Generosity, kind words, beneficial help,
& consistency in the face of events,
in line with what’s appropriate in each case.
These bonds of fellowship [function] in the world
like the linchpin in a moving cart.
– AN 4.32 (tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
We are social beings. Our inner life is revealed, for better or worse, through all of our relationships. We’ll now take the opportunity to examine the nature and quality of our relationships in six different categories. The Buddha delivered a discourse specifically to help lay people make their relationships harmonious. It’s called the Sigalovada Sutta (DN 31), and all the thoughts that follow are based on a modern translation of it by JKelly/Sawyer/Yareham. The full text is available here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.31.0.ksw0.html
We’ll discuss only part of the discourse, the one in which the Buddha instructs a layperson called Sigala in how to “honor the six directions”. In ancient India (and in some places even today), a daily devotional practice included honoring the six directions: east, south, west, north, below, and above. The Buddha used this pattern to invite reflection and wholesome action in six types of relationships: those between
(1) parents and children,
(2) teachers and pupils,
(3) spouses or partners,
(4) friends and colleagues,
(5) employers and employees, and lastly,
(6) holy people and seekers.
In each case, particular duties are described for both parties in the relationship. In the course of a lifetime, it is possible you may fill all of the roles listed. In any role, if you adopt the Buddha’s guidance for how to behave, the maximum possible benefit will accrue to all concerned.
It is important that you bring an open mind and as much honesty as you can to this reflection. This is not a scorecard, but a list of wholesome suggestions. You’ll notice that other people often fall short of fulfilling their roles perfectly. You could take these failures as opportunities to practice forgiveness. Judging others will not help you become more free, it will hinder your progress. It is only our own actions that we can alter, but sometimes others will respond in kind if we behave in a more harmonious way.