Hell is Other People
by Friends of Godwin
I think the question of relationships is the greatest challenge human beings have. Because no human being can avoid relationships. Even a hermit living alone by himself or by herself has to have relationships. Relationship to nature. Relationship to the environment. Relationship to themselves. So in this sense no one can avoid relationships.
Now, the first point about relationships is to find out how you relate to yourself. Some of you might have heard of the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. He has written a play about relationships. And in this play he made the statement: Hell is other people. Do you agree? What is the Buddhist response to that statement? Hell is inside us. So this is why in Buddhist teachings it is very, very difficult, because you are considered to be responsible for what you are doing. It is very easy to blame other people. But when we blame other people we never try to work on ourselves, so that one can continue to blame other people and not really look at oneself.
So it is very important to find out how you relate to yourself in the sense: Do you see yourself as your best friend? Or do you have a tendency to be hard on yourself, to give minuses? Do you have no trust in yourself? If you do not have trust and confidence in yourself, you can never have trust and confidence in others. This is why in the Buddhist teaching what is called self-understanding, self-knowledge, is so much emphasised. To find out the way you are relating to yourself.
So for this you have to make a connection with yourself. You have to learn to observe your behaviour. You have to find out your real motives, your intentions prior to your actions. You have to learn to be very objective about yourself. You have to be very honest, sincere, and authentic about yourself. So in relationships this is, I would suggest, something very important to be clear about.
And also be clear about your own expectations, about your own idealism, about your own models. Because if you have very unrealistic models about other people, about yourself, about how the world should be, you will always be disappointed. And if you suffer from a kind of void in you, then whatever other people do to you, giving affection, giving attention, it is not good enough.