Tonight’s class was not about any one topic but as it was the last class with this particular teacher he commenced with a longer than usual meditation and then just opened the floor to questions. One question, which I think is quite a common question to those learning about Buddhism for the first time, was; how can we love without attachment?
The English language is quite vague about the definitions of love. Love can mean the love between family members, the love of music, the love of an object (e.g. I love that car!), sexual desire or even as a term of endearment (e.g. my husband and I refer to each other as “my love”). All of these types of love involve attachment and involvement of the ego and the I. But True Love means there is no I. With True Love, we foresake ourselves entirely for another. Think about it. Entirely. And it doesn’t stop there. We can not discriminate our family and friends over enemies and strangers. Just because we know someone and have formed attachments to them doesn’t mean that they are more deserving than others. Even our enemies have mother’s who are equally as attached to them as we are to our family. True Love doesn’t seperate object from object. We are all equal, and not only are we equal but there is actually no distinction between us at the fundamental level. We are all just energy. There is no “I” or “you” to be attached to one another there is only love. Woa that was a bit deep! Let’s keep on track.
This isn’t to say that we all must become doormats for the sake of everyone else’s happiness. Buddhism teaches that we too must be happy. This creates all sorts of complex ethical scenarios. It can be quite tricky. I think a prime example that I face daily is with my 3 year old. I’ve mentioned before that he is very trying at times, a typical 3 year old. He would be over the moon if I let him stay up all night. It would make him very happy. But his happiness wouldn’t last long as he would be tired and cranky the next day and my husband and I would not get any time on our own together. As a result we enforce a bed time and sometimes my son is not very happy about this at all and in fact is very cranky indeed. I think the concept of short term pain for long term gain or doing something for the greater good is not unfamiliar to us all. It is not a new lesson, but it can be difficult to know exactly the right action to take in the moment in order to ensure the most benefit to everyone.
So what do we do? We meditate. An enlightened being knows instantly and effortlessly exactly the right thing to do, the right action to take, that is going to have the most benefit to the most people. Can you imagine how wonderful that must be? I am so motivated by this that I have started drafting a post solely on Compassion. True Love is truly wanting another to be happy and simultaneously Compassion is truly wanting another to be free from all pain and suffering. But I digress… back to loving without attachment.
So the above was a little bit of understanding what love is and how we need to love in the right way, but the question the student asked was how can we be not attached to those that we love? People often assume that Buddhists must be cold and distant people because they need to be detached from their loved ones. Buddhism shows us that to be attached to our loved ones only causes suffering- both our own and theirs – and we all have examples of this in our own life or if not, just look at the newspaper and you will see the damage such attachment is having everywhere. You see attachment comes from our ego. Our ego says it must have such an object of love and beauty, it must own it and be a part of it. It must bask in the glory of this beautiful person and let other’s see you with them as this reflects upon ourselves. I must be so beautiful and wonderful if I have this beautiful and wonderful person as my own. Attachment can make us do crazy things for fear of losing that beauty, that loved one. Think of domestic violence, usually the perpetrator loves their victim so much so they feel they have to beat and threaten them into never leaving. I hate to simplify domestic violence in that way but hopefully you can see the negative effects of attachment I’m talking about. Even on a very basic level, if we are attached to our loved ones we feel terrible pain and suffer badly if that person gets sick or, and it will happen eventually, passes away. There is a great analogy that goes something like this: imagine your loved one as a beautiful butterfly sitting on the palm of your open hand. They are free to fly away whenever they want. We enjoy their company and admire their beauty. If we become attached to them we may want to close our palm thereby keeping them with us forever, hoping that we may avoid the pain if we were to lose them. However by doing so we would crush their wings and hurt them terribly if not kill them. So the right way to love would be to keep the palm open and ensure that they are happy and free from suffering. We remain unattached but still love them with great emotion. We also know that we will eventually be separated in some way or another. Nothing is permanent and everything is impermanent. If we know this, we will not suffer when our loved one leaves as we already know that this was always to be. There is another teaching that comes to mind from some text I have obviously read in the past, and that is, be careful where you place your happiness. If you place your happiness in that loved one you will inevitably suffer pain.
I am certain that I have not done the topic of Loving without Attachment justice but I am going to publish this post anyway as I’m also sure the topic will come up again in subsequent postings. This blog after all is about the lessons I am learning and believe me I need to learn lessons over and over again in order to continually obtain and reinforce their benefits. If it is a bit haphazard I apologise, my mind is incredibly busy which is why I must meditate as much as I can.
I think it is appropriate to conclude this post with the prayer of the Four Immeasurable Thoughts.
May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness;
May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering;
May all sentient beings never be seperated from the happiness that knows no suffering;
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from attachment and anger that hold some close and others distant.