Tamil is one of the oldest Indian languages. Like so many historical aspects of India, it is difficult to precisely date the origin of this language. It has a continuous recorded history for over 2200 years. It is a long held tradition in Tamil literature to discuss or debate topics of relevance to the society. Usually scholars will line up on opposite sides to argue pro and con on the chosen topic. This is called Patti Mandram. Such debates were also means to inform and educate public at large on subtleties of literature, arts, social and cultural topics.
In a recent Patti Mandram seen on Indian TV, the topic discussed was: “Family, Relatives or Friends – who is the most important?” There were three teams of scholars each arguing their case for one of three sides. One team made the argument that it is the family that matters most. What else can substitute the maternal love? The team that argued for the relatives said, “In good times and the bad, the family is held together thanks to the care and support that comes from the relatives. It is always a kind uncle or aunt who picks up and provides the loving care necessary for the success of a child under difficult circumstances” thundered the scholar speaking on behalf of the relatives and their important role in life. “You are judged by the friends you keep, not your family or relatives” retorted the scholar speaking for the third team. As is usual in most of these debates there is no clear winner. Each team recited poems and phrases from the Tamil literature to extol their point of view.
There are personal experiences in any one’s life, where we need to rely on family, relatives and friends all at the same time. Invariably a crisis calls for such collective support.
Non-attachment is prescribed as the basic requirement for evolution in everyone’s life.
Renouncing all activities arising out of desire or attachments is called as self-control.
Renouncing the effects or outcomes from any and all activities is called liberation
or non-attached participation. B.G. 18.2.
Family, relatives and friends each create a pathway for attachment! How can one evolve when we are necessarily attached to some one? How can one have any sense of identity without some connection to someone either as family, relatives or friends? It is this connection or attachment that is essential to create a sense of identity “I”. Breaking away from this platform through non-attachment is required for spirituality to evolve! This conundrum is what I find as the burden of relationship. No one can escape from this burden!
Think of a child that you parent with utmost love and affection. But, the child will never grow to his/her full potential unless you let go of the child at some point. Maturity requires the bird to fly out of its nest and soar to a new height. “I brought up this child and now I let go of this child to grow into a man or woman to his/her full potential” would be the words spoken by a parent with non-attachment.
Family and relatives provide a nurturing climate for the person to grow. They provide a safety net and a sense of security. But, like the plants in a garden, each person in the family is different. Some are good, some bad depending on the time, subject and perspective. One can never be truly objective and equal to everyone and at all the time, unless one develops a sense of non-attachment to all relatives. Every one belongs to the family, but no one is more important or less. Everyone plays a role like a team of ball players on the field. But, in order for the team to win or succeed, every team player must be treated equally. A person with such view point invariably evolves into the coach or leader of the family. If there is not at least one person with such perspective of non-attachment, invariably the family as a whole struggles with feuds, rivalries, dysfunction and conflicts. As more members of the family evolve in their non-attachment, surprisingly there is greater cohesion and harmony across all members of the family! In all this one should be clear between non-attachment and selfish isolation and withdrawal for personal gains. One should also be clear between non-attachment and the objectivity that arises as a result in our views and actions vs. subjective opinions, preferences and actions. This struggle between non-attachment and bondage or the desire to isolate from connections for personal/selfish reasons could make one at times fret and wish there were no family or relatives at all. This is the burden of relationships!
Finally we come to friends. One does not have a choice on who the family members are or who are the relatives? But, friends come to be through personal choice! Association over a long period of time strengthens the bonds of friendship. Non-attachment with someone you have chosen to be attached with sounds absurd at first sight! Let us think about it for a moment. Your friend is engaged in an activity or behavior that is not constructive to the self. What would you do? Close a blind eye and pretend like it did not happen? Confront the friend and seek for a change? Work with the friend until the matter is resolved with a constructive outcome? What happens if there is no change or it takes too long and at a very slow rate? Would you persevere or drop the friend and move on? How much would you persevere and stick with the process of change? Would it be equal or more in intent and commitment if it were a family member or relative vs. a friend? All of these are not easy questions to answer. Yet, non-attachment brings clarity and a better ability to answer these questions. In the end through non-attachment we find a totally new meaning for the proverb, “A friend in need is a friend indeed!” The need referred to here becomes larger in meaning than mere physical acts of kindness!
In fact non-attachment is the common factor required in all our relationships. Through non-attachment the differences and boundaries that exist separating people as family, relatives and friends gradually vanish. A basket of flowers may have roses, carnations, mums, and lotus. Yet through non-attachment we see them all as flowers with a pageantry of colors, smell and beauty. Next time you offer a flower bouquet to a friend or relative or when you offer a flower garland during worship, think of non-attachment! It is the beginning of the spirituality in practice which gradually melts away the burden of relationships.