The survival of love has always baffled me.
I see the number of relationships falling apart around me increasing by the day. No family—or friendship—is devoid of arguments. Even our relationship with ourselves appears to be crumbling at times.
When my relationships break down, I find myself questioning why. It took me a long time to figure out that I was raising question marks over the wrong things.
The foundation of every relationship with others is love. Thus, when the relationship disintegrates, we believe there must be something wrong with the way we love.
I’ve come to realize, through the Buddhist teachings of Lama Yeshe, that the way we perceive love is skewed.
Why is our notion of love wrong?
Buddhists believe that as long as we are driven by attachment, everything we do will be superficial—including the way we love.
We say we love someone, but often we find that our “I love you” actually means “I want to take advantage of you.” We don’t verbally claim it, but if we look deeper there’s a selfish expectation beneath our expressions of affection.
The way we love others is an unconscious way of getting something in return from them. From the Dharma point of view, this is poor-quality love—or not even love at all.
I realized how true this was for me when I took an Introduction to Buddhism course. Rarely have I loved without expecting to get something in return. My love for others wasn’t authentic because my expectations exceeded what these people had to offer me.
How does “wrong” love work?
Yeshe gives an astounding explanation on how our narrow mind keeps singling out one object. The Earth contains countless atoms, but we choose only one, “I love this atom. I only want this atom.” There are countless atoms throughout all of space, but because we’re ruled by attachment our minds choose only one.
Then, when we encounter another atom, we feel insecure, “I really love my atom. I’m not sure about the other one.” In other words, our ego fixates on one good object, trusts it, owns it, and automatically dislikes other objects.
We all know intellectually that things are impermanent. But looking more closely into how our ego interprets objects, we find that we are expecting them to last.
Yeshe offers a further explanation on this:
“When two people get married, their ego’s interpretation is that they should be together forever, in life and even after death. It’s so exaggerated. There is no way people can make that kind of decision. It’s not up to them; it’s up to karma. Uncontrollably, karmic energy decides which partner lives and which one dies. And when one finally does, the other misses him or her badly and experiences tremendous suffering.
All that worry and weeping, missing and memory, comes from the two mental departments of ego and attachment. Not understanding the impermanent nature of phenomena and expecting to live happily ever after, as ego and attachment wish, brings the reaction of misery.”
What is true love?
Buddhism finally offered me the answer I’ve been seeking for years—true love wants others to be happy.
Say we’re in a room and a friend comes in with a delicious cake and gives it to one person. We become jealous. On the surface, our reaction seems to be all about the cake, but if we investigate more we’ll find that our minds are really thinking: “I don’t want this one person to be happy. I want to be happy.”
Reflecting on my relationships, I find an undeniable truth in the Buddhist view of love. The underlying cause of every argument I’ve ever had with others was caused by running after makes me happy.
Once we understand this concept, it’s almost impossible to agonize over people leaving our lives. Even breakups become natural if we comprehend that the other person is leaving to be happy.
How do we practice true love?
1. Be compassionate.
Think about what others want, instead of just what we want. Generating compassion for others helps us to become concerned for their welfare and ours.
Renouncing doesn’t mean getting rid of everyone and everything. Renunciation is mental. Instead of perceiving people and things as important, we should lessen their value and not overestimate their nature.
When we know that all phenomena are transitory, we expect things to disappear instead of getting attached to them and hence, loving them with inappropriate expectations.
4. Equalize others.
We usually build up a hallucination of “I” and make it more important than anyone else. When we see ourselves as equal with everyone else, there comfort becomes as important as ours.
Know that we are all seeking happiness. I always ask myself, “How do I wish to be loved?” I want to be loved unconditionally, without expectations, and without ego involvement. Thinking of this, I give others the love I wish to receive.
Ask yourself today, “How do I wish to be loved?”
Introduction to Buddhism course, Tushita Meditation Center.
Ego, Attachment and Liberation, Lama Yeshe.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Nicole Cameron