Reporter’s Note：We interviewed Ajahn Brahm on love and life, whilst he was on his annual visit to Hong Kong earlier this year (2016). The pleasure was as much as the honour. In the light of his rich and unique insights, and in the hope to give our readers a glimpse of his wisdom, we have prepared three detailed interview reports. The remaining two are scheduled to be published in the next couple of weeks. May we offer our special thanks to Bodhinyana International Foundation for arranging the interview on our behalf.
(Ajahn Brahm is a British Theravada Buddhist monk born in London. He read theoretical physics at The University of Cambridge and graduated with first class honours. A year later, he traveled to Thailand to become a monk and to train with the Ajahn Chah Bodhinyana Mahathera. He is now the Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia, and the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, amongst others. He has been invited many a time to give seminars at the headquarters of Facebook, Google and the United Nations. The books he authored have been translated into many languages, including famously The Art of Disappearing, and Good? Bad? Who Knows?)
Ajahn：我們之所以受傷，是因為把感情結束看成自己這個人的失敗，以至自我的意識受損了。其實我們並沒有做錯事，只是事情這麼發生了。但是女人會那樣想，男人也會那樣想——男人也會生氣，也會受重傷，像女人受重傷一樣。必須要心碎幾次，才會知道什麼是愛，不會第一次就能學懂的。戀愛之中你會愛上一個幻象，幻象破碎之後，你會哭泣，但你的心會開始知覺。愛之為愛，在於令你有所知覺。有些人為了不用受傷，把自己的心重重防衛起來。但你就是要去受傷呀，我們都是命中註定要去受傷的，welcome to life。
Interviewer：How do you forget someone you once deeply loved?
Ajahn：I’ll never forget them. It’s a part of you. All you do is, again, embrace that. And it’s like music concerts. I went to some great music concerts when I was young. And they were finished, they ended, I couldn’t take those great musicians back home with me, so it’s like having a love affair. It’s finished, it’s ended, there’s so much happiness and joy you’ve had, whilst we have such a wonderful time together. I really loved you and cared for you and had so much happiness, thank you. So you never look at the pain of the parting, it’s over and you expected that – if you are wise. And some day, maybe with deaths, or we move on, but it’s worth it. Thank you so much!
Interviwer：But it’s difficult……because when it ends it hurts badly. How do we recover?
Ajahn：One of those things we hurt, we take it too personally, we think that we have failed. It’s a sense of self which has been damaged, but you’ve done nothing wrong. It happens. Don’t take it as a personal failure. This is what women do, what men do, it’s what actually we equally get mad, men really hurt badly, as much as women do. You have to have your heart broken a few times for you know what love is, you can’t expect just to get it right the first time. In the affair you just fall in love with the fantasy. When the fantasy gets broken, that’s when you cry, but afterwards, your heart feels. And that’s what love is, it feels. And the mistake is when people put their heart in a concrete bunker so they don’t get hurt again. But you have to get hurt again, welcome to life.
And it’s a very sweet and sour hurt, yeah it really hurts badly but after a few days, or a few weeks, you would miss that experience, you survive. Especially when you look back and I have a look back at my, my……yeah, girlfriends. (Interviewer: Tell me more about your girlfriends?) Well one of the longest affairs, it’s about 6 months. We really love to……but you weren’t really aware enough. You don’t exactly know what that was, you were learning your emotions because you were only 19. It’s like you’re emotionally illiterate, something really big was happening but you couldn’t really understand it. So you really couldn’t sort of guide it. So in the end you just put it out and you look back and know that, just a bit more of expressing yourself to your girlfriend, and now you know how you feel and not be afraid of that. Learning to know if you’re really pissed off at her today, letting her know that and letting him know that, that you’re really fed up with him today – share it. And doing that in a context of that you’re allowed to be imperfect, which is another very key thing to a good relationship.
I don’t know about your relationships but sometimes you try so hard to make yourself look nice and be perfect: your hair is nice, and you know your character is nice, and you’re really not here, you’re tense. And that’s one of the reasons why you keep stuffing it up, making mistakes, because you’re not relaxed, you’re not who you are. What’s really really wonderful in a relationship, when you’re really relaxed, when you’re in the presence of someone, who loves you enough, that they love you for who you are, and they enlighten your mistakes. That’s what my father taught me, to leave the door of my heart open for you no matter what you do.
Ajahn：You don’t have to be perfect. And you don’t have to be just drop dead gorgeous every time I go out with you. We’ll just have a good laugh together. You made a mess and you know that you can, like I did with one girlfriend: take her out to expensive restaurant and found I didn’t make the booking and it’s full oh stuffed it up. And it’s this sort of things, you try your very best but you make mistakes. Instead of being embarrassed, you just laugh and enjoy just the uncertainty of your evening, just go somewhere else.
Interviwer：Do you listen to music? Or do you enjoy any form of entertainment?
Ajahn：Haha! The only time I do listen to music it’s because you can’t avoid it these days. It’s when I go to funeral service, cause funeral services in the west, they always play the favorite music of the one who’s died. And now that people of my age are starting to die, so I’m hearing my favorite music again. Music that haven’t heard for years. Because it’s their favorite music and my favorite music as well. And also you know in airports, there’s so much music around.
Interviwer：Does that annoy you, no?
Ajahn：No not these days, sometimes it’s about some happy memories of music. And, haha, I don’t mind letting you in on my secrets because I remember when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles album first came out, I remember just first time I heard it at the party, the girlfriend I met there, just I associate it with the girlfriend. (Interviewer: Sweet memories.) Sweet memories. Yeah. I remember her name now, Mandy……
You know what I did once, It was a youth conference years ago, with 15- to 25- year-olds in Kuala Lumpur. I split them up into two groups: girls and boys. And I was supposed to be teaching them Buddhism but how I taught it, it was very skillful, it went very well, I haven’t done it again since. Eh first of all, all the girls, “What would you like in a guy? What type of guy you’d like to go out with? What the qualities you really really like?” And so all the guys are listening. All the girls were talking about what they like in a guy. And the guys told me afterwards, “Thank you thank you thank you. This is the first time we’ve ever found out what we’re supposed to do to be attractive to a girl.” And the sort of things they heard were not the sort of things they expected. They want someone who’s kind. That was way up on top of the list: a kind guy; well-groomed, clean and smart, fun to be with but they didn’t have to be tough. Dependable, trustworthy. That was important to them. And you know once I got all that from the girls, then that was the guys’ turn. “Now guys, what would you like in a girl? What sort of girls would you like to go out with? And maybe a commitment later on?” And all the girls were really listening.
(Interviewer：Being beautiful? Haha!) You got to be reasonably good looking but what I mean you don’t……not really ugly. But some girls were not that good looking but they’re so fun to be with, and they’re so kind and they’re so warm, and guys love them. So you don’t have to be like a supermodel. And again, what was important to the guys, and they said she has to be kind, dependable and trustworthy and fun to be with, not too demanding. (Not too demanding, I heard that from many guy friends. Friends of mine. ) Yeah you know being fun to be with means you don’t have so much worries, you can meditate, you have good emotional intelligence, and that was just an eye-opener for the boys and girls.
But the sort of things you encourage you know in some of Buddhism is spirituality. Wow, that was actually Buddhism, but taught in a way where everyone was incredibly interested, paying 100% attention. If I start talking about the nature of emptiness, then they’ll fall asleep. You tell 15- to 25- year-olds how to be hot, how to be so attractive, they’re really interested. And they’re developing the same thing which you wanted them to develop.
Interviewer：For many people a career and a romantic relationship mean every thing in their life.
Ajahn：It’s not balanced. Because, again, with women, in a relationship, they tend to be the ones who keep giving giving giving giving giving, and after a while they feel burn out, which is why when I do marriage blessings, I always tell the couple in a marriage, the wife mustn’t think of herself, the husband mustn’t think of himself, but also the husband mustn’t think of his wife, and the wife mustn’t think of her husband. There’s a third option which people always miss, which creates the problem of marriage. They must only think of us, together. And so that’s why if there’s any problem, it’s our problem, it’s not his problem, it’s not her problem, it’s not my problem, it’s our problem, which means you don’t just sacrifice for the other person. (Interviewer: Yeah because you become one, you become us.) Become us. Buddhism is always about us. It’s the relationship we have with life. So when you’re by yourself, you have a relationship with yourself.
Interviewer：I think many people have forgotten this: a relationship with yourself.
Ajahn：Yeah and when you’re with a partner, you know when I’m with you, interviewing me, so this is a relationship, it’s about us. It’s not about me, cause you know you’re not really interviewing me, you’re interviewing us.
Interviewer：Good. I have forgotten my question……I keep forgetting my questions in front of you. So do you think marriage is a good thing?
Ajahn：It can be, like everything else in life. You can become a monk or a nun and make a terrible life for yourself. Just recently in Australia we have a Catholic priest who’s been abusing children. Being a Catholic priest can be a wonderful life of service and kindness and sacrifice, but you can do it terribly. You can become a Buddhist monk and just live so comfortably and be richer than sort of a tycoon. That’s wrong. So being a monk is how you’re a monk, and in a marriage is what you do in that marriage. So it can be a wonderful thing for a person, especially……I always wonder why it is that people when they get married, they want some religious aspect to it, a monk to give a blessing, when a monk is never been married. Why is that? Because there is something spiritual about marriage. And what it really is – it’s taking you to another higher level of selflessness. Before marriage you can just go what you wanna do what you want, in a marriage you have to really let go a lot of what I want for what we want.
Interviewer：You see romantic relationships are beautiful, (jokingly) so isn’t it a regret that you don’t have one now?
Ajahn：I have relationships (Interviewer: with yourself?) and with people. I have a relationship with you now. It’s not sexual, it’s not romantic, it’s not permanent, but with every person I’m with. People said “Don’t you miss having children?” I said I regard so many people as my kids. (Different kind of love I guess.) Oh it’s a much pure one. (Yeah unconditional.) It’s so unconditional and I’m not gonna hold you. You know when you leave, you leave. It’s a beautiful love. (I wish I can do that.) Yeah it’s wonderful. It’s the same in all relationship with your grandchildren cause all these boys and girls, whenever they get in trouble, you know they got another person they can come to and that’s myself. (Good.) Any difficulties, their relationships are really falling apart, and they’re really suffering. They can’t really go to their mum and dad but they come to a monk.
They sit down like you’re sitting down now, and you talk with them. (Interviewer: They’re lucky.) Oh I have got their best interest at heart, and I would never ever criticise them, I’ll never hurt them. You don’t do hurt, don’t do pain, you don’t do scolding. And that means so they got this……I’m their grandfather. And I really enjoy that – I must admit. (They’re lucky to have you.) I must do that.