Robin continues his exploration of love as presented in the Buddha’s teachings. Part 1 concluded with the discovery of M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. In Part 2, Robin continues his discussion of the impact this work had on him and how this furthered his understanding of Buddha’s teaching on love.
Robin continues: I felt relief reading The Road Less Traveled, the same kind of relief I had experienced in 1998 reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, when the reality of impermanence first began to penetrate my consciousness. Before that time, I continuously struggled to make the world into something it wasn’t and could never be. Peck was a teacher willing to confront hard and painful truths about life as the Buddha did 2600 years ago. Neither teacher is pessimistic. They acknowledge life is difficult and painful, but also recognize it as a gate to enlightenment and
spiritual transformation if we approach it with open, accepting hearts and a willingness to learn.
The first section of The Road Less Traveled is devoted to a discussion of discipline as the means of using suffering constructively for growth. Discipline is something we are all familiar with. Many of us spend hours sitting perfectly still on a cushion with nothing “to do” in an effort to overcome suffering by observing it and keeping it company. This takes discipline. The Buddha taught his monks that this discipline is essential if they wish to end suffering.
The big question is this: What gives us the will to discipline ourselves despite pain and discomfort? The answer might surprise you. It is love. Usually when we think about love we think about the good feelings associated with it. We think about warmth, caring, affection, security. We don’t usually associate love with hardship, pain and discomfort. We expect love to feel good. In popular culture, love is a way to escape suffering by losing ourselves in another and indulging our passions and desires. But this is not love as taught by the Buddha and Dr. Peck. Love is not a means to escape suffering, but rather a way to enter into suffering and experience suffering for what it is thereby transforming it and ourselves in the process.
One way to understand this kind of love is by trying to define it. There is no single truly satisfactory definition of love. There is romantic love, brotherly love, parental love, platonic love and dozens of other forms of love with every shade of gray in between. So how would the Buddha define love? To my knowledge he never did. But if he had, I suspect he would have chosen a definition similar to that of Dr. Peck. Peck defines loves as follows: “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
This definition of love incorporates many elements of the Eight Fold Path, the Buddha’s prescription for ending suffering. First, love requires Right Effort. We are called to extend ourselves
beyond our comfort zone. Second, it requires Right Intention. We extend ourselves for a purpose, with the intention of promoting spiritual growth. Third, it incorporates Right Understanding, i.e. seeing love as part of an evolutionary process of spiritual growth. In addition, the practice of this kind of love leads naturally toward Right Action and Right Speech. This definition identifies love as something we actively choose rather than viewing love as something that passively happens to us.
What then are the obstacles to practicing love? The Buddha recognized a major obstacle in the opening verses of the Dhammapada. Too often we dwell in thoughts of mistreatment, hurt, injustice and unfairness which can fill us with anger and hatred. We become trapped in a downward spiral of negative thought and emotion. When this kind of thinking becomes habitual we lose the ability to extract ourselves. We become prisoners of our own thoughts. The Buddha instructs us to “Abandon such thoughts and live in love.” But how do we do that in the midst of feeling anger or hatred?
To be continued in March 2015 newsletter