You always hurt the ones you love. Relationships take work. Marriage is complicated. You can’t love others if you don’t love yourself.
To a Westerner, the experience of love can be a roller coaster of challenging experiences. From passion and romance to pain and heartbreak, the ups and downs of intimate relationships can leave us all a little weary.
But it need not be this way. There are other ways to think about and frame love in our minds and hearts. While hopeless romantics will describe love as the great ineffable, Buddhist philosophy provides us with a simple but profound definition: love is a genuine concern for another person’s well being.
It’s quite simple: if you care about someone, you love them. If someone cares about you, you are loved. That’s it. There isn’t any fear of abandonment, insecurity, lying, cheating or game-playing. If you love someone, you want them to be happy. You don't want them to suffer. You wish them well-being, health and joy.
In other words, feeling love does not require being in an intimate relationship. We do not have to search the world over for love by browsing through online profiles and going on countless dates to find that right person. To a Buddhist, love is not found out there in the world, love is found right here in our hearts.
The highest emotions
Love—from this perspective—is like a river. The source of the river is our hearts and our infinite capacities to love. The path of the river is our attention and our ability to consciously direct it to the people we care about. As our river of love flows across the people in our lives, both our love and the person we love are transformed.
These concepts are outlined in the teachings of the Brahma Viharas, noble virtues that symbolize the highest emotions a person can embody. These noble qualities arise when our love touches others.
Love springs up in tender concern, it blossoms into caring action. It makes beauty out of all we touch. In any moment we can step beyond our small self and embrace each other as beloved parts of a whole. - Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace
When our genuine concern touches a person who is suffering, our love transforms into karuna, or compassion. Their pain becomes our pain, and we experience what Buddhist scriptures call the “quivering of the pure heart,” and a desire for this person to be alleviated of their suffering.
When our love touches someone who is doing ok in their lives, it turns into metta, or loving-kindness, a desire for that person to be happy. Metta is often described as an “unstoppable friendliness,” or an overflowing of goodwill where we care about a person and want the best for them.
Lastly, when our love touches someone who is successful and happy, our love turns into mudita, or sympathetic joy. In mudita, our happiness is their happiness.
With this understanding, our love becomes quite easy. When we love someone, we care about them, we want the best for them, we want them to be happy. If they are suffering, we feel compassion. If they are doing ok, we feel kindness. If they are doing well, we rejoice.
Simplify your love
One monk described a Zen garden as, “not empty, but abundant in simplicity.” Seeing the elegant simplicity of Buddhist love clears open a vast field of potential for our hearts to step into. We can freely and openly extend our loving attention to others, from our friends to our coworkers to strangers on the street.
We do not have any reason to hold back our love, since we are not giving anything away. We can love others more easily and also tap into a deep love for ourselves. Even the pain of others and ourselves is held in the arms of love through compassion and kindness.
Let the disciple cultivate love without measure toward all beings. Let him cultivate toward the whole world--above, below, around--a heart of love unstinted… This state of heart is the best in the world. - The Buddha (source)
Just as the sun offers its light so freely, we can light up the world with this love. By recognizing that every human being seeks happiness, we can let our river of love cover the entire world with kindness and compassion.
Nothing can compare to such an all-encompassing love. As the Buddha put it, “this state of heart is the best in the world.”
Let your love grow
But we do not have to be Buddhists to bring these ideas into our lives. We only need an open heart. During even the most challenging times of love and loss, passion and betrayal, connection and abandonment, lust and boredom, we can stay rooted in our own hearts, in a love that is always available.
You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. - Jon Kabat-Zinn
Our perfect love then simplifies our imperfect relationships, where we no longer complicate them, no longer confuse real connection with codependency or attachment. For simplicity is not found in eliminating the challenges of life, but sailing through them with elegance and grace.
Zach recently launched a Publishizer campaign to publish his new book, The Seven Lessons of Love: Heart Wisdom for Troubling Times. Discover new perspectives on love by preordering a copy today.