A Buddhist Valentine

By Lama Surya Das, who will be presenting  Make Me One with Everything in Vancouver on Sept 24, 2017.

Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite American holidays. The fact
that this over-commercialized day falls around the same time as Tibetan New Year reminds me to make new year’s resolutions relating to my loved ones, and to renew my commitment to cultivating warm empathetic, altruistic compassion and unselfish goodness of heart, the very essence of authentic love. These resolutions usually involve opening my heart and mind; listening better; learning to forgive and love even those I don’t like; and coming to accept and bless the world, rather than fighting with it or trying to escape from it. Through co-meditating with everything, as it appears; through intermeditation and interbeing with it–rather than against or apart from “it”– I am learning to see thru the illusion of separateness. I also remember groups and individuals who may not feel included in this so-called lovers’ day in our country,  including single people and the LGBTQ+ communities. As Zen Master Dogen says: “To study the Buddha Way is to be intimate with all things.” This is true love.

What is true love? How would Buddha love? By seeing every single being, human and otherwise, as fundamentally like himself, and thus able to treat them and love them in the way he or she would be treated. We call this infinitely benevolent, selfless love the invaluable Bodhicitta or the Awakened Heart, the very spirit and soul of enlightenment. One can find this taught elegantly in the “Loving-kindness Sutra”; in Shantideva’s classic “The Way of the Bodhisattva“; in Atisha’s “Seven Points of Mind-Training & Attitude Transformation,” and in The Good Book.

Each relationship and every single encounter can be a vehicle for meaningful spiritual connection, through the transformative magic of Bodhicitta. Buddha taught that this altruistic Bodhicitta or spiritual love has four active arms, known as the Four Boundless Heartitudes, or the Four Faces of Compassion in action.

  1. The first arm of Buddhist love is maitri or lovingkindness, a boundless feeling of friendliness and wishing well for others. Maitri, or metta in the Pali language, implies friendliness: befriending and accepting yourself, your body and mind, and the world in all its diversity.
  2. The second is karuna, or compassion, empathy, being moved by feeling what others feel.
  3. The third arm is upeksha, equanimity, recognizing the equality of all that lives. This recognition leads to the wisdom of detachment but not indifference or complacence, which are its similar yet very different distant cousins.
  4. The fourth arm is mudita, spiritual joy and satisfaction. This includes rejoicing in the virtue, accomplishments and success of others — the antidote to envy and jealousy.

This is how we love, Buddha-style: impartial to all, cling-free–free from excessive attachment or false hope and expectation; accepting, tolerant, and forgiving. Buddhist non-attachment doesn’t imply complacence or indifference, or not having committed relationships or being passionately engaged with society or lovers. This cling-free equanimity is a good countermeasure to balance out our habitual tendencies to fixate on those we are partial to, and on our desired expectations, defy change, and resist universal facts such as the impermanence of our own mortality. For by holding on, ephemeral things are forever slipping through our fingers, just giving us rope burn.

Buddhist love is based on recognizing our fundamental interconnectedness and knowing that all beings are like ourselves in wanting and needing happiness, safety, fulfillment, meaning and connection, and not wanting suffering and misery. The Dalai Lama says, “If you want to be wisely selfish, care for others.” All the happiness and virtue in this world comes from selflessness and generosity, all the sorrow from egotism, selfishness, and greed.

Avalokiteśvara- The Bodhisattva of Compassion

The immaculate image of Buddhist love is the four-armed Avalokitsevara, known as Chenrayzig in Tibet and Kuan Yin in China. Each of his/her four arms represent one of the Four Boundless Attitudes, and each one of her four radiant faces or aspects — peaceful, magnetizing, powerful, and fierce — express one of the four styles or modes of active compassion.

We might, for example, think of Buddhist spirituality as peace-loving, calm, virtuous and nonviolent; but in the case of a child or a pet running into the street, the active sides of compassion’s calm heart spontaneously blaze forth, even as the loving center remains unchanged. Thus, the selfless Bodhisattva could possibly use force for the greater good, to protect, or to prevent harm. Thus, we need not be passive in the face of danger or injustice, for example, when there is a legitimate need for skillful, appropriate action.

The essence of Buddhist relationship is to cultivate the cling-free relationship, enriched with both warm caring and impartial equanimity. It is helpful in intimate relationships to communicate honestly, stay present, tell the truth of your experience using I-statements rather than accusations and judgments, and honor the other enough to show up with an open heart-mind and really listen.

Passion becomes compassion when we bring it into the path, when we recognize every moment in life as a possibility of awakening and intimately embracing whatever arises in our field of experience. Human love and sexual consummation can be like the tip of the iceberg of divine love, an ecstatic intimation of eternity, a portal to infinite depths of the groundlessness and boundarylessness that transports us beyond our limited, egoic selves. People often ask me how to find their Soul Mate, or even if I believe in such a concept. I think that rather than focusing on past lives or on finding the perfect mate in this world, we would generally do better to work on improving and developing ourselves. Make yourself the “perfect” mate, without being too perfectionistic about it, and you will be a good mate with almost anyone. When your heart is pure, your life and the entire world is pure. Of course, discernment is also needed.

We all feel the desire to possess and be possessed, to love and be loved, to connect and be seen, embraced, and to belong. However, I think that the most important thing in being together is the tenderness of a good heart. If our relationships aren’t nurturing the growth and development of goodness of heart, openness, generosity, authenticity and intimate connection, they are not serving us or furthering a better world.

To truly love people I have learned that I need to let them be, and to love and accept and appreciate them as they are — free of my projections, expectations and illusions–  and not as how I would like them to be. This is equally true for loving and accepting oneself. When I peer deeply enough into the heart and see the baby Buddha or inner child their grandparents and parents cradled oh-so-lovingly in their arms like the most precious thing in the world–and how they are and were just like me, in that way—who would I harm, fear, resent, put down,  or exploit?

“Whatever attitudes we habitually use toward ourselves, we will use on others, and whatever attitudes we habitually use toward others, we will use on ourselves. The situation is comparable to our serving food to ourselves and to other people from the same bowl. Everyone ends up eating the same thing–we must examine carefully what we are dishing out.” – Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness”,

I notice that children let go of anger and would rather be happy than right, unlike so many of us adults. Like them, my dog reminds me that love is a verb and not a noun. Staying present in this very moment, through mindful awareness and paying attention to what is– rather than dwelling on the past or the future, or on who I think I am and who I imagine others are– helps free me from excess baggage, anxiety and neurosis — and opens me to true love, Buddha’s love, Christ’s love.  The Love is all there is, as the song goes. Do you too hear the music?

Join Lama Surya Das in Vancouver for Make Me One with Everything: Seeing Through The Illusion of Separation on September 24, 2017.

Lama Surya DasLama Surya Das is one of the foremost Western Buddhist meditation teachers and scholars. The Dalai Lama affectionately calls him “the American Lama.”  He has spent over forty five years studying Zen, Vipassana, Yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism with many of the great old masters of Asia, among them, some of the Dalai Lama’s own teachers. He is an authorized lama in the Tibetan Buddhist order, a leading spokesperson for Buddhism and contemporary spirituality, a translator, poet, meditation master, chant master, and spiritual activist.

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