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Another reader has sent me a question. I love that a few people are reading this blog and feel prompted to reach out with questions and comments. I never expected to be asked to address the Buddha’s teachings here, but I welcome it, and will do my best.
So here is the question that came in this morning:
“I can see that you love the Earth very much. If Buddha’s teaching of love supports love of Mother Nature, why doesn’t it also support romantic love between two people?”
That’s a great question. Years ago, I took Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on love into my heart. I’ll try here to respond using Thay’s teachings (which are my beliefs) on the subject:
The Buddha was a teacher of love.True love. And all love should be true love. If it is true love, it will bring a lot of happiness to both you and the object of your love. If it is not true love, it will make you suffer, and the object of your love will suffer.
If, for instance, your love for Mother Earth is not true, then you will suffer, and Mother Earth will suffer. As she does now.
The Buddha was not at all adversarial to romantic love. But there are some characteristics of true love that must be present.
In the teachings of the Buddha, true love needs four elements:
1. Loving kindness. The capacity to offer kindness should be cultivated in true love. If you cannot offer kindness, that's not true love. You should train yourself to bring loving kindness to both the other person and yourself.
2. Compassion. Compassion is the energy that can transform suffering – in you and in the object of your love. If you can't transform suffering, it's not true love. That’s why Karuna – compassion – should be constantly cultivated by you and the other person. Romantic or not romantic isn’t important. Whether it is true love or not is important.
3. Joy. If by loving, you make the other person suffer, it's not true love.
4. Inclusiveness. Their suffering is your suffering. Their happiness is your happiness. There is no frontier between you and the other person. You can never say, “That’s your problem”. You should always say, “Your suffering is my suffering. Your joy is my joy.”
Finally, if you are successful in your efforts to love purely, very soon, your love will be all-embracing. The other person will no longer be the one and only object of your love. Your love will embrace all of us. Your love will become limitless. It will grow to include all things – humans, animals, vegetables, and minerals. That is great love. That is Karuna. That is the love of the Buddha.