April 8, 2012

The Buddhist Notion of Love (Hint: it’s not about Us)

“When I fall in love, truly, our love will help one another to face outward, not merely inward.” Read Waylon Lewis’ thoughts on what love means from a Buddhist perspective.

Too often, these days, dating is fast. Fast food, fast dating. Slow down. Get to know. And something special might, might, might just happen.
Instead of deciding whether we like each other or not like *that* or making out and jumping into bed like *this,* grow some friendship, before anything else—that’s the foundation of a mindful kind of love.

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness

and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but

make not a bond of love:

let it rather be a moving sea


the shores of your souls.”

~ Kahlil Gibran


This is an edited, shortened, tightened version of “Love is Selfish.” It appeared in Origin Magazine, Fall, 2012.

I’m in love with a woman I’ve never met.

But we do know each other. And one thing she said that I love is that

“being in love is of secondary importance”

…she said it in response to my concerns about our future hypothetical love, marriage and baby carriage.

See also: The Four Noble Truths of Love

She said,

“I don’t need to go on a lifelong romantic picnic—I have things to do”

I loved her for saying that. I’ve always thought fun was fun…for an hour or so. Then, fun is boring. You know what’s always fun? Serving the greater good by doing something you’re good at. Whether that’s dance or teaching or politicking or working the counter at a corner store or being a nurse or what.

The kind of love I’ve been brought up to look for isn’t a lifelong picnic. It’s a partnership, with loneliness built in.

In the Buddhist tradition, there’s no “tying the knot.” There’s no two candles, two souls “becoming one.” Instead of facing one another, completing one another (Jerry Maguire) and living happily ever after (which only happens in fiction and even then they never show, they just tell), the Buddhist visualization of a successful marriage is this:

Two friends (who want to make out constantly) facing the same direction together, symbolically east—the direction of the rising sun—as in our awakening, fundamentally a-ok human nature. Walking the path together. Helping one another to be of benefit.

Society’s notion of matrimonial love is what’s selfish. I know a lot of folks who do good for the world…until they have a wife, husband, children…and suddenly they have an unarguable excuse to forget this whole holy fucked up wonderful world that is crying, dying, begging, pleading and needing our help.

So I say this: I don’t just want to love a woman who loves me. That’s a good start: half the battle.

But the whole battle—love is war—is if she looks at me and says, “go free, do your thing, and in return I want to be able to go free, and do my thing, and your thing and my thing may be totally different, you might travel, I might travel, you might want to work instead of having dinner and I might want to work instead of having dinner…”

When I find a girl who loves what the whole point of life is…

“And while I’m here I’ll do the work. And what’s the work? To ease the pain of living — everything else, drunken dumbshow” – Allen Ginsberg

…more than our marriage, well I’m ready to get married.

See also: Understand Love Like a Buddhist

Until then, spare me your expectations. You don’t have rights to me. I have one short life to live and I’ve been given a ton—and I enjoy nothing more than working night and day to create something that can give back.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said,

“the only joy in this hard life is serving others.”

When I fall in love, truly, our love will help one another to face outward, not merely inward.

Get my book, Things I would like to do with You.


Relephant reads:

Buddhist Wedding Poem.

Buddhist Weddings.


The kind of Human that the Buddha would Admire.

The one Buddhist Red Flag to watch out for & how you'll know if he or she is The One.

The all-time Best Buddhist Tip for making Relationships Last.

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Rhyse.spalding915 Jul 19, 2019 5:07pm

Love this perspective. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this and connecting to it.

Lora Weir Mar 5, 2019 10:50pm

You write how I feel: you put my thoughts to words.
Sometimes it shocks me to see it there, written out plainly for all to see; but thank you.

Hilton Barnett Dec 11, 2018 6:42am

One of the commentators said this:”You have to be able to smile even when someone is doing something you’ve asked them not to do 1 million times.” I say no way. You don’t have to do anything of the sort

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.