Being In Love with Love vs Being In Love with a Person

Being In Love with Love vs Being In Love with a Person

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.

Wise Steps:

  • 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.
Discerning Thoughts Of Love: Takeaways From A Loving-kindness Retreat At Home

Discerning Thoughts Of Love: Takeaways From A Loving-kindness Retreat At Home

TLDR: What is conditioned and unconditioned love? Unconditioned love is not a commodity we exchange in the market like conditioned love. We explore the consequences of unconditioned love in our mind and heart in discerning the thought of love.

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 that make no sense without any aversion. The author also encourages anyone interested in TWIM to find out more as what is shared in this article may not reflect the correct method.

Prior to this year’s Chinese New Year, I embarked on a loving-kindness meditation retreat at home. I have never been very successful with loving-kindness as a daily meditation object in the past. I usually use breath or body sensations as they are easier to detect. Loving-kindness is the first of the Four Sublime States and it grows into compassion, joy and equanimity. Loving-kindness has also been called unconditional love or metta in Pali, an ancient Magadha language used in the suttas (discourses of the Buddha) of Theravada Buddhism. This post is about discerning the thoughts of love using metta meditation, one of the meditation objects taught by the Buddha. It is particularly useful for those with a lot of ill will (ranging from impatience, fear, restlessness, boredom to pride).

Method Used for Loving-Kindness Meditation

For the home retreat I joined Dhamma Sukha Center’s online meditation retreat.  The abbot of the center, Bhante Vimalaramsi teaches metta meditation, which he terms Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation (TWIM). The method entails wishing oneself well and bringing up the qualities of a living spiritual friend in one’s mind to raise the feelings of love within when the feeling fades.

Needless to say, we mostly experience dull neutral feelings ranging from boredom, fatigue, to annoyance and restlessness in a day. No one actually makes an effort to replace these feelings with the feeling of love in oneself unless of course, one is interested in meditation and contemplation.

The TWIM method entails letting every thought go by releasing tension in the head. It reminds me of Soto Zen meditation where thoughts are being let go of every moment. Bhante Vimalaramsi suggests that whenever a thought arises, there is a subtle tightening in the head area. Let go of the tension, bring up a smile to help lighten the heart. As a beginner at this, I felt a bit confused at the start of the home retreat. However, I soon found out that it is easier to let go of every thought, and then bring up the feeling of love in the heart. Thoughts are like endless arrows shooting at the mind. The mind curiously enjoys being shot at by thoughts, even if they are nonsensical. When it is not possible to let go of the thought, it may be better to replace them with the feeling of love by directing one’s attention to thoughts of wishing one well or thinking of the qualities of a spiritual friend one admires. As Ayya Khema puts it, the more you think about something, the feeling grows.

Contemplating Unconditional Love

Unconditional love is a big word and is indeed hard to understand. It is even harder to know. Conditioned love as taught in Buddhism depends on the six sense bases to arise. Meaning, it is dependent on contact with others, therefore it is impermanent. It is impermanent because it is dependent on another person who gives us love not to change his/her mind to love us. 

Unconditional love, on the other hand, exists within oneself. It does not require another person to light up love in our hearts. When we light it up ourselves, we are the fuel of love in our hearts without needing another.

Most of us think that it is impossible. But unconditional love could actually be a natural quality of our being, hidden and covered up by our dual thoughts of likes and dislikes. During my short retreat, I saw how my consciousness differentiated between two people who could and could not bring up metta in my heart. The cause of suffering is consciousness itself dividing perceptions into likes and dislikes. Therefore the cause of non-suffering is consciousness itself released from likes and dislikes.

Although unconditional love could be an innate quality we have not looked into, our habitual dwelling in dull feelings tending towards wanting or not wanting to be someone or somewhere else covers up this love already within us. Through meditation and contemplation on metta itself, we uncover our true nature.

Separating Unconditional Love from Conditioned Love

When we love someone, we treat it as love being directed to someone. In this way, love seems to become a commodity. We live in a commercial world and our minds function like a marketplace of give and take. Our idea of love has also been continually conditioned by movies that talk about love as finding someone who loves us, otherwise, we do not have it. This is conditioned love. Conditioned love requires an ‘I’, a possessor who owns the commodity of metta to exchange it in the marketplace. When someone returns it with a similar or better quality of love, the possessor then measures it periodically. If the love given by another does not weigh the same as what one has given, one then slowly withdraws it from the other. 

Unconditioned love, however, does not have a possessor or an ‘I’, because it does not require outer conditions for arising. Only an ‘I’ need someone to give ‘me’ love. Therefore, unconditioned love cannot be exchanged as a commodity. In this way, metta can grow in one’s consciousness without needing anyone or anything to ignite it. We can be the condition for love to arise in our own hearts by consciously replacing all kinds of thoughts with metta. Consciousness is changeable from dullness, boredom, restlessness to worry in a day based on outer conditions. If effort and mindfulness is used to replace all feelings consciously with metta, then consciousness itself is metta. And consciousness is itself the sole condition for metta. 

The Consequence of Discerning Love

Does this mean that someone who is able to bring up love in his/her heart unconditionally is someone who cannot love others? On the contrary, no. One who practices replacing all thoughts and feelings with metta becomes love itself, like a flame on a candle radiating light throughout a dark room. 

Love truly begins within oneself. If there is no love within oneself, one can be easily hurt by others. One will expect and weigh the amount of love from another. The consequence could be discontentment, jealousy and possessiveness.

When one is sufficiently apt at bringing up metta in one’s heart unconditionally, s/he will cease to judge others, because protecting the love within becomes so important. One may find that going back to this inner unconditioned love within is the refuge one needs, compared to being dependent on another’s love and bringing stress to a relationship.

A person can get tired of thinking of a beloved person for a sustained period of time, but never tire of being absorbed in the metta one has generated within oneself.

Wise Steps:

  • Whenever there is time in between tasks, look within to find if there is a feeling of hurt or regret. 
  • If hurt or regret exists in your heart, quickly remedy it with anyone who may be involved for the feelings to arise.
  • Replace the feeling of hurt or regret and forgive oneself, if the matter cannot be resolved. Be kind to yourself.
  • After you find you have forgiven yourself for anything that might have brought hurtfulness and regret, replace any existing feeling with metta by wishing yourself well. We cannot spread metta to others if none exists within our hearts.