February 14, 2023

7 Prominent Buddhist Teachers Explain the Meaning of True Love.

Those who are single might hate Valentine’s Day.

If we are coupled, however, it might be the perfect opportunity to celebrate our union (and buy a gift or two, maybe).

It’s been a few years since I stopped celebrating Valentine’s Day. I don’t have anything against that holiday (or love), but if I’m being honest, I’ve been doing it all wrong.

I spent hundreds of dollars on cards, boxes, chocolate, and hotel reservations. I had perfect evenings that were filled with kisses and romantic gestures. However, I never really understood the meaning of true love.

My relationships were dominated by egocentric behavior, a lack of empathy, and the inability to validate my partner’s needs and emotions. What’s the point of celebrating love once a year when, in fact, we don’t know how to put it into action?

At this time, my perception of love was skewed. When I learned more about Buddhism, I realized that all my previous relationships lacked depth and understanding.

There are seven teachers in particular who have changed the way I see love:

1. Pema Chödrön: Acknowledging pain.

“Someone needs to encourage us not to brush aside what we feel. Not to be ashamed of the love and grief that it arouses in us. Not to be afraid of pain. Someone needs to encourage us: that this soft spot in us could be awakened, and that to do this would change our lives.” 

Relationships aren’t perfect because we aren’t perfect. True love encompasses happiness and pain, satisfaction and dissatisfaction, thriving and struggling. We need to allow ourselves to feel all the emotions—whatever they are. We also need to accept the other’s suffering and allow it to open their hearts.

2. Thich Nhat Hanh: Presence.

“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”

We’re hardly present these days—especially with the rise of social media. There can’t be love without true presence, awareness, undivided attention, and complete devotion.

3. Lama Thubten Yeshe: Balance. 

“You can see that some people’s relationships are reasonable. Therefore, they last a long time. If people’s relationships start off extreme, how can they last? You know from the beginning they cannot last. Balance is so important.”

True love means a healthy balance of togetherness and separateness. Love yourself and don’t forget about what matters most to you.

4. Chögyam Trungpa: Accepting the good and the bad.

“In order to develop love—universal love, cosmic love, whatever you would like to call it—one must accept the whole situation of life as it is, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad. One must open oneself to life, communicate with it.”

Acceptance is essential. Open yourself to all possibilities, even if some of them are annoying.

5. Jack Kornfield: Love is different from attachment.

“The near enemy of love is attachment. Attachment masquerades as love. It says, I will love this person because I need them. Or, I’ll love you if you’ll love me back. I’ll love you, but only if you will be the way I want. This isn’t love at all—it is attachment, and attachment is rigid, it is very different from love.”

When our love is conditioned, it is not true love; it’s just a means to an end.

6. The Dalai Lama: Genuine love.

“With genuine love and compassion, another person’s appearance or behavior has no effect on your attitude.”

When we genuinely love another person, how they act, what they wear, or what they say won’t deeply impact us. In a healthy partnership, we talk about the irritating stuff, but we don’t let it impact who we truly are.

7. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse: Making assumptions.

“Every time we make an assumption—for example, that we understand our spouse—we are exposing ourselves like an open wound. Assumptions and expectations that rely on someone or something else leave us vulnerable. At any moment, one of the uncountable possible contradictions can pop up and sprinkle salt on our assumptions, causing us to flinch and howl.”

Making false assumptions sabotage true love and healthy relationships. Don’t assume that you know your partner; communicate instead.



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