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CHAPTER SIX - Boundless Love
When we are running around after our cravings and false power, we are missing out on something that is crucial to our happiness: the experience of love. With the insight of impermanence, no-self, and interbeing, we have the opportunity to experience true love. The French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said that to love another doesn’t mean we sit and look at each other; it means we both look in the same direction. We all should look deeply at our own lives to see whether in our experience this is true or not, and if it’s true, to what degree. Each of us has needs and desires, so when we love someone, we have a natural tendency to look at him. We hope to see in him the goodness, truth, and beauty we are looking for. We are thirsting for sincerity.
We are looking for something sacred, something beautiful, something good, and something wholesome.
Many of us believe that once we find these qualities in another person, we will feel we don’t lack anything, and we will be less alone.
We all start looking for the beautiful, the true, and the good in other people. Many of us believe there are only a few people who have these qualities. When we find these qualities in another person, we may fall in love with him because we believe we have discovered the essence of the true, beautiful, and good. We must be careful in this search, because we may have wrong perceptions. Sometimes the beauty we think is real is not true beauty. The truth we think is real is not real truth. And the wholesomeness we perceive is not real goodness. So we can love another based on a wrong perception. When we have gotten to know that person for a period of time, we discover that we have failed, because that person is not able to symbolize for us the beautiful, good, and true that we were looking for. We say that the person has deceived us, and we suffer. And then we go and look for someone else, another person to love. We may fail many times, falling into the same situation, growing tired of or disappointed with the other person. If we continue like this, we can spend our lives constantly looking for someone.In the beginning, each of us feels that we lack something, that we are only half a person. And we wander around looking for our other half. We’re like a saucepan without a lid, and we’re always looking for our lid. We have an inferiority complex and believe that the true, the good, and the beautiful don’t exist in us.
This is a deep complex in every one of us. We have a perception that we are not worthy. We don’t say these things—we may not even be consciously aware of them —but deep down we feel that we have no beauty, goodness, or truth.
Because we wish we had these things, we try to seem like we do, even if only on the outside. We want to show other people that we are good, that we are beautiful, even if only in appearance. In ourselves, we believe we are not really beautiful, not really good. And so we try to improve our appearance with cosmetics, clothes, diets, or plastic surgery. We want to appear more truthful and knowledgeable, so we look for things to study or unusual experiences that will bring us prestige. We adorn ourselves with titles and awards.
We are all deceiving each other. Deep down we feel there is nothing good, beautiful, and true in us, and at the same time we are desperate to show other people how good, beautiful, and truthful we are. And so we deceive ourselves from generation to generation. And while we are deceiving others, we are also being deceived by them. We are each other’s victims. We are trying to make ourselves up so we will look less ugly, and others are doing the same.
Sitting at the foot of the bodhi tree on the night when he realized the truth, the Buddha discovered something that was very surprising to him and also to us. He saw that the good, the beautiful, and the true are to be found in everyone, but very few people know that. People think that the true, the beautiful, and the good exist somewhere else, in someone else. They don’t know that they are true, beautiful, and good at their core. Our whole life, we are looking for someone else to replace what we feel is missing.
This is what the Buddha said at the moment of enlightenment: “How strange—all living beings have the fully awakened nature, but none of them knows it. And because of that they drift and sink from lifetime to lifetime in the great ocean of samsara, in suffering.” When we recognize that in us there is the essence of goodness, beauty, and truth, we will stop going in search of something. We will stop wandering around feeling that we lack something. And we are able to stop deceiving others. We don’t have to adorn ourselves because we have discovered the true, the beautiful, and the good here within us.
We are like an ocean wave that believes it is fragile and ugly and that the other waves are more beautiful, more powerful. The wave has an inferiority complex.
But when this wave gets in touch with its true nature, water, it sees that water goes beyond all concepts of beautiful, ugly, high, low, here, and there. Whether it’s a large wave or a small wave, half a wave or a third of a wave, it is still made out of water. Water is beyond all these qualifications—it is without birth and without death. A wave is really only water, and as far as water is concerned, all waves are equal because all waves are water.
Everyone who lives in this world—women, men, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, sick, healthy—they all have this basis of goodness, beauty, and truth. Don’t go looking outside yourself anymore, because the thing you are looking for is already there within you. All living beings have the pure, clear, complete nature within themselves. And everyone has to return to herself to be in touch properly with that beautiful, good, and true that is within her. When you have been in touch with this inner nature, you will put an end to the many lifetimes of searching and have a steadfast faith in yourself. Then you will have happiness; you will have peace.
The Buddha said we each have beauty within us, but this may be hard to accept if in our home, our community, and our workplace we’re getting a different message. Many of us believe our workplace is not a safe place. Often at work, we are afraid of disapproval. We are afraid to be ourselves, and we change who we are to be accepted. If your happiness depends entirely on the views of other people, you have no confidence in yourself. Then, when you are not recognized by others as beautiful and worthy, you suffer. This is what makes you want to be someone else, something else, which is the foundation of suffering.
A flower doesn’t have this kind of fear. It stands in a garden with many other kinds of flowers, some pink or yellow, some with many petals, others with just a few.But a flower never tries to imitate another flower. Don’t try to be someone else. You don’t need plastic surgery.
The cosmos has come together and helped you manifest in this way, and you are beautiful just as you are. To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be beautiful as a lotus flower; don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.
There was a young man who came to Plum Village to become a monk. He had many difficulties because he craved recognition for his good looks and his talent. His whole life he was looking for acceptance from other people. He thought he would find it as a monk, but he still suffered. If three or four monks were sharing joyfully and communicating well, when that young monk tried to join in, the atmosphere of joy stopped. It wasn’t because they tried to exclude him. His energy of demanding recognition dominated the environment and made it difficult for others to be joyful around him.
One day I called him in and said, “Your seeking recognition is causing you suffering. You may want to experiment with being yourself and coming to others without the need to be recognized. If you practice mindfulness to see the suffering and the needs of other people in the community, the need to be recognized will not be so strong in you anymore. When you approach others like that, people will accept you much more easily. And if you really have beautiful qualities and talents, they will recognize them.”
At first the monk resisted this. So many years of seeking were hard to change. But slowly, he began to have moments when he forgot to seek and demand.
Happiness crept up on him.
We have ideas about what beauty is, about what we value, and these ideas may be obstacles to our happiness. We imagine things, we construct things in our mind, and we suffer because of it. We are afraid people are judging us, and it is this fear, rather than the actual judgment, that upsets us. The suffering is created entirely in our own minds.
The practice of love as taught by the Buddha is very clear. It involves cultivating the equanimity that comes from the insight of no-self. When we understand that every thing is made of everything else, we stop searching for the perfect partner or for individual recognition. We can learn to look in this way when we look at another person and when we look at ourselves.
Everything that manifests itself in this world is a wonder. Practicing seeing things through these eyes can help us see ourselves as wonders of life.
There are occasions when the lack of understanding between you and another is really there. You may be misunderstood by many people, and yet you don’t have to suffer. Just live your life properly and, after a while, others will correct their misperception of you.
You know what is going on inside you. You know how your mind is. If every day you produce positive thinking, good ideas, with understanding and compassion; if every day you practice loving speech; if every day you do good actions, you know it yourself.
Your value will reveal itself to the people around you. It may take a few days or several weeks, it may even take years. But if you know who you are, you don’t have to suffer anymore. The practice of understanding yourself and training yourself to produce more and more beautiful thoughts, words, and actions gives you self-confidence, and that will transform everything else.
Remember that the first spiritual power is faith. The Buddha, or any of the other great spiritual teachers, didn’t want us to be slaves, dependent on someone else for our confidence. He didn’t want people to lean on him. He was very clear: “You have what you are looking for within yourself.” In our own nature, there is a teacher we can turn to and take refuge in. You can have faith in the basic goodness, the basic beauty, and the basic truth that is in you. You have to go back to yourself and discover it. It is your own ground of being.
It is the basis of your true power.
When we look at the person we love, we can look at him with this understanding. We can say to our beloved, “Let’s not live in this narrow way anymore. Let’s both return to our own basis. Let’s not deceive each other anymore. We don’t need to deceive each other, because the thing we are looking for is already there in us.” Then you become friends on the spiritual path, a path that leads us not on an outer search but on an inner one.
When we love someone, we feel strong, we feelpowerful. We feel happy because we have found a companion who can understand us. That energy is pure and beautiful. But we need to take care of that energy with mindfulness. If we don’t know how to take care of our love, it can easily turn into suffering. When understanding is there, we know what to do and what not to do to bring happiness and peace to the other person. This is true love. We nourish our understanding by practicing deep listening and loving speech. Without true love, you can’t be happy at all.
When you fall in love without the five spiritual powers, you risk depending on the other person’s beauty or goodness instead of your own. But if you have mindfulness and concentration, you know how to handle your love, and the love will not create suffering in you and your beloved. Love is an energy. Is it giving rise to more craving, to more anxiety and fear? Or does it give us the energy of peace, of compassion and liberation? In Buddhism we are encouraged to love every living being as a mother loves her only child; this is called boundless love. It is a tremendous source of energy. With the power of mindfulness, of concentration and insight, we can transform our limited love into a source of boundless love.
The Buddha spoke about four elements that constitute true love: the capacity to be kind and offer happiness, maitri in Sanskrit; compassion, the capacity to relieve suffering, karuna; the capacity to bring joy every day, mudita; and finally, the capacity of
nondiscrimination, upeksha. When there is true love, there is nondiscrimination. The pain of the other is our own pain; the happiness of the other is our own happiness. In the light of nondiscrimination, happiness and pain are collective and not individual. If we do not understand our partner, if we do not share in her suffering, this is not love at all; it’s just consuming the other person to satisfy our own individual needs. True love is characterized by attentiveness, respect. If we have this attention, then when we see the suffering of the other person, we can’t go on causing them pain. If we have respect, we cannot go on like that.
To make our love meaningful, we need to nourish our bodhicitta, our mind of boundless love and compassion.
Our limited love actually can help us. One relationship can be a foundation for gaining more insight into our situation and the situation of the world. We can cultivate in ourselves the five spiritual powers of faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, and insight, and we can support our beloved in cultivating her powers.
First, we learn to love one person with all our understanding and insight; then we expand that love to embrace another person, and another, until our love is truly boundless.
When we meditate, we look deeply to nourish our
joy and peace, and to embrace our suffering and transform it into wisdom and liberation. Love is no different from meditation. It is what we do with our love that makes it into a spiritual power. Our aim is to transform our limited love into true love, boundless love, offering ourselves and others the great gifts of compassion, transformation, and healing.
Ananda was the Buddha’s cousin. One day he went on an alms round to receive offerings of food. He stopped at a well to ask for some water because he was thirsty. Sitting by the well was a young woman called Matanga. She was a dalit, a member of what was called, at that time, the untouchable caste. The higher castes would not touch or come near them because they believed the untouchables would pollute them. So when Ananda asked for water, she said, “No, I can’t give it to you because I am an untouchable and I will pollute you.” Ananda said, “In our teaching, there is no caste division. The Buddha has told us that we are all equal, therefore you can give me water. I won’t be polluted, so don’t be afraid.” Matanga was very happy. She lifted the water with a ladle and gave it to him to drink. He joined his palms, thanked her, and went home.
Matanga fell in love with Ananda. She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t eat, because she kept thinking about how beautiful, good, and kind he was. When her mother saw that her daughter couldn’t sleep or eat for many weeks, she wanted to help her.
So one day they met Ananda as he was going on an alms round, and they invited him to come to their house so they could make offerings. When he came in, they gave him a bowl of tea made from an herb that took away his clarity. As soon as Ananda drank the tea, he knew something felt wrong, and he didn’t know how to put it right. He knew he was in a dangerous situation, so he began to practice meditation. He didn’t say anything; he didn’t do anything. He sat in the cross-legged position and began to follow his breathing.The Buddha, who was in the Jeta Grove, wondered why Ananda had not returned. So he asked two other monks to go and look for Ananda. They found Ananda sitting in meditation in Matanga’s house and led him back to the Jeta Grove Monastery. Matanga was weeping so hard that they also brought her back to the monastery. By the time Ananda came back to the monastery, the effect of the tea was wearing off, and he prostrated himself before the Buddha and thanked him for helping him return.
Then Matanga came in. The Buddha asked Matanga to sit down. He said, “Do you love Ananda that much?” And Matanga said, “Yes, I love him very much.” And the Buddha said, “What do you love in Ananda? Do you love his eyes? His nose?” Matanga replied, “I love his eyes, I love his nose, I love his ears, I love his mouth. I love everything about Ananda. I think I cannot live if I don’t have Ananda.” The Buddha said, “There are many things in Ananda that you haven’t seen and that you would love even more if you could see them.”
“Like what?” she asked.
The Buddha smiled and said, “Like Ananda’s love,like Ananda’s bodhicitta. All you’ve seen is eyes, nose, ears, mouth. As a young man, he gave up his life in a wealthy family to become a monk, with the aim of helping many people. Ananda could never be happy with one or two people, because that happiness is so small. That is why he became a monk. He wants to be able to help many, many people. He has a mind of great equality. He wants to love but not just one person. He wants to love thousands and thousands of people.
Ananda’s bodhicitta is very beautiful. If only you could see it, you would love Ananda even more.
“If you really love Ananda, you can help him realize his deep aspiration as a monk, help him realize his bodhicitta. Ananda is like a cool breeze. If you want to possess it and lock it in a small box, you will lose this refreshing cool breeze. Ananda is like a cloud floating in the blue sky, very beautiful. If you want to catch the cloud and put it in a box and turn the key, then you will kill Ananda, because you haven’t seen the most beautiful things about him. If you were to see them, you would love him more, and you would love him in a way that would help him be Ananda, just as you can help a cloud be a cloud floating in the beautiful blue sky.“Don’t think that Ananda is the only one who has that beautiful aspiration. You are the same. You have that beauty, too. You can also live like Ananda, if you really love Ananda and you are able to see his bodhicitta. You will be able to return to yourself and see that you have bodhicitta in yourself, and you can vow to Ananda that you too will live in such a way as to make as many people happy as possible.”
When Matanga heard this, she was surprised. She said, “I don’t have any worth. I belong to the lowest caste. I can’t make anybody happy.” The Buddha said, “Yes, you have already done it. You already have the beautiful, good, and true in you. Everyone has that. And if we return to ourselves, and we are able to be in touch with that basic goodness, truth, and beauty in us, we will have faith in it, and we will know that we can bring happiness to many people.” Matanga asked, “Is that really so? Can I really leave the family life, become a nun, and help thousands of people like Ananda?” And the Buddha said, “Yes, why not? If you can be in touch with the true, good, and beautiful in you, and give rise to bodhicitta, you will be like Ananda and bring happiness to many people.” Herinsight was opened by the Buddha, and she touched the earth before him. She became a nun so that her love could open up and become measureless.
Also in the time of the Buddha, there was a monk named Vaikali. He became attached to the Buddha, but his love was superficial. He saw the Buddha as a realm of light. When he sat near the Buddha, he felt very happy, and that’s all he wanted. He felt so peaceful, so happy, so content sitting by the Buddha. He didn’t listen deeply or carefully to the dharma talks. He just spent his time gazing at the Buddha. But even though he was staring right at the Buddha, he could see only his shadow; he could see only the small beauty of the Buddha. He didn’t see the great wisdom, the great love of the Buddha. Wherever he was, he just wanted to be with the Buddha. Wherever he sat, he just wanted to sit near the Buddha.
After a time, the Buddha saw that Vaikali was still very weak. So the Buddha decided he wouldn’t allow Vaikali to be near him anymore. He would not allow him to be his attendant. Vaikali thought the Buddha had abandoned him and didn’t love him anymore. Vaikali wanted to kill himself. The Buddha knew this was happening, so he tried to find a way to save him. The Buddha came and asked, “What are you doing?” He helped Vaikali see that his love wasn’t the deep love of a monk but a superficial attachment. The Buddha showed him that in his own self, deep down, there was the beautiful, the good, and the true, and he should be looking for that instead of chasing after an image of the good, beautiful, and true outside him.
At first, people are infatuated with an image they see as beautiful. They want to possess this image, and they suffer because of this. But after they wake up and see that it is a deception, they push away this image to look for another object of infatuation. They may wander their whole lives, from lifetime to lifetime, unable to find the real object of their love. But if we can find someone who has a steady faith in her own goodness, beauty, and truth, we can look at this person as a reflection of ourselves in order to return to ourselves and be in touch with the basic goodness, beauty, and truth in us. Then we will be happy, we will be able to put an end to our wandering. We can become someone who loves all beings, not just one person. We become someone who serves others. That is all the Buddha did in his life—rescue and love other beings.
A good spiritual teacher can show us that in our own heart we also have a spiritual teacher and we have to take refuge in this teacher inside us rather than becoming attached to a teacher outside us, because the spiritual teacher outside may be a fake. A true teacher will always encourage us to be in touch with the teacher within us. If we take refuge in this teacher within us, we will never be disappointed. If a wave has faith in its nature of water, the wave will never be disappointed.
Just as our true teacher is within us, the real object of our love is ourselves. We have to know how to love ourselves, how to return to our true nature, to see the wholesome, the good, the true, and the beautiful within us. Then we will be able to see it in others. When we have seen real beauty, goodness, and truth in ourselves and others, we will no longer be deceived by outer displays. When we love someone, we have the duty to look at that person in such a way that our vision is not obscured by wrong perceptions. True goodness contains true beauty and authentic truth. This is the insight of interbeing. Truth is always beautiful.
Kindness is always beautiful. And beauty is always true and kind.
Together with our beloved, we can practice being in touch with the beauty, goodness, and truth within us, so that we can help ourselves and numberless others.
This is the path of the Buddha. Whether we are nun or monk, wife or husband, girlfriend or boyfriend, we have to stop deceiving ourselves and others, and allowing others to deceive us. The great awakening occurs when we recognize that what we are looking for is within us.
Then our suffering will end and we will be happy.
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