Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth… This is the real message of love.
Being, non-being and interbeing.
I am so fascinated by this notion of Buddhist wisdom, which teaches us that there can be a flower only because there is everything that is not a flower!
What the heck, you may ask! Take heart. I will give some illustrations. They are not original to me but have been retold many times. Understand them and you will be fascinated too, and maybe you’ll think on it some more. Eventually, you may have a glimmer, as I do, of the brilliance of this ancient path.
Suppose I strike a match on its box, causing it to burst into flame. Where did the flame come from? Was it nothing before I performed my act of striking the match? And when I blow it out, will it go back to being nothing again? No. A scientist will tell you that, for fire to happen, there must necessarily be the correct combination of elements, which were all present when I struck the match. I simply helped bring together the conditions for the flame to manifest as such.
Consider a thing, an object. Think of a piece of paper. Was it once nothing and then suddenly became? When did it come to be something? Was it at the paper mill, when the pulp from a tree was run through the paper-making processes? No, there was still something. The tree, that gave its fiber for the pulp, was something, as was the seed from which the tree grew. Were it not for the mill and the workers – and of course the tree – the paper would not be possible. It needed the right conditions to manifest as paper. And were it not for sun and water and soil and air, the tree would not be possible. So, when we hold a piece of paper in our hands, we are holding the mill and the workers and the sunshine and all the rest. There was never nothing.
So, for the flame and the piece of paper and the flower to manifest, there must exist all the necessary conditions. Take away the sunshine and there is no tree, no flower, no paper. Take away any one of the conditions necessary and there is no tree or flame or flower or paper. So the Buddhists say that a flower is made of non-flower elements. You cannot have a flower unless you have all the elements. Fascinating, don’t you think? This is inter-being.
Once we begin to understand inter-being, we see that everything is dependent on everything else. We are all inter-being. You yourself were never nothing. You are composed entirely of non-you elements. Take away any of it — oxygen, your ancestors, sun and water and trees – and you cannot be. Which makes it so easy to understand why we must be careful with the air and the water and the trees and each other! We all inter-are.
What is a warrior? What are the conditions under which a warrior can be said to be victorious? If we define victory as arriving at a state in which we no longer have an enemy, then we can see more than one way to be a warrior.
In Buddhist thought, a true warrior is never armed with tools of aggression or violence. That person would be seen as a coward. The definition of warriorship is fearlessness and gentleness, a quiet positive state of individual dignity, but also a kind of joy. This joy blossoms from the practice of loving kindness, and as the practitioner becomes more skilled, his or her joy increases and she is able to share her joy with those who would benefit from it.
The joy of the warrior is always needed to one degree or another, and warriors are devoted to the human spirit, and armed with compassion and insight. They train diligently to see clearly into the nature of reality, reflecting a presence that can help others recognize their own basic goodness.
A warrior has the same emotions as everyone else, but she practices transforming the energy of emotion into a positive force through mindfulness. To be mindful of your emotion is to act as a steward of the energy so that it can be used without harming anyone. Thich Nhat Hanh often speaks of such stewardship in the context of a gentle and loving older sister looking out for her little sister.
People can be supremely kind, gentle and wise despite the messages we so often receive. And while the path to becoming a warrior is a lengthy and intensive practice, there is no one who cannot begin to open themselves to warriorship today. The qualities of compassion and goodness are always available to everyone, and in these difficult times, warriors will appear wherever people commit to working together as good human beings.
It is through you that the sun shines
And the stars shed their luster,
And the earth becomes beautiful.
It is through your blessedness that
they all love and are attracted to each other.
You are in all, and you are all.
– Swami Vivekananda
When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize. The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell. In fact, that way of looking at things is what keeps us miserable. Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly.
The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last – that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for happiness and security. From this point of view, the only time we ever know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or to put ourselves to sleep. Right now – in the very instant of groundlessness – is the seed of enlightenment.
– Pema Chödrön
The great way is not difficult
for those who are unattached to their preferences.
Let go of longing and aversion,
and everything will be perfectly clear.
Cling to a hairbreadth of distinction,
and heaven and earth are set apart.
If you want to realize the truth,
don’t be for or against.
As vast as infinite space,
it is perfect and lacks nothing.
Because you select and reject,
you can’t perceive its true nature.
Don’t get tangled in the world;
don’t lose yourself in emptiness.
Be at peace in the oneness of things,
and all errors will disappear by themselves.
– third zen patriarch
If you have been reading along, you have already heard about the first three qualities of true love, maitri, karuna, and mudita. If not, you might like to read my previous posts, “the first quality of love” and “the qualities of love.”
The fourth element of true love is upeksha, which means equanimity. It may also be understood as nonattachment or nondiscrimination.
This one is a challenge in the world we inhabit today. We are inclined to give our love with attachment, discrimination or prejudice, but the Buddha would say that this is not true love. To love with equanimity, we must practice the ability to see everyone as equal, not discriminating between ourselves and others. Even when conflict arises, we can practice remaining sufficiently impartial that we are able to love the other.
To say, “I will share my love with one but not the other” is not equanimity. And also, without equanimity, your beloved may feel robbed of his or her freedom by your possessiveness. That is not loving. True love allows you to preserve your liberty and the liberty of your loved one.
For love to be true love, it must contain benevolence, compassion, joy, and equanimity. This is the story of the four immeasurable elements of true love. They are called “immeasurable” because, if you practice them, they will grow within you every day until the whole world can feel your love.
As I said in my last post, love is something that unites us all, and I believe deeply in the power of love to heal our earth.
The teachings that the Buddha gave on love are very simple, but this is clearly the crux of his entire message. Without understanding love — and practicing it — you will not understand the rest of his teaching.
Love is understood as being a combination of four qualities: (I invite you to visit my previous post, “the first quality of love,” if you have not done so already, to learn about maitri first.)
The second aspect of true love is called karuna, which is usually translated as compassion, or the intention and capacity to relieve suffering and lighten sorrows.
To develop karuna in ourselves, we need to practice looking and listening with deep concern to the real suffering of the world. When you know someone is suffering, being able to touch her pain is compassion. Being in deep communion with someone who is suffering can bring relief, giving comfort and confidence. With compassion in our hearts, the Buddha taught, every word and deed can bring about a miracle.
The third element of true love is mudita or joy. This does not need much explanation; true love will always bring joy to ourselves and to the one we love. If our love does not bring joy to both of us, it is not true love.
So, for love to exist, we must have the element of maitri, which is about bringing happiness and friendship to the one we love. We must also have compassion, and we must have the desire to bring joy to our loved one.
We are on our way! Tomorrow, I will post about the fourth quality of true love. Namasté.