Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite times of year.
The Tibetan New Year is also a favorite, and because the two often fall around the same time, I make a practice of reflecting upon New Year’s resolutions relating to my loved ones, and renewing my commitment to cultivating altruistic compassion and an unselfish open heart—the very essence of authentic love.
These resolutions encompass opening both my heart and mind; listening better; learning to forgive and love even those I dislike; and accepting and blessing the world, rather than fighting or feeing it. Through “co-meditating” with everything as it appears; through “inter-meditation” and interbeing with it—rather than against or apart from “it”—I am able to see through the illusion of separateness. I also remember those who may not feel included in this so-called day for lovers. As Zen Master Dogen says: “To study the Buddha Way is to be intimate with all things.” This is true love.
How can we love and accept others if we don’t have compassion and love for ourselves? Some say we are here in this world to learn and to evolve in consciousness and open our heart as wide as the world. If we are open to this panacean medicine, among life’s greatest lessons is how to love and to love well, and as Ram Dass often says—be love, in addition to giving and receiving it. The answer is learning how to breathe love in and breathe it out, giving and receiving both, while cultivating loving awareness in action. I believe love is the magic ingredient for happiness, growth, harmony and fulfillment.
Many people have asked me, “How would Buddha love?” The Buddha saw every being, human and otherwise, as fundamentally like himself, and was thus able to treat and love them in the way all beings should be treated. We call this infinitely benevolent, selfless love the invaluable bodhichitta or the awakened heart, the very spirit and soul of enlightenment. One can find this taught elegantly in the Loving-Kindness Sutra, in Shantideva’s classic, The Way of the Bodhisattva, and in Atisha’s, Seven Points of Mind-Training and Attitude Transformation.
Through the transformative magic of bodhichitta, each relationship and every single encounter can be a vehicle for meaningful spiritual connection. Buddha taught that this altruistic bodhichitta, or spiritual love, has four active arms, known as the Four Boundless Heartitudes, or the Four Faces of Compassion.
So how can we love Buddha-style? By practicing impartiality to all, freeing ourselves from excessive attachment or false hope and expectation, and accepting, tolerating, and forgiving those around us.
Buddhist love is based on recognizing our fundamental interconnectedness and understanding that all beings are like ourselves in wanting and needing happiness, safety, fulfillment, meaning and connection—and not wanting pain, suffering and misery. The Dalai Lama says, “If you want to be wisely selfish, care for others.” All the happiness and virtue in this world comes from selflessness and generosity; all the sorrow from egotism, selfishness, hatred and greed.
The essence of Buddhist relationship is to cultivate the cling-free relationship, enriched with both warm caring and impartial equanimity. It is essential in intimate relationships to communicate honestly, stay present, tell the truth of your experience using I-statements (rather than accusations and judgments), and honor the other enough to show up with an open heart-mind ready to really listen, feel, and mutually interconnect.
Heated passion becomes warm, empathic compassion when we bring it into the sacred path, when we recognize every moment in life as a possibility of awakening and intimately embrace whatever arises in our field of experience. In that sense, human love and sexual consummation are like the tip of the iceberg of divine love, an ecstatic intimation of eternity, a portal to infinite depths of the groundlessness and limitless space that transports us beyond our limited, egoic selves, to bliss and oneness with all that lives.
People often ask me how to find their “soul mate,” or even if I believe in such a concept. I think that rather than focusing on finding the perfect mate in this world, we would generally do better to work on refining and developing ourselves. Make yourself the “perfect” mate, without being too perfectionistic about it, and you will be a good mate with almost anyone. When your heart is pure, your life and the entire world is pure.
We all feel the desire to possess and be possessed, to love and be loved, to connect and be seen, embraced, and belong. However, I think that the most important thing in being together is the tenderness of a good heart. If our relationships aren’t nurturing the growth and development of goodness of heart, openness, generosity, authenticity and intimate connection, they are not serving us or furthering a better world.
I have learned that to truly love people I need to let them be, and to love, accept and appreciate them as they are—free of my projections, expectations and illusions. This is equally true for loving and accepting oneself. When I peer deeply enough into someone’s heart and see the baby Buddha or innocent, inner child their grandparents and parents cradled oh-so-lovingly in their arms—and how, in that way, that are just like me—who would I harm, fear, resent, put down, persecute or exploit?
I notice that children let go of anger and would rather be happy than right, unlike so many of us adults. Staying present in this very moment, through mindful awareness and paying attention to what is—rather than dwelling on the past or future, or on who I think I am or imagine others to be—helps free me from excess baggage, anxiety and neurosis. This opens me to true love, Buddha’s love, Christ’s love.
As the song goes, love is all there is. Do you too hear this gentle music?
Author: Lama Surya Das
Image: Flickr/Hartwig HKD
Editor: Travis May