Buddha and Jesus, as well as many other sages and saints throughout the ages, seem to agree with the Hippies -- and the Beatles. In the final analysis: All you need is Love.
That seems simple enough.
The form of "love" that our culture promotes has a lot more to do with fulfilling one's own individual ego needs for sex, security, status, and self-esteem than the quality of consciousness that emerges from what American Buddhist Teacher Pema Chodron calls an Awakened Heart. True Love is not the profound passionate grasping of deep attachment. True Love is much grander than that.
True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from, Pure Being. It is identical to the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of disconnection that characterizes the realm of relative reality. Flowing from and returning to our Essential Oneness, True Love emerges as the compassion, joy, ease, and clarity that exists in our heart of hearts.
Unlike the common contemporary understanding that views love as something we just fall into (and, so often, out of), in the Buddhist tradition, love is seen as a aspect of consciousness. Our connection to that love can be intentionally cultivated. Although we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "the other" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- ultimately, True Love emerges from a fundamental choice to embrace Life itself, to let go of who we think we are and open our hearts and minds to the actual experience of the present moment.
Although this can happen with the very next breath, the process of actually becoming a loving person generally doesn't just happen. It is a Practice. Erich Fromm characterized it as an art in his classic work, The Art of Loving. Like any discipline, True Love takes commitment, a set of skills, effort, persistence -- and patience.
Cultivating True Love
In the Brahmavihara Practices of Buddhism, True Love is presented as having four qualities: kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Known as the Four Immeasurables or Divine Abodes, each of these "sublime qualities," flows from our Connection to the One Love. Each can be explored and developed in deep and lasting ways on the meditation cushion -- and the results will effect our thoughts, words, and actions in the course of our day to day lives as well.
In some traditions, this becomes seven stages. We move from ourselves, to special "loved ones", then friends, then neutral persons, then "enemies." We then envision then groups of people in each of these categories. We then expand the focus outward to encompass all beings. Although the traditional phrases used can be useful, I've also found it quite helpful to put the aspirations into my own words as well. This is especially true when I focus on someone who I know well. (I try to keep it real as I radiate the invisible energy of love to them. LOL)
These mental recitations are not the same as affirmations or self-hypnosis. Although part of one's attention is focused on the statements that articulate one's aspirations, some attention is also focused on what else occurs in one's body and emotions. Although feelings of the goodwill may immediately emerge, when we turn our focus to more challenging relationships, they may not!
Yet, in the cultivation of True Love, our willingness to be present for the more troublesome feelings and resistances that emerge is important. Relaxing to hold them with some degree of gentle kindness is a means, in itself, of cultivating an Open Heart. In the teachings of Pema Chodron the message is loud and clear: we must first cultivate unconditional friendliness toward our own challenging emotions before we can fully experience an open mind and open heart towards towards others.
Over time, the focus and concentration involved with staying with the mental recitation of the phrases, the dedicated "time on task" of being present for the entire experience, will have its own effect in establishing a calmer, kinder, more compassionate, and more spacious quality of mind.
This practice works -- if you work it.
|Papa Lance and Grand Babe Keaton Izzy 2015|
I still lose it all too often, of course. A day doesn't pass without me noticing times that I could have responded with more kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity than I did. Yet, there has been a deepening ability to see that, to experience a compassionate understanding of how and why it happens -- and move into the next moment more easily with greater kindness and care.
It just takes Practice.
May all beings know True Love.
(Here's a brief collection of phrases used in Brahmavihara Practice)