Yesterday was Valentine's Day, and people celebrated in a variety of ways. In fact, Kanye filled his living room with roses and hired Kenny G to serenade his wife, Kim Kardashian West. Others celebrated in more low-key ways; flowers, candy, or a night out with the girls.
As I watched people either celebrate the love in their life or mourn the lack of it, I found myself wondering, "What is the nature of love?"
After all, everyone is talking about it, but no one seems to know what it is. That being said, I think it's fair to say that Americans have some unhealthy concepts around the ideas of love and relationships.
For us, love is attachment-based, almost to the point of obsession. We want to be the center of someone's world to the point that they can't live without us. And we measure their love (or lack thereof) by the amount of stuff they give us on Christmas, Birthdays, and Valentine's Day.
The end result can be one of sadness and frustration if we don't have someone who makes us feel like the center of the universe. And even if we have that special someone, a lot of heart ache can occur if they don't live up to the expectations set by the 20 Billion dollar Valentine's Day Industry.
Needless to say, this is all quite problematic. In fact, it's led some of history's greatest philosophers to wonder if love even exists, or is it just a chemical reaction in our brains that corporations exploit to sell merchandise.
From the Buddhist perspective, love is most definitely real. However, it doesn't exist in the way that Americans imagine. Buddhist love is deeply impersonal, more than that, it's universal.
To understand this apparent contradiction we must first define the Buddhist concept of love. Traditionally, it's broken into two parts. There's compassion; the active removal of suffering from our lives. And there's loving-kindness, which consists of the active addition of happiness to our lives. Thus, any person, animal, or object that removes suffering or adds joy to our existence is expressing a deep love and affection for us.
In this way, Buddhist love is impersonal because we don't have to personally do anything to receive it. It's not based on our looks or our bank accounts. And we literally can't make it go away. Because the universe is constantly expressing its love for us. We just have to train our eyes to see it.
This is the love of a tall tree that gives us shade on a hot summer day. It's the love of a light bulb that let's us read a favorite book long into the night, and a comfy bed that keeps us warm when its cold outside. And yes, Buddhist love is also the partner who cuddles in that bed with us.
But whether we have a partner, or not. In Buddhism, we are always loved.
When we open our eyes and take note of the countless ways that the universe either removes suffering (compassion) or adds joy (loving-kindness) to our lives, we realize how special we must be if we're surrounded by so much goodwill. Our feeling of lack is replaced with a feeling of wholeness. And we learn how to express this universal love to others.
In every word, and every gesture we tell the world, "I love you." And in every moment of every day the world says, "I love you," back.
I just posted a new Dharma talk on YouTube!