As students of Thich Nhat Hanh, we aspire to lead a life of Engaged Buddhism, where we practice to bring our awareness to every aspect of daily life. One question is how do we bring the mindfulness teachings into our romantic relationships, which are a natural aspect of life outside of the monastery. In this teaching transcribed from a Q&A session on June 21, 2014, Thay answers this question. His response may not be what you initially think.
The Four Elements of True Love
Question: If Buddhism supports love for Mother Nature, why doesn’t it also support romantic love between two people and demonstrations of affection between two people?
Thay’s Response: The Buddha is a teacher of love. True love. Love for Mother Earth should be true love, and if it is true love, it can bring a lot of happiness to you and Mother Earth. Romantic love, if it is true love, can also bring a lot of happiness. But if it is not true love, it will make you suffer and make the other person suffer as well.
In the teaching of the Buddha, true love needs four elements. The first element is loving kindness or maitri, which means the capacity to offer happiness. In romantic love, if you are not able to help the other person be happy, that is not true love. You should train yourself to be able to offer happiness to yourself and to the other person. Without that, both will suffer.
The second element of true love is compassion or karuna. Compassion is the kind of energy that can help remove suffering and help transform suffering in yourself and the other person. If you cannot transform and take care of the suffering in you and in the other person, that is not true love. That is why karuna should be cultivated by both people. Romantic or not romantic, that is not what is important. What is important is if it is true love or not true love.
The third element of true love is joy or mudita. If you make the other person cry all the time and you cry all the time, that is not true love, regardless if it is romantic or not romantic.
The fourth element of true love is inclusiveness or upeksha. This means that you do not exclude. His suffering is your suffering and her happiness is your happiness. There is no individual suffering anymore. In true love, there is the element of nondiscrimination, no separation. In that spirit, you cannot say, “That’s your problem!” No, your problem is my problem. My suffering is your suffering. This is the fourth element of true love.
If romantic love has these four elements, it can bring a lot of happiness. The Buddha never said anything negative about true love. Romantic love, if you are successful, will cultivate a lot of loving kindness and compassion. And very soon, your love will be all embracing. The other person will no longer be the only object of your love because your love will continue to grow and embrace all of us. Happiness becomes limitless, and that is the love of the Buddha. If it is true love, it will continue to grow and include not only humans but also animals, plants, and minerals. That is great love, maha karuna or maha maitri. That is the love of the Buddha.