How to Be a Bodhisattva? (P2)

Update: 27/01/2019
The Buddha’s Love

How to Be a Bodhisattva? (P2)


Thich Nhat Hanh describes how love for one person becomes love for all.

Question: More than anything else, we want to love and be loved. Why do we find it so difficult to love?

Thich Nhat Hanh: Love is the capacity to take care, to protect, to nourish.

If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself, it is very difficult to take care of another person. In the Buddhist teaching, it’s clear that to love oneself is the foundation of the love of other people. Love is a practice. Love is truly a practice.

Why don’t we love ourselves?

We may have a habit within ourselves of looking for happiness elsewhere than in the here and the now. We may lack the capacity to realize that happiness is possible in the here and now, that we already have enough conditions to be happy right now. To go home to the present moment, to take care of oneself, to get in touch with the wonders of life that are really available—that is already love. Love is to be kind to yourself, to be compassionate to yourself, to generate images of joy, and to look at everyone with eyes of equanimity and nondiscrimination.

“When people love each other, the distinction, the limits, the frontier between them begins to dissolve, and they become one with the person they love.

As you progress on the path of insight into non-self, the happiness brought to you by love will increase. When people love each other, the distinction, the limits, the frontier between them begins to dissolve, and they become one with the person they love. There’s no longer any jealousy or anger, because if they are angry at the other person, they are angry at themselves. That is why non-self is not a theory, a doctrine, or an ideology, but a realization that can bring about a lot of happiness.

You have written about a woman you loved deeply a long time ago. At this point in your life, do you regret not being with her?

That love has never been lost. It has continued to grow. To love someone, if it is true love, is a very wonderful opportunity for you to love everyone. In the insight of non-self, you see that the object of your love is always there and the love continues to grow. Nothing is lost and you don’t regret anything, because if you have true love in you, then you and your true love are going in the same direction, and each day you are able to embrace, more and more.

So to love one person is a great opportunity for you to love many more. That nourishes you, that nourishes the other person, and finally your love will have no limit. That is the Buddha’s love.

Unbearable Compassion

For our compassion to be effective, says Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, it must be as unbearable as the world’s suffering is.

Our compassion must have a broad focus, including not only ourselves and those close to us but all sentient beings. All beings want to be happy and free of suffering, yet most sentient beings experience only suffering and cannot obtain happiness. Just as we have a desire to clear away the suffering in our own experience and to enjoy happiness, we come to see through meditating on compassion that all other beings have this desire as well.

When we practice, we must bring our meditation on compassion to the deepest level possible. We must reflect on the intense suffering of sentient beings in all six realms of samsara. Reflecting on our connection to these beings, we must engender a compassion that cannot bear their suffering any longer.

This great, unbearable compassion is extremely important. Without it, we might feel a compassionate sensation in our minds from time to time, but this will not bring forth the full power of compassion. But when we witness with unbearable compassion the suffering of sentient beings, we immediately seek out ways to free them from that suffering. We are unfazed by complications and doubts; our actions for the benefit of others are effortless and free from doubt.

To make our compassion strong, we need the path. We already have compassion, wisdom, and many other positive qualities, yet our mental afflictions are stronger than these most of the time. It is as if the afflictions have locked all of our positive qualities away in a box.

One day, when we open that box and all of our good qualities spring forth, we will not have to go looking for our compassion. We will discover that compassion is present in our minds spontaneously, and a wealth of excellent qualities will become available to us.

Toward a Culture of Love

Love is the ultimate transgression, bell hooks argues. Its transformative power can shatter the status quo.

To work for peace and justice we begin with the individual practice of love, because it is there that we can experience firsthand love’s transformative power. Attending to the damaging impact of abuse in many of our childhoods helps us cultivate the mind of love. Abuse is always about lovelessness, and if we grow into our adult years without knowing how to love, how then can we create social movements that will end domination, exploitation, and oppression?

To begin the practice of love we must slow down and be still enough to bear witness in the present moment. If we accept that love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust, we can then be guided by this understanding. We can use these skillful means as a map in our daily life to determine right action.

When we cultivate the mind of love, we are, as Sharon Salzberg says, “cultivating the good,” and that means “recovering the incandescent power of love that is present as a potential in all of us” and using “the tools of spiritual practice to sustain our real, moment-to-moment experience of that vision.”

To be transformed by the practice of love is to be born again, to experience spiritual renewal. What I witness daily is the longing for that renewal and the fear that our lives will be changed utterly if we choose love. That fear paralyzes. It leaves us stuck in the place of suffering.

When we commit to love in our daily life, habits are shattered. Because we no longer are playing by the safe rules of the status quo, love moves us to a new ground of being. We are necessarily working to end domination. This movement is what most people fear. If we are to galvanize the collective longing for spiritual well-being that is found in the practice of love, we must be more willing to identify the forms that longing will take in daily life.

Folks need to know the ways we change and are changed when we love. It is only by bearing concrete witness to love’s transformative power in our daily lives that we can assure those who are fearful that commitment to love will be redemptive, a way to experience salvation.

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