Dear Thay, Dear Still Water Friends,
When I happened upon this calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), I began thinking about what it might mean to “love like a Buddha.” Of late, I have been feeling the deep loss of a long time friend Grace, who lost her battle with cancer this past month. Loving in the face of such loss, I wondered how to be accepting of the loss while retaining equanimity and open-heartedness. While loving and loss are part of being human, these feelings have seemed to me overwhelming at times. I felt that to love like a Buddha would be an important consideration on my life’s journey.
Those of you who are familiar with Thay’s numerous writings know that he has written extensively about love in books like Teachings on Love and How To Love, in which he offers commentaries on the four aspects of True Love – loving kindness (maitri), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and equanimity (upeksha). Thay has also written about numerous manifestations of love, like that of a parent and child in A Rose in Your Pocket and that of a student for his teacher in My Master’s Robe. He even wrote about his experience of falling in love as a young monastic in Cultivating the Mind of Love. The forms of love may be different yet he encouraged us to see the interweaving of the four aspects of True Love in all of them. He spoke extensively about recognizing, nurturing and nourishing love in our daily lives.
I appreciate also that Thay wrote about how we practice loving in the context of our planet. He encourages us to fall in love with our Mother Earth. In Love Letter to the Earth, he writes:
We can begin falling in love with the Earth right now. It doesn’t take a lot of preparation. Each time we practice mindfulness as we go about our day, our practice gets deeper and we’re able to generate more love and compassion, which in turn leads to greater understanding and insight.
Thay’s love letters to Mother Earth encourage us to see how deeply and intimately we are connected to Earth and all species — human and non-human; sentient and non-sentient; living and non-living; animal, vegetable, and mineral — abiding collectively.
It seems to me that the directive to “love like a Buddha” refers to all of those manifestations – recognizing what is truly love, not sentimental attachments based on Hallmark representations of loving. To love in this way is to see beyond romantic notions and look more deeply at one’s relationships and interconnectedness. I can see beyond the immediacy of my own personal sorrow and loss while practicing open-heartedness and spaciousness around the experience. I feel the capacity of someone who is awake to what is true, real, honest, and continuously changing and transforming in the present. Further, I am in touch with that which is so much more than my little self.
This Thursday evening, we will begin with a guided meditation on the manifestations of love.
In touch with the feeling of love in me, I breathe in. Acknowledging and smiling to the feeling of love in me, I breathe out.
In touch with the many manifestations of love in me – loving as a child, as a parent to a child, as a friend to a friend, as a spouse or partner, loving my dog, cat or pet, loving the beautiful Earth, I breathe in. Smiling to love as it unfolds, I breathe out.
In touch with love as it generates kindness, understanding, compassion in me, I breathe in. Feeling deeply these feeling of kindness, understanding, compassion in me, I breathe out.
In touch with love as it also causes suffering intentional or unintentional, I breathe in. Gently feeling suffering related to loving in me, I breathe out.
In touch with growing my capacity to love myself and others, embracing both joy and sorrow, I breathe in. Acknowledging and smiling to this capacity to love deeply, I breathe out.
We will begin out Dharma sharing by considering these questions:
- As you contemplate Thay’s calligraphy “love like a Buddha,” what comes up for you?
- In what ways does True Love manifest for you?
- Of the four aspects of love (loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity) which one would you like to especially nurture and grow?
Please join us.
An excerpt by Thay on the Four Immeasurable Minds is below.
The Four Immeasurable Minds
from Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Buddha taught that it is possible to live twenty-four hours a day in a state of love. Every movement, every glance, every thought, and every word can be infused with love.
During the lifetime of the Buddha, those of the Brahmanic faith prayed that after death they would go to Heaven to dwell eternally with Brahma, the universal God. One day a Brahman asked the Buddha, “What can I do to be sure that I will be with Brahma after I die?”
The Buddha replied, “As Brahma is the source of Love, to dwell with him you must practice the Brahmaviharas: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.” Vihara means abode or dwelling place, so a brahmavihara is the dwelling place of Brahma.
The Four Brahmaviharas are also called the Four Immeasurable Minds, because if you practice them, they will grow in you every day until they embrace the whole world. You will become happier, and everyone around you will become happier, also.
The Four Immeasurable Minds are the four elements of true love: maitri — loving kindness (the desire to offer happiness); karuna compassion (the desire to remove suffering from the other person); mudita — joy (the desire to bring joy to people around you, and allowing their happiness to bring you joy); and upeksha, equanimity (the desire to accept everything and not to discriminate). When you love because living beings need your love, not because someone belongs to your family, your nation, or your religion, then you are loving without discrimination and practicing true love.