"Breathing in, I know the flower is there, breathing out, I smile at the flower."
ACCORDING TO BUDDHISM, THERE ARE FOUR ELEMENTS OF TRUE LOVE,
The first is MAITRI, which can be translated as loving-kindness or benevolence. Loving-kindness is not only the desire to make someone happy, to bring joy to a beloved person; it is the ability to bring joy and happiness to the person you love, because even if your intention is to love this person, your love might make him or her suffer.
Training is needed in order to love properly; and to be able to give happiness and joy, you must practice deep looking directed toward the person you love. Because if you do not understand this person, you cannot love properly. Understanding is the essence of love. If you cannot understand, you cannot love. This is the message of the Buddha. If a husband, for example, does not understand his wife's deepest troubles, her deepest aspirations, if he does not understand her suffering, he will not be able to love her in the right way. Without understanding, love is an impossible thing.
What must we do in order to understand a person? We must have time; we must practice looking deeply into this person. We must be there, attentive; we must observe, we must look deeply. And the fruits of this looking deeply is called understanding. Love is a true thing if it is made up of a substance called understanding.
The second element of true love is called, KARUNA. This is not only the desire to east the pain of another person, but the ability to do so. You must practice deep looking in order to gain a good understanding of the nature of the suffering of this person, in order to be able to help him or her to change. Knowledge and understanding are always at the root of the practice. This practice of understanding is the practice of meditation. To meditate if to look deeply into the heart of things.
The third element of true love is joy, MUDITA. If there is no joy in love, it is not true love. If you are suffering all the time, if you cry all the time, and if you make the person you love cry, this is not really love - it is even the opposite. If there is no joy in your love, you can be sure that it is not true love.
The fourth element is UPEKSHA, equanimity or freedom. In true love, you attain freedom. When you love, you bring freedom to the person you love. If the opposite is true, it is not true love. You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free, not only outside but also inside. "Dear one, do you have enough space in your heart and all around you?" This is an intelligent question for testing out whether your love is something real.
FOUR MANTRAS FOR THE PRACTICE OF TRUE LOVE:
Love is being there, say to your loved one,
"Dear one, I am here for you."
Recognize the presence of the person you love,
"Dear one, I know that you are here, and it makes me very happy."
Be there when your beloved is suffering,
"Dear one, I know that you are suffering, that is why I am here for you."
Overcome pride when your beloved has hurt you,
"Dear one, I am suffering, please help."
If we love someone, we should train in being able to listen. By listening with calm and understanding, we can ease the suffering of another person. An hour spent in this way can already relieve a great deal of another person's pain. In Plum Village, our practice place, deep listening is a very important practice. Every week we get to gather once or twice to practice listening deeply to each other. As we listen, we do not say anything; we breathe deeply and we open our hearts in order to really listen to one another. One hour of this kind of listening is very effective, and it is something very precious that can be offered to the person you love. Associated with the practice of deep listening is the practice of loving speech. We must learn to speak with love again. This is a thing that can be done in a practice community where brothers and sisters practice loving speech every day.
* Words by Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, from his book True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart
* Photograph from my series KANOA entitled, flowering quince, 2011.