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A Buddhist perspective Love

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If there is love, there is hope that one may have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. If the love within your mind is lost and you see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education or material comfort you have, only suffering and confusion will ensue.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama from The little book of Buddhism


Trying to find a meaning

The word ‘love' is a powerful and emotive word and has many uses within the English language from ‘hello, luv' to ‘I love you'. Within the Buddhist context love is usually associated with the word metta from the Pali scriptural language meaning unconditional love or loving-kindness. This type of love is not restricted to any person, situation or condition, it is one of acceptance.   Another scriptural reference to this is what are called the four immeasurable: unconditional love, sympathetic joy, equanimity and compassion. Below is part of the chanting we take part in at the community where I live.


I will abide pervading one quarter with a heart imbued with loving-kindness;

likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth;

so above and below, around and everywhere; and to all as to myself.

I will abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a heart imbued

with loving-kindness;

abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill-will.


On a day-to-day basis this type of unconditional love seems impractical. How can you unconditionally love a murderer, or a rapist? Living within a contemplative tradition, one based on developing wisdom and understanding, we try to get to the core of: ‘what is love?' This is my continuing journey - trying to understand and live this. There are two levels within Buddhism: the mundane and the supermundane; that is the worldly and the spiritual. Sometimes to understand the supermundane you need some skilful means.  One skilful means I have used to come to terms with what love is is using the Jungian archetype of the lover as defined by Robert Moore.[1] The ‘lover' energy defined in this way is the life-force, the sensing or feeling realm, sensitivity to beauty or aesthetics. 


The power of love

If you are unable to access the lover energy, you are down, have a lack of meaning in your life. You can try accessing this by imagining yourself in a beautiful walled garden, a safe place to feel and sense the world - it is the place of art and the artist - creativity - spirituality. If, on the other hand, you have too much of this, you are prone to addiction, and that needs boundaries. Matthew Fox talks about this brilliantly, and in essence the problem with addiction is one of cosmology: understanding where to place love within the overall structure of who we are.[2] 


If we bring this sort of knowledge into meditation, we can have a very powerful practice. By quieting the mind/body, or accepting the way things are, we get to see how love appears in all its shapes and forms of desire, sensitivity, passion, lust, peacefulness: we discover the causes and conditions for it. A very simple way of seeing how this works is with food. Take your favourite food, put it in front of you, and wait. Watch the desire, the salivation in the mouth, the wanting-to-grab it. Then slowly go towards it and then taste it, chew it, eat it. At this point in my experience there is very little sense of self - one is merged with the object. Then notice that the feeling starts to fade away and usually, if the taste was strong, we want to start again. Were you satisfied? This is not to deny the pleasure of the senses; sometimes Buddhist practices can get confused with denial or asceticism. I see this more in the sense of being able to moderate one's behaviour, for the benefit of being healthy and peaceful.


So how do you deal with being unsatisfied?

The Buddha's fundamental teaching is the four noble truths, or in modern terms enabling spiritual technology, which in its simplest form is: there is suffering and there is a way out of it. Suffering arises because we want something or want to get rid of something (want love - want to get rid of love). This suffering comes from having a sensitive form, which feels and needs stimulation. Suffering is not an additional spiritual practice to try and create.  Suffering ends when the conditions for suffering are removed or by noticing the way conditions for suffering are formed. Awareness, the ability to witness without being involved with the object, is a way of liberating yourself from suffering. This gives you the spontaneity and power to live full in the world with a body without shame - to play and display. We can then love others as we do ourselves - unconditionally.


Unconditional love comes with a caveat - this does not mean that you allow yourself to be used by others. The power of knowing what love is, is that it comes with a healthy sense of boundaries and respect. If this is abused in any form, unconditional love manifests as forgiveness and as I have said in other essays it is not wasting energy in negative emotions, but wishing the best for that person and not getting involved.


The question I leave you with is: who do you really love and why?

[1] Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Spirituality in the Graduate Center of the Chicago Theological Seminary -

[2] - also see audio: Addiction and the Quest for the infinite with Matthew Fox

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