True Love and a Deep, Long-Term Commitment

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Dear Still Water Friends,

In the Third Mindfulness Training, Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to look deeply at our most intimate relationships and commit that:

Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends.

What do we mean by true love?   Thay teaches that true love has four elements, loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.  In true love, there is no place for pride.  But, at its base, true love is the product of deep communication and understanding and always contains respect.  He tells us:

True love contains respect.  In my tradition, husband and wife are expected to respect each other like guests, and when you practice this kind of respect, your love and happiness will continue for a long time.  In sexual relationships, respect is one of the most important elements.  Sexual communion should be like a rite, a ritual performed in mindfulness with great respect, care and love.  If you are motivated by some desire, that is not love.  Desire is not love.  Love is something much more responsible.  It has care in it.

We have to restore the meaning of the word “love.”  We have been using it in a careless way.  When we say, ‘I love hamburgers,’ we are not talking about love.  We are talking about our appetite, our desire for hamburgers.  We should not dramatize our speech and misuse words like that.  We make words like “love” sick that way.  We have to make an effort to heal our language by using words carefully.  The word “love” is a beautiful word.  We have to restore its meaning.

In 2008, my then-wife and I ended a marriage that had extended over over half of our lives and nearly all of our adult lives.  There was no defining act or moment that led us to divorce court.  I can only account for my own role in the end of our relationship.  In hindsight and with many years of practice and deep looking, I can see that I failed to nurture the deep communication, understanding, and respect that are necessary to maintain true love.  I no longer treated my wife as my guest.  I would not show her loving kindness or compassion.  Would the result have been different if I had been more skillful?  I have no way of knowing.  But I do know there would have been much less suffering.

This Thursday evening, after meditation we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus on the Third Mindfulness Training.  Our Dharma sharing will focus on exploring the meaning of true love and long-term commitments. We will identify those practices that have allowed us to demonstrate deep respect for our beloved, and those practices that have failed us. 

Please enjoy the excerpt below from Thay’s Teachings on Love, describing the evolution of love in a long-term committed relationship. 

Warm wishes,

Tim McCormack


True Love

from Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh 

True love contains respect.  In the Vietnamese tradition, husband and wife always respect each other as honored guests.  When you practice this, your love will last for a long time.  In Vietnamese, the words tinh and nghia both mean love.  Tinh contains a lot of passion.  Nghia is calmer, more understanding, more faithful.  You are not as passionate, but your love is deeper and more solid.  You are more willing to sacrifice to make the other person happy.  Nghia is the result of sharing difficulties and joys over a long period of time.

You begin with passion, but, living with each other, you learn to deal with difficulties, and your love deepens.  The passion diminishes, but nghia increases all the time.  You understand the other person better, and you feel a lot of gratitude: Thank you for being my partner, for having chosen me as your companion to share your best qualities, as well as your suffering.  While I was having difficulty and remained awake deep into the night, you took care of me.  You showed me that my well-being is your own well-being.  You did the impossible to help me get well.  I am deeply grateful. When a couple stays together for a long time, it is because of nghia.  Nghia is the kind of love we really need for our family and for our society.  With nghia, you are sure the other person will love you and take care of you until your hair becomes white and your teeth fall out. Nghia is built by both of you in your daily life.

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