I felt depressed the first time I learned what Buddhists thought about romantic relationships.
No joke—it felt like a punch in the face.
However, when I learned more about Buddhism and love, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. There is an actual solution.
Buddhism doesn’t care so much about the personal matters of our lives (like marriage, jobs and the role we play in society). Unlike other religions which often preach a strict doctrine of right and wrong, Buddhism supplies us with guidelines to assist us with those personal matters.
Buddhism explains the facts of life, suffering, and the nature of our minds. It then advises us to question the validity of what we’ve been led to believe based on how we were raised and educated. Where we find truthfulness in our personal belief system, Buddhism offers us teachings that help us deal with the suffering that comes with the territory of being human.
There is nothing that speaks about relationships and their ensuing challenges in the Sutras of Buddhism. The Buddha didn’t really care about who we fall in love with; he was more concerned about how we can eradicate life’s suffering. However, Buddhism isn’t against the notion of romantic relationships.
But, Buddhists do consider romantic coupling to be another possible source of suffering in our lives. It’s not really the relationship or the other person that inflict pain on us, rather the many mixed emotions that are associated with the relationship.
Buddhists in the present day are weaving Buddhist notions into romantic love to make it easier for us—the people who are in relationships—to lessen the conjoined suffering that comes from being with a partner.
During an interview with Thich Nhat Hanh, he was asked, “If one of the bases of the Buddhist religion is love for Mother Nature, why isn’t this also equally true of romantic love between two people?”
Thich Nhat Hanh gave a beautiful answer that is truly of benefit for every person who is romantically involved. He states that Buddha is a teacher of true love and true love can bring a lot of happiness. According to Hanh, if a romantic relationship is experienced with true love, it will also bring us a lot of happiness—or else it will make us and our partner suffer.
Thich Nhat Hanh went on to explain the four elements that are needed to constitute a healthy romantic relationship:
“First of all, Maitri; that is the capacity to offer happiness. In romantic love, if you are not able to help the other person to be happy, that is not true love. So you should train yourself in order to be able to offer happiness.
The second element of true love is compassion. Compassion is the kind of energy that can help remove suffering; that can help transform suffering in you and in the other person.
The third element of true love is joy. If by loving, you make the other person cry all the time, and you cry all the time, that is not true love. His suffering is your suffering, his happiness is your happiness.
In true love, there is the element of inclusiveness, non-discrimination. There’s no separation, no barrier, between you and the other person. In that spirit you cannot say, ‘That’s your problem!’ No. Your problem is my problem.”
As Thich Nhat Hanh said, true love means having the ability to offer true, authentic happiness. Without that happiness, both individuals will suffer.
Compassion must be cultivated by both partners or else it won’t be true love. We should be able to transform the suffering in ourselves and between ourselves and our partner into a productive force of change and personal growth.
True love means joy. We should be able to include our partner in our own happiness.
The fourth element of true love according to Buddhism is inclusiveness. There shouldn’t be “individual suffering” or “individual happiness.” There should be a united sense of happiness and suffering.
Buddha never said anything negative about romantic relationships. However, for a successful romantic relationship to emerge, we have to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion. Instead of focusing solely on our partner, we would be focusing on how to make our love grow. If we do this, our love will extend to all living beings, including plants, and animals.