People in Glass Houses

07/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

After many years of seeking, opening and closing many doors, I found what I had been looking for; a real teacher, a true father, a saint -- an enlightened being. He was the kind of person I had read about in dozens of spiritual books but had never encountered. His name was M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. He was a tiny, small boned, dark-skinned man with a white beard and eyes that radiated compassion and understanding. His eyes looked into me and I knew that they saw everything about me-past,present, and future. Bawa means father in the Tamil language and he was both the nurturing father I had always longed for and a father of a more divine nature. This extraordinary, good and wise man was truly "in this world but not of it."

Several years after meeting Bawa I was having difficulty in my marriage. I became so frustrated that I had made a list of all the things that were wrong with my wife. I firmly believed that our marriage would be great if she would correct these faults.

About this time I traveled to Sri Lanka to spend time with Bawa.The fault list was burning a hole in my pocket and I could not wait to receive the counsel of the Sage. Several days after arriving there I was sitting by Bawa's bed and reached for my list. As I did so, Bawa gazed at me knowingly,"Thambi," (little brother) he said, "you have made the wrong list."

I was taken aback by his words, not so much by their content, but by their clairvoyance; I had not told him or anyone else about the list.

He continued,"You need to make a list on yourself and the qualities you need to correct. That is the way to correct your life and your marriage."*

His words penetrated deeply and had a profound effect on me resulting in an attitude adjustment that marked the beginning of my understanding about relationships and what makes them work. It also formed the basis for the marriage counseling I have done since that time.

After I returned to the U.S., Bawa's words hung in my mind. I began to see that maybe what I was finding wrong with my wife was really my own fault. When I started correcting my own faults everything began to change for the better. The effective work that is done in a relationship is usually always on ourselves, never on the other person. We can't change our spouse but we can change ourselves and often this will have a positive effect on the partner. When I stopped reacting to her "faults" and started focusing solely on mine, things began to change.

About a year after I returned from Sri Lanka, I found the old list I had made of my wife's faults. As I read it over,I saw that, miraculously, almost all of her "faults" had disappeared or at least had dramatically improved. My life was better, our relationship was better, and I was better. The only thing that had suffered was my ego and even it seemed relieved. The process had been quite simple although, at times, difficult (Remember, this is indeed the inner jihad). There had been no need for long,purging sessions with a therapist. To say I was pleasantly surprised would have been an understatement-- I was amazed!

Since that time the work that I have done with couples focuses consciously on the need for each party to redirect one's critique back onto one's self not the other. I have found that when they are able to do this, miracles happen -- when not -- nothing changes and divorce starts to rear its ugly head.

I remember one of Bawa's pithy comments on trying to clean up another's act: "A dog likes to clean himself with his tongue, so if we try to wash his backside with water, he will bite us. Instead, we must wash our own backsides very carefully."

And at another time, this gem of wisdom; "Separate that from you which separates you from others."**

Finally,these words come to mind as a template for how we can conduct our relationships.

"Do not give room to doubts, anger, or revenge for things that have been said or done earlier.If a person commits a fault, it is either done through his ignorance or his arrogance, or through envy or selfishness or pride. Or it could be done through deceitfulness. There is always some reason why he has committed that fault. Whatever a person does, it is lack of wisdom that prompts him to do it. What he does through ignorance should not be considered as enmity by us. If he had wisdom he never would have done it. Someone without reason can do many harmful things for many different reasons. He might even commit murder. But a man who has wisdom and faith in God will never do any of those things.

Therefore, if someone who has wisdom and faith in God is hurt by an ignorant man, he should not keep the hurt within him. He must throw it out immediately and forget it. One who can make the hurt disappear is a wise man but one who keeps it within him is just as ignorant as the person who committed the fault. Only if we have forgotten our hurt and anger can we love that person and teach him wisdom and help him to reach a good state. Only by showing him in our conduct the love and good qualities that we have can we teach him to become a person with the qualities of God, a person with wisdom ".**

*Finding the Way Home - Locke Rush PhD.
** Questions of Life
Answers of Wisdom- Vol 1- M.R.Bawa Muhaiyaddeen