TLDR: Being in love with love is different from being in love with a person. Being in love with another brings sadness, excitement and passion. Being in love with love brings peace, joy and rapture.
This is a reflection piece as contemplated by the author based on the Buddha’s teachings. As such, it may not contain the truths as taught by the Buddha. The author hopes the reader takes away useful bits that may resonate and discard whatever parts (or the whole article) that make no sense without any aversion.
I have not listened to popular music for quite a long time. I wouldn’t know what are the most popular songs of the last decade. I also have not had that intense rush of passion or interest in another person for that same amount of time. Recently I decided to listen to songs of my youth. I don’t know if it is the right choice because these songs brought up particular memories for me.
It is interesting how most of my strongest memories have to do with my youth. I am guessing raging hormones of youth brought about stronger emotions that led to deeper impressions made on the mind. According to Buddhist cosmology, we have been reborn countless times–however, as the music carried my mind to the past, experiences of my youth still seem so fresh in my mind as if I’ve lived them for the first time.
What is love?
Love is too big a word for anyone to express. In Western movies, characters who express love toward one another make it seem like a big deal. But still, that is not love.
The word, “love”, is used too frivolously in our society.
We romanticise feelings for another person just as we romanticise love itself. Love in its true meaning is unconditional. Unconditional love is hard to find on earth.
The closest would be that of a mother’s love towards her child. Therefore love would have the elements of sacrifice, forgiveness, compassion, perseverance and faith.
The mother is also able to let the child go because of love. But she is readily available when the child needs help.
Attachment not love
If you are unable to wish your other half happiness and goodwill if s/he leaves you, what you have is not love but attachment.
Also, if you are unable to accept and forgive your partner’s bad habits with patience and compassion, that is not love. What we have is attachment and a sense of responsibility towards our partners.
I found that in all of my relationships, I have never really loved anyone. I would do things to make myself feel better and make others feel bad in the name of love. There is an egoic possessiveness towards all of them. Looking back now, I can only feel compassion for my own ignorance and for the ones who had to suffer me.
Our obsession with love
The human race is always looking for love. This is evident from the many popular romantic and breakup songs in pop culture.
We seek happy endings in love. Many years ago, a friend’s father passed away. The only wish he had not fulfilled was finding true love. This is even after being married, begetting children and divorcing. That is because I was judging my friend’s father from my perspective. I would not marry unless I love the other. Therefore I was surprised he was still seeking true love on his deathbed.
I have not consciously looked for love with another person for the longest time. Although that thought did pop up every now and then. Listening to songs of my youth reminded me of my first love and despite it being such a long time ago, I still cherished that relationship and have goodwill towards my first love. The relationship brought up bittersweet memories. But the relationship is not something I would like to experience again.
Recently, I witnessed a friend’s misery and happiness from her attachment to her partner and it reminded me of the pitfalls of romance.
Romance brings about happiness only when the other meets our conditions and vice versa.
Being in love with love
There is a way to be in love and be happy without involving another person. That is to be in love with love itself. In all religions, from Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism to Sikhism, there are practices on the contemplation of love. Love is universal as taught by all religions, and we seem to have misunderstood love by trying to find it in another person.
Jesus and the Buddha (two of whom I am most familiar with), both taught and possessed unconditional love. These two great teachers were themselves unconditional love and so they did not need to seek it from elsewhere.
It makes sense why they need not seek love from others. If we feel that we are enough and full of love within, we will have lots of love to share and there will be no need to get it from others.
In Buddhist practice, the Buddha taught us to cultivate love in our hearts and to share it with all beings. I think the difficulty lies in cultivating love in our own hearts because we are so used to romantic love which is dependent on the sight of another. Though love itself and our ‘love’ for another differs in quality. Our “love” for another is narrow because we only can love the object of our affection and depend on this object to further grow this love in our hearts. Love, in reality, is wide and does not depend on others to do certain things or be a certain way for us to have love in our hearts.
How to cultivate love in our hearts?
Buddhist meditation teaches us various ways to develop love in our hearts. One way is to think of a person we love and respect and to pay attention to the love that arises in our hearts.
We then radiate it throughout our bodies and spread it out in all directions.
You can also spread the love by thinking of various people, animals, the earth and the universe. It helps to smile when doing this meditation because smiling relaxes oneself and helps to develop love and kindness.
Similarities between being in love with love and with another
When we are in love with another person, we can’t help but think of that person. We feel drawn to that person, we yearn to understand them and to know their secrets. We want to be united with that person, to be intimate and to relate to him or her. We also hope to be able to please our partner.
When I was doing a home retreat on loving-kindness, that was how I felt. I enjoyed thinking about love. That love in my heart contained elements of joy and lightness. I wanted to draw close to it and was not interested in others. However, I did not go deep enough to become intimate in that love or to know its secrets.
Thinking of the Buddha to cultivate love
For those who need the image of another to bring up love, you can always think of the Buddha or other religious teachers.
I thought of the Buddha’s immense love and compassion for all those around him. This exercise managed to cultivate those qualities in my mind during meditation.
However, I am not spending enough time thinking about the Buddha’s qualities of love and compassion in daily life. I wish it would occupy at least two-thirds of my mind at all times.
Being in love with love is indeed different from being in love with a person. Love that depends on a person includes elements of sadness, longing, discontentment and excitement.
One could even get depressed when ignored or rejected by the object of attraction.
But love itself is different. There is no rejection, no longing, no sadness or excitement. Love includes feelings of joy, peace and rapture.
Since it is virtually impossible to find love from another person, perhaps we can only love another when we ourselves become love by being in love with love.
- Love begins from the self. To be able to love others, we have to love ourselves. Love is like a fire on a candle that lights up the room. Start to love yourself by first forgiving yourself.
- Bring to your mind a living spiritual friend whom you admire and think of his or her qualities of love.
- Contemplate the loving kindness, compassion and equanimity of the Buddha. Thinking of these qualities can also help to bring up these feelings within yourself.