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Love, desire and the Immeasurables

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran

I’ve been trying to get to grips with aspects of love, how they relate to spirituality in recent history and how buddhism thinks about them. Let’s start with some context, the flower power movement of the 1960’s — back then love was a big deal, it was one of the motivating factors of the whole thing. When I was part of the Osho communes in the 1970’s and 1980’s, love was seen in many forms and to a certain extent idealised as a goal.

In the communes you often saw men and women getting together, it would start as mutual attraction, deepen into loving, and then sometimes people would drift apart again. But there are also other forms of love, between children and parents, between disciple and teacher, between man and God (as Rumi might have put it).

So how much of love is desire? Buddhism teaches that desire and clinging are not good things, to what extent do you apply that to love? Certainly lust is mostly desire, and romantic love is a kind of game. A love for God or for a spiritual teacher is not that at all. But on the subject of love Buddhist lore is largely silent.

In a way the closest buddhism gets to love is the Four Immeasurable Minds of loving-kindness, empathetic joy, compassion and equanimity. From what I’ve seen of it in meditation, that expression is very pure. But it’s not the same as the other forms of love.

So it’s a quandary, how to resolve this. I’m still mulling it over, but honestly I could use some fresh views :D



  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I think we forget that some forms of attachment are good.
    Fidelity is a noble thing, so an attachment fuelled by dedication and devotion, is admirable. We are attached to the Dhamma, but in the well-heeled saying, we are advised to abandon the raft once we reach the other shore... similarly, there is nothing wrong with being dedicated and devoted to others. As long as the attachment is healthy, it is good to nurture it and make it grow.

  • But on the subject of love Buddhist lore is largely silent.

    I would take it further and say not just silent but at times unrealistic, emotionally repressive, infantile, immature and unnatural. :p

    There are many reasons for this. Buddhism is sometimes an ancient idealist, ascetic head based system.

    However ... there are teachings of metta, friendliness, benevolence and Tantric excess available ...

    I would also suggest that after the unfolding of the head chakra, the others unfold too.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    When I've heard it talked about, it is always in an unconditional sense. No expectations. To take the closest relationship to you (usually parents or children) and expand it to offer the same unconditional-ness to others.

    I think the word "love" has so much wrapped into it that it's hard to arrive at a definition that is something everyone can agree on. It's kind of vague, but so strong at the same time. Like "happiness." To me, the more positive spin on happiness is "contentment" because it is possible to be content in any situation. It is not possible to be happy in every situation. Love has the same sense to me, but I'm not sure which word would be a better replacement. Perhaps "agape" comes closer but it's not a word I exactly use often! Sometimes I am happy. But I can always be content (if I work at it). With love, no matter how upset I am at a child, at the core of everything is my love for them. But it most certainly isn't that gushy, hyper romantic love when you first meet someone. It's simply ever-present, and I can work to expand that to apply to other people. Pretty tough though.

  • Maybe you will love this ... o:)

    Now let's put love in a real context. Everybody wants to be happy as @karasti mentions. Very wisely (head based again) dharma works on self love, personal happiness, as the basis of all that follows ...

    One of the biggest misunderstandings people have about Buddhists is that Buddhists are always supposed to be nice. But, usually, niceness is only social convention. Being "nice" often is about self-preservation and maintaining a sense of belonging in a group. We are "nice" because we want people to like us, or at least not get angry with us.

    Ay Karuna!

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited December 2017

    Often a true feeling of love signals a connection between one person and another, that you have given them a place in your life beyond that of a casual acquaintance or a friend, but a lasting place in your heart.

    So in a way it does signal an attachment, and when it ends it often does bring suffering. The art of letting go is often not so easy to practice in the case of loved ones. Perhaps in these cases we still do it because the benefits outweigh the downsides.

  • ZenshinZenshin East Midlands UK Veteran

    Realising one's own suffering one realsises the suffering of others caught up in the sakkaya-ditthi. Metta and compassion naturally arise.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Traveller said:
    Realising one's own suffering one realises the suffering of others caught up in the sakkaya-ditthi. Metta and compassion naturally arise.

    What i have learnt of Buddhism says this is true, but what I saw in the Osho communes was different. There was a great beauty, something very natural in living in a spiritual community where men and women love eachother freely, without the censure or rules of outside society. It was like stepping back in time to a period before the Christian marriage.

    You have to know when to let go. Not everyone was always successful in this, there was some crying, people learned. But a lot of folks lived very unique lives, very egalitarian, there was not much of a hierarchy. You could find famous artists working as cooks in the kitchen, or a bankers son as a car mechanic. It was happy and very alive, in a way. There was a real feeling of love that hung around the place.

    It was a very beautiful atmosphere... but very different from say, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village, which is a real monastic community.

  • SnakeskinSnakeskin Veteran
    edited December 2017

    @Kerome said:
    So how much of love is desire? Buddhism teaches that desire and clinging are not good things, to what extent do you apply that to love?

    Your description of the communes raises another question. How much of love is satisfied desires? A person with unsatisfied desires is selfish. Satisfied, they’re open to others. People with a good sex life, for example, are measurably more generous than those without. The Buddha calls generosity good, but it doesn’t take a Buddha to see the impending problem there.

    I don’t think the Buddha means to be a party pooper by observing this selflessness, though admirable, rest on an unstable foundation. Instead, I think he means to say it’s possible to satisfy desires through increasingly refined but still unstable means until they’re transcended to a state of perpetual selflessness, independent and stable.

    @Kerome said:
    From what I’ve seen of [the immeasurables] in meditation, that expression is very pure. But it’s not the same as the other forms of love.

    Maybe the selflessness that comes from other forms of love is just a taste of the selflessness that comes from the immeasurables, which in turn is just a taste of the real thing, the selflessness of selflessness, conceivable but unfathomable.

  • jwredeljwredel Albuquerque Veteran
    edited December 2017

    My teacher would often talk of three types of love ...

    sexual love (most primal),
    selfish love (as classic attachment), and
    true love (can't be expressed)

    And he had an expression regarding true love - disappearing in love.

    But the teachings were never really about love. Rather, they were always about recognizing and experiencing and investigating the different manifestations of love in an attempt to better understand the notions of self and not-self. For example, a very common question in sanzen (he as a Zen guy) was "When you disappear in love, where do you go?"

    And from this perspective, perhaps we might consider - how can our notions and experiences of love help inform us about our own true natures?

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I think the answer to desire in love is being ready to let go. In the West we have built up this tradition of long relationships because of the Christian Church, where there was supposed to be no sex before marriage and no divorce afterwards. A recipe for unhappiness if ever I heard one.

    Nowadays sex before marriage is the norm. People try things out, and are positively encouraged to “get their freak on”. I think to a certain extent it’s a good thing, sex can be a source of great joy if people learn when to follow their heart and when to let go.

    But I think the real question as far as Buddhism is concerned is, love that is free from desire. What about the love between a woman and a cat? Or a man and a dog? These things can also lend beauty to life. I find it very strange that Buddhism does not talk more about love and the things which we give a place in our hearts.

    Snakeskinmmo[Deleted User]
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