How would Buddha love? By seeing everything as fundamentally like himself
If one’s thoughts towards spirituality were of the same intensity as those towards love, one would become a Buddha in this very body, in this very life.”
–from the Love Poems of the Sixth Dalai Lama
Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite American holidays. The fact that this heart-centered if over-commercialized day falls around the same time as Tibetan New Year reminds me to make new year’s resolutions relating to those I love and renew my commitment to cultivating goodness of heart. These resolutions usually involve opening my heart and mind; listening better; learning to forgive and to love even those I don’t like; and coming to accept and bless the world, rather than fighting with it or trying to escape from it. As Zen Master Dogen says: “To study the Buddha Way is to be intimate with all things.”
Some say we are here in this world to learn and to evolve in consciousness. Certainly primary among life’s lessons is how to love and to love well, and to BE love, as well to give and receive it. I believe love is central to happiness, growth and fulfillment.
How would Buddha love? By seeing every single being, human and otherwise, as fundamentally like himself, and thus able to treat them and love them in the way he would be treated. We call this infinitely benevolent, selfless love, Bodhicitta or the Awakened Heart, the very spirit of enlightenment.
One can find this taught beautifully in the “Loving-kindness Sutra“; in Shantideva’s classic “The Way of the Bodhisattva“; in Atisha’s “Mind Training and Attitude Transformation”; and in Togmed’s “Thirty Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas“… As well as in the Old Testament.
Each relationship and every single encounter can be a vehicle for meaningful spiritual connection, through the transformative magic of Bodhicitta. Buddha taught that this Bodhicitta or spiritual love has four active arms, known as the Four Boundless Heartitudes, and four expressive faces known as the Four Forms of Compassion in action. This is how we love, Buddha-style: impartial to all, free from excessive attachment or false hope and expectation; accepting, tolerant, and forgiving. Buddhist nonattachment doesn’t imply complacence or indifference, or not having committed relationships or being passionately engaged with society, but rather has to do with our effort to defy change and resist the fact of impermanence and our mortality. By holding on to that which in any case is forever slipping through our fingers, we just get rope burn.
Buddhist love is based on recognizing our fundamental interconnectedness and knowing that all beings are like ourselves in wanting and needing happiness, safety, fulfillment, and not wanting suffering and misery. The Dalai Lama says, “If you want to be wisely selfish, care for others.” All the happiness and virtue in this world comes from selflessness and generosity, all the sorrow from egotism, selfishness, and greed.
The immaculate image of Buddhist love is the four-armed Avalokitsevara, known as Chenrayzig in Tibet and Kuan Yin in China. Each of his/her four arms represent one of the Four Boundless Attitudes, and each one of her four radiant faces or aspects – peaceful, magnetizing, powerful, and fierce-express one of the four styles or modes of active compassion.
We might, for example, think of Buddhist spirituality as peace-loving, calm, virtuous and nonviolent; but in the case of a child or a pet running into the street, the active sides of compassion’s calm heart spontaneously blaze forth, even as the loving center remains unchanged. Thus, the selfless Bodhisattva could possibly use force for the greater good, to protect, or to prevent harm and so forth, and need not be passive in the face of danger or when there is need for skillful, appropriate action.
The first arm of Buddhist love is maitri or lovingkindness, a boundless feeling of friendliness and wishing well for others. Maitri, or metta in the Pali language, implies friendliness: befriending and accepting yourself, your body and mind, and the world.
The second is karuna, or compassion, empathy, being moved by feeling what others feel. The third arm is upeksha, equanimity, recognizing the equality of all that lives. This recognition leads to the wisdom of detachment but not indifference or complacence, which are its near enemies.
The fourth arm is mudita, spiritual joy and satisfaction. This includes rejoicing in the virtue and success of others, — the antidote to envy and jealousy.
The essence of Buddhist relationship is to cultivate the cling-free relationship, enriched with caring and equanimity. It is helpful in intimate relationships to communicate honestly, stay present, tell the truth of your experience using I-statements rather than accusations and judgments, and honor the other enough to show up with an open heart and mind and really listen.
Passion becomes compassion when we bring it into the path, when we recognize every moment in life as a possibility of awakening. Human love and sexual consummation can be like the tip of the iceberg of divine love, an ecstatic intimation of eternity, a portal to infinite depths of the groundlessness and boundarylessness that transports us beyond our limited, egoic selves. People often ask me how to find their Soul Mate, or even if I believe in such a concept. I think that rather than focusing on past lives or on finding the perfect mate in this world, we would generally do better to work on improving and developing ourselves. Make yourself the “perfect” mate, without being too perfectionistic about it, and you will be a good mate with almost anyone. When your heart is pure, your life and the entire world is pure.
We all feel the desire to possess and be possessed, to love and be loved, to connect and be embraced and to belong. However, I think that the most important thing in being together is the tenderness of a good heart. If our relationships aren’t nurturing the growth and development of goodness of heart, openness, generosity, authenticity and intimate connection, they are not serving us or furthering a better world.
To truly love people I have learned that I need to let them be, and to love and accept and appreciate them as they are (free of my projections and illusions) and not as how I would like them to be. This is equally true for loving and accepting oneself.
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana writes, in his “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: “Whatever attitudes we habitually use toward ourselves, we will use on others, and whatever attitudes we habitually use toward others, we will use on ourselves. The situation is comparable to our serving food to ourselves and to other people from the same bowl. Everyone ends up eating the same thing–we must examine carefully what we are dishing out.”
I notice that children let go of anger and would rather be happy than right, unlike so many of us adults. Like them, my dog reminds me that love is a verb, not a noun. Staying present in this very moment, through mindful awareness and paying attention to what is– rather than dwelling on the past or the future, or on who I think I am and who I imagine others are– helps free me from excess baggage, anxiety and neurosis – and opens me to love.