The Buddhist Notion of Love.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Apr 7, 2012
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“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.

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 lifeong 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.

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.


Relephant reads:

Buddhist Wedding Poem.

Buddhist Weddings.



Mindful Offering:

Hand-knit Organic Wedding Shawl


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & 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. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


21 Responses to “The Buddhist Notion of Love.”

  1. day and night says:

    this is beautiful.

  2. Im thankful for the article.Thanks Again. Really Cool.

  3. Marylee Gotch says:

    Amen, Brother. Keep up the work. Keep up the writing. Do not create a physical bond with people who want to hold you back in order to make themselves feel more secure, or you will be truly sorry. Thanks for the solid piece.

  4. […] 5. Don’t keep it Real—keep it Happy. Whoever is loudest and happiest, they’re cool. Go be with them and do as they do, or you’ll be lonely, awkward, vulnerable. […]

  5. […] me, the chaos of an urban life rather than a monastic one is my charnel ground, a path filled with lovers and friends, broken hearts and meltdowns, opportunities to serve and support those who are suffering and […]

  6. Ana says:

    This is so grounding, so assuring and so making sense. Wonderful read, epitomising true love. Love it

  7. Matthew says:

    This is dangerous thinking. Bonding is the key to true happiness. We only have one life yes, so who’s going to be sitting at your side when you leave this world? The wife you estranged to leave and join the peace corps? Doubt it. Be happy together, be happy individually. It’s not a fairy tale, it can be real if you work on it. To be in love with someone you have never physically met is not realistic. Love is thrown around too loosely. You may be excited and infatuated after discussions, but that is not love. Love is so much deeper. You have to be able to smile even when someone is doing something you’ve asked them not to do 1 million times. Truth is love is built. It does not just occur. The only joy in this hard life is serving others? Jeez Eleanor Roosevelt seems very depressed. You’re allowed to be pleased by others and yes it does feel good to please them, but why are we so adverse to accepting positivity from another? It’s an ego defect. If you feel deep down you are not worthy, you will not accept love, or anything else from anyone else, that is positive. True love and happiness is feasible people, don’t drive gaps or space in between “each other’s souls.” Work to get closer, not further apart.

    Matthew D Raffaele, LCSW

  8. Fushin says:

    I don't think this article is saying not to bond at all. If it does, then I agree – we do need to bond, and bonding based on love is the way. I think the article is a bit confusing on this point, but that it's saying not to bond based on attachment (love often passes as attachment.) Bonding is essential. But to bond based on values, and to allow love to flow in the spaces between, this is healthy.

  9. Maureen says:

    Beautiful!! I feel like you just described my relationship with my soulmate Dave . Thank you for sharing.

  10. Dana says:

    the beauty of LOVE between two people is it can never be measured against anyone else's experience with partnership, marriage or soul mates. Everyone's journey is different and changes as one grows, as one explores, has children or not….life gives the couple things to face and grow. I am 40 almost married 20 years. My love is my rock and my freedom fighter. Never had a doubt that what we had is our saving grace, no matter where we travel alone or what bumps we face it is less of a burden when you have that soul that gets everything about you, raw, messy, beautifully together or beautifully falling apart. You serve each other for the greater good of community raising loving children to inspire more love amongst a chaotic world.

  11. debaumer says:

    Wow. I absolutely love this article. Thank you.

  12. lercomari says:

    I think it would be wise not to assume that raising a family is a selfish reason to forget the world, unless you have actually raised a child from newborn to toddler and onward. People call parenting a full time job for a reason. Consider figures like Gandhi and MLK Jr. who neglected their families for the sake of their cause. We owe them a great deal of gratitude, but their accomplishments came at a cost. Humans have limited capacity for attention. And I do believe that raising one's children so that they don't have to recover from their childhoods is a very noble pursuit.
    That said, I do wish that people had the capacity to focus on their home life and the greater good of their communities and humanity at large. But this takes quite of bit of orchestration, and it almost always has to wait until the children are older and more independent. This article sounds like the author has taken a Buddhist view and used it to validate his need for space in a relationship. I agree that people should enter into relationships with people who share similar values, but this article seems to devalue certain things that others would value in a union. Also, be very discerning when it comes to online relationships. You only sees one side of a person at a distance, then it's up to you to fill in the blanks with your yearning imagination.

  13. Owlfood says:

    I am compelled to echo @lercomari’s perspective on this. Waylon – do you have children? Humbly, I suggest that the ‘you go forth and be, and I’ll go forth and be’ – which I generally subscribe to – requires a check-in and redesign, albeit temporarily, when two ‘friends’ create a child.

  14. tao365 says:

    be free and serve one another are opposites

  15. envirojulie says:

    And I do believe that raising one's children so that they don't have to recover from their childhoods is a very noble pursuit.

  16. Heaven Isearth says:

    Thank goodness for some sensible comment in place of guru worshipping. This article sits a little crudely with me… I can't quite put my finger on it, but I feel uncomfortable. It seems to be having a passive-aggressive dig at people (women?) who regard participating in 'family life' as their 'service'. Surely in order to participate in 'family life' or indeed, a marriage, ideally, a family or a partner is actually present – not absent travelling or at work or worse, emotionally absent as seems to be being subtly proposed here. Whilst I absolutely applaud the Buddhist description of a marriage provided here: i.e., "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.", being absent more often than not is not "walking the path together" or "facing the same direction". I love my freedom more than the next person – which is one of the reasons why I haven't married yet – but the writer of thiis article sounds like it doesn't want to make a commitment but wants to pretend otherwise.

  17. Heaven Isearth says:

    Hooray for your comment and your sense, Lercomari! I can't abide the practice of conjoining two quite unrelated ideas and using one to justify, support, or provide evidence for the other… And Buddhism is so often 'used' to justify all kinds of stuff quite unrelated to it. Note that the Buddhist quote does NOT explicitly advocate absenteeism or abandonment…we must take care when we interpret doctrine and scriptures to look for what is not written there as well as what is written there. This is intellectual rigour. I would be a great deal more comfortable if the author owned his particular need for space in a relationship instead of justifying it using Buddhist doctrine and then foisting his interpretation upon other people by delaring it as a common and desirable – and indeed lofty – aim.

  18. Mary says:

    I agree with Matthew! Love is energy and bonding over passions through experiences. Ii travelled through life for 34 years with a man that needed to wander. I am okay on my own but believe that can be a slippery slope., life is short don't surrender who you are to make someones journey a g true one for them. make sure your desires are part of that as well.

  19. shaunamadre says:

    I agree

  20. shaunamadre says:

    I do not think you have a full and deep grasp/undertanding of Buddhism sir. Opening ones heart by letting go of attachment avails one to the drive to care for another's suffering on a level that does not include martyrdom. Compassion for another is grounded in self compassion. Look up Bodhcitta and learn the way of compassion for self and other.

  21. Cassi says: