after it nearly crashed.

Editor: This is a two-part series of Dhamma and marriage where Ai En shares her turnaround in her marriage. You can read the first article on how a monk saved her marriage here.

TLDR: I always thought of suttas as always being serious and all about practice. Having dived deeper into them, I found some that were extremely helpful in becoming a better partner to my husband.

As a practising Buddhist, I have found that the teachings of the Buddha can be incredibly helpful in improving my marriage. In this article, I will be referencing specific suttas (Buddhist scriptures) to illustrate how the principles of Buddhism can be applied in the context of a marriage relationship. Of course, for non-married couples/partners, the same principles apply!

Buddhism teaches us about the concept of non-attachment. However, this does not mean that we should not care about or be invested in our partners, but rather that we should not cling to them in an unhealthy or obsessive way. Here are 4 suttas that you may find helpful for you and your partner!

Metta Matters

In the Metta (Loving-kindness) Sutta, the Buddha teaches us to cultivate loving-kindness and to let go of craving and aversion.

This is particularly relevant in a romantic relationship, where it is easy to become attached to certain expectations or desires that our partner may not be able to fulfil.

For example, expecting our partner to come home daily with a smile on their face or for them to be always saying ‘yes’ to our whims and fancies. 

This perception of an ever-bright and smiling partner makes us love them more conditionally. We then easily fall into ill-will and agitation if they fail to fulfil that perception.

Letting go of these fixed, unrealistic projections and cultivating a sense of loving-kindness towards our partner can create a more harmonious and fulfilling relationship. We wish them to be well and happy without inserting our ‘self’ into it.

We are content with our effort in putting the conditions for their happiness in motion, whether happiness happens is beyond our control. This makes us less likely to say ‘I did this just for you to feel x way, why don’t you feel x about it?’

I must admit that it is a constant battle to love my partner unconditionally. However, being aware of unrealistic expectations that I might harbour in my mind is a great reminder to have metta no matter what.

“Contented and easily satisfied, Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.”Metta Sutta

Not taking relationships for granted

Another important principle in Buddhism is the concept of impermanence. The Buddha taught that everything around us is subject to change, whether we like it or not. Our loved ones grow old and our friendships strengthen and weaken. Nothing is constant.

The Upajjhatthana Sutta, where Buddha teaches about the five recollections that we should develop, is a great daily practice which we can bring into our relationship.

  1. I am subject to aging and I have not gone beyond aging.
  2. I am subject to illness and I have not gone beyond illness.
  3. I am subject to death and I have not gone beyond death.
  4. I am subject to impermanence and I must be parted and separated from everyone and everything dear and agreeable to me
  5. I am the owner of my actions. I receive the results of my actions. Dukkha arises through my actions and I am associated to my actions. Whatever I do I will inherit.

I find point 4 most useful for my relationship as Buddha reminds us that separation from our loved ones is inevitable, hence we don’t hold tightly to anger/pain towards others. 

“All beings that come and go, that pass away and undergo rebirth, must be parted and separated from everyone and everything dear and agreeable.” – Upajjhatthana Sutta

By recognising the impermanence of our relationship, we can be more compassionate and considerate towards our partner and work towards the mutual benefit of both individuals. Not going to bed angry with each other because tomorrow is not promised has been one way I keep my “grudge-holding” period with my loved ones extremely short.

By asking yourself ‘What if tonight’s the last time I say goodnight to my partner? What should I do?’, this thought knocks out our negativity and makes us focus on the present.

When we don’t take each other for granted, we have more space for forgiveness and willingness to do our best for one another.

Speech matters

The Buddha also emphasised the importance of communication in creating healthy relationships. In the Vacasutta, the Buddha teaches about the importance of speaking at the right time, truthfully, affectionately, beneficially, and with a mind of goodwill.

In a relationship, it is essential to be open and honest with our partner and to communicate our needs and feelings in a kind and respectful way. This sutta’s notion of ‘timely’ pointed out the flaws in my communication style. I usually delivered ‘feedback’ or spoke about the challenging behaviours of my husband after his long day of work. 

Yes, I did it affectionately, truthfully, beneficially and with a mind of good-will. But it was at the wrong time. This often led to me lamenting how my ‘good’ advice fell on deaf ears. This sutta helped me realise that timeliness was super important. 

This often means holding back our comments until the issue is resolved. I have now learned to talk about the challenges in our relationship on weekends when we are both more well-rested and willing and emotionally available to listen.

By practising good communication, we can create a strong foundation for our relationship and avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.

One of the most challenging aspects of a marriage relationship can be dealing with conflict. The Buddha recognised that conflict is a natural part of any relationship and taught about the importance of resolving conflicts in a peaceful and harmonious way.

“It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.” -Vacasutta

Seeing the good even on the toughest days

In the Dutiyaāghātapaṭivinayasutta Sutta, the Buddha advises us on dealing with people we resent. By practising this attitude of openness to compromise and seeing the good in our partners, we can more effectively navigate conflicts in our relationships.

The Buddha dives deeper into how we can deal with our resentment depending on the type of personality that we face. In relationships, our partners are constantly changing in mind-states just like us. Some days our partner can say really mean things to us that can lead to resentment. 

For example, they can be really kind in their actions but unskillful in their speech on a bad day. The Buddha uses the analogy of drinking from a pond filled with moss and aquatic plants. One sweeps away the moss and other plants to drink from the pond.

We ignore a person’s unskillful behaviour and focus on their skilful behaviour. We separate a negative act from the actor, allowing us space to return kindness even when it is difficult.

“How should you get rid of resentment for a person whose behaviour by way of speech is impure, but whose behaviour by way of body is pure? Suppose there was a lotus pond covered with moss and aquatic plants. Then along comes a person struggling in the oppressive heat, weary, thirsty, and parched. They’d plunge into the lotus pond, sweep apart the moss and aquatic plants, drink from their cupped hands, and be on their way. In the same way, at that time you should ignore that person’s impure behaviour by way of speech and focus on their pure behaviour by way of the body. That’s how to get rid of resentment for that person.” – Dutiyaāghātapaṭivinayasutta

Conclusion

In conclusion, the principles of Buddhism can be incredibly helpful in improving a relationship, by practising non-attachment, recognising the ephemeral nature of our relationship, engaging in honest and kind communication, and seeing the good of others in a peaceful manner.

By incorporating these teachings into our daily lives, we can create a strong foundation for a lifetime of happiness and joy in our marriage.


Wise Steps:

  • Know which sutta can help in your relationship and memorise it! You never know when you might need it
  • Life is uncertain. Taking your partner for granted can lead to many unnecessary regrets!