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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
33 fall 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly and concrete. He doesn’t just say we have to love, but he tells us how to love. He doesn’t just say we can transform our suf- fering; he tells us exactly how—step by step. We need to not only recognize the suffering, pain, and diffi- culties within us, we need to devote time to dealing with them and transforming them. Using mindfulness and concentration, we can nurture our own feelings of joy and happiness. If we know the art of releasing, the art of mindfulness, concentra- tion, and insight, then we can bring in feelings of joy and happiness at any time. The word “compassion” does not quite reflect the true meaning of karuna. The prefix “com” means “together” and “passion” means “to suffer.” So to be compassionate means to suffer together with the other person. But karuna doesn’t require suffering. Karuna is the capacity to relieve suffering. It’s the capacity to relieve the suffering in you and in the other person. When you know the practice of mindful breathing; of tenderly holding your pain and sorrow; of looking deeply into the nature of suffering; then you can transform that suffering and bring relief. You don’t have to suffer, and you don’t have to suffer with the other person. Both of you can practice this way. Suppose you’re a compassionate physician. When a patient comes in complaining of pain and fear, even as a good doctor, you don’t have to suffer with that person to be kind to them. We have to distinguish between the willingness to love and the capacity to love. You may be motivated by the willingness to love, but if that is your only motivation, the other person will suffer. So the willingness to love is not yet love. Many par- ents love their children. Yet they make them suffer a lot in the name of love. They’re often not capable of understanding their children’s suffering, difficulties, hopes, and aspirations. We have to ask ourselves, “Am I really loving the other person by understanding them or am I just projecting my own needs?” Love doesn’t just mean the intention or willingness to make someone happy, but the capacity to do so. That capacity to love is something you have to learn and cultivate. Look into yourself and recognize the suffering in yourself. If you rec- ognize, embrace, and transform your suffering and difficul- ties, then you are loving yourself. Based on that experience, you will succeed in helping another person to do the same, bringing a feeling of joy and happiness. Joy Joy, or mudita, is the third element of true love. Love should bring us joy. If love brings only tears, why should we love? If you provide yourself with joy, you’ll know how to bring joy to your partner and to the world. Mudita has been translated as sympathetic or altruistic joy. I don’t like that translation because if you don’t have joy, you can’t offer joy. Joy is for you, but it is also for me. A true practitioner knows how to bring joy to himself. We don’t need to talk about altruistic joy. Joy is just joy. If you are really joy- ful and your joy is healthy, then that benefits other people. If you’re not joyful, not fresh, or not smiling, then that doesn’t benefit anyone. If you’re inhabited by joy and freshness, even if you do nothing, we profit from you. Equanimity The fourth element of true love is upeksha, or equanimity and nondiscrimination. This is the foundation of true love. In true love, there is no distinction between the one who loves and the one who is loved. Your suffering is my suffering. My happi- ness is your happiness. Lover and beloved are one. There’s no longer any barrier. True love has this element of the abolishing of self. Happiness is no longer an individual matter. Suffering is also no longer an individual matter. There’s no distinction between us. Another way to translate upeksha is inclusiveness. In true love, you don’t exclude anyone. If your love is true love, it will benefit not only humans, but also animals, plants, and minerals. When you love one person, it’s an opportunity for you to love everyone, all beings. Then you are going in a good direction, and that is true love. But if you love someone and you get caught up in suffering and attachment, then you get cut off from others. That’s not true love. The deepest gift mindfulness can bring us is the wisdom of nondiscrimination. We are not noble by birth. We are noble only by virtue of the way we think, speak, and act. The person who practices true love has the wisdom of nondiscrimination, and it informs all of his or her actions. You don’t discriminate between yourself, your partner, all people, and all living beings. Your heart has grown large and your love knows no obstacles. Cultivating the four elements of true love—loving-kind- ness, compassion, joy, and equanimity—is the secret to nour- ishing deep and healthy relationships. When you practice with these elements regularly, you can handle the difficulties in your relationships and transform the suffering you feel inside. You become like a Buddha. You love everyone and every species. Your presence in the world becomes very important, because your presence is the presence of love. From Fidelity, by Thich Nhat hanh © 2011 by Unified Buddhist church, excerpted with permission of Parallax Press. photo aaroN wallis