The great secret that transforms all relationships
Looking down from heaven, so a famous Hindu story goes, Lord Krishna saw two kingdoms, each of which claimed to be governed in his name.
He decided to visit them to see what was being done in his name.
He appeared in a blaze of light before the first king, who was known to be cruel, miserly, and jealous. The king bowed to him and said, “Lord Krishna, you’ve come to visit.”
“Yes,” said Krishna. “I have a task for you. I want you to travel throughout your kingdom and see if you can find one person who is truly good.”
The king did so. He searched his kingdom exhaustively, visiting with virtually all his subjects.
Finally he returned to his palace and reported to Lord Krishna, “My Lord, I’ve done your bidding. I’ve gone from low to high throughout my kingdom, but I have not found one truly good person. Some of them performed many good deeds, but when I got to know each person I found that even their best actions ended up being selfish, conniving, and deluded.”
Krishna then appeared at the other court ruled by a famous queen named Dhammaraja, who was known to be kind, gracious, loving, and generous.
Krishna offered her a task as well. “I want you to travel throughout your kingdom and find one truly evil person,” he said.
Queen Dhammaraja scoured her kingdom and spoke to everyone she could find. After a long search she returned and reported to Krishna.
“My Lord,” she said, “I have done as you asked but I have failed. I have searched the entirety of my kingdom. I have met people who act unskillfully, who act in misguided ways that cause suffering. Yet when I really listened, I could not find a single person who was truly evil. I found that their actions always came from fear, delusion, and misunderstanding.”
It’s a good story and a true principle: We see what we are, not what is; our perceptions flow from our character.
As James Allen put it in his perennial classic, As a Man Thinketh:
“The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state…Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.”
There is a deeper principle yet: The root of all misguided actions — anything we would judge as “wicked” or wrong — always comes down to deep, unmet needs.
As Queen Dhammaraja revealed, no one is truly wicked, but we are often unskillful at meeting our needs.
Understanding this truth changes everything about our relationships with each other.
When we see wicked actions in others, our minds are filled with judgment and “righteous indignation.” From judgment comes the idea that the wicked ought to be punished for their crimes — that we have to essentially beat the wickedness out of people.
We look down at one another from self-righteous towers perched on our moral high ground. We separate everyone with labels of “good” and “bad,” “righteous” and “wicked,” “saints” and “sinners.”
These judgmental labels become powerful social tools to keep people in line — while concealing the truth, stifling needs, and causing even more destructive behavior.
When we see the unmet needs behind all misguided and harmful behavior, our hearts are filled with compassion. We no longer see wretched sinners, but rather misguided and hurting human beings who desperately need our respect, kindness, compassion, patience, and love.
We no longer seek to punish, but rather to help and support. We no longer view ourselves as better than anyone else but see everyone as equals, no matter the behavior.
And here’s the greatest secret of all: This profound transformation in human relationships starts with how we view ourselves.
If we view ourselves as wretched sinners to our core who will never be good enough, that’s how we will view others. And from that perception will flow how we treat others.
In a desperate subconscious attempt to be okay inside ourselves, we will tell ourselves that we are the good ones and other people are the bad ones.
Hence, at the root of all our judgment of others we find a lack of seeing own basic goodness.
If you want to completely revolutionize all your relationships and how you treat yourself and others, the single most important thing you can do is to see your own goodness.
In seeing your goodness, shame dissolves and compassion floods your heart. You see that in all your misguided actions you have only been trying to meet your needs, albeit unskillfully.
As you hold yourself in deep compassion, tenderness, and care, you find that this flows into how you see and treat others.
Nothing can heal your heart and your relationships more than seeing and truly knowing this truth to your bones: No matter what others have labeled you or what you have labeled yourself, you are good to your core. You are worthy of love. You are priceless.
As the Buddha said,
“You can search the ten-fold universe and not find another being who is more deserving of love than yourself.”
What we see in others depends on what we see in our own heart. How we treat others depends on how we treat ourselves.