There is so much contained in love at it’s best that I thought it would be worthwhile to write a few words about it this morning. I highlight love ‘at its best’ to distinguish it from the fleeting, partial, or limited kinds of affection we all know so well. The love I would like to talk about is the kind we look to when we want to remember who we truly are and who we can become.
We’re living in a time when there is so much disconnect, hostility, fear and aggression. With our defenses raised, we are often but one step removed from striking out, in word or action. I was talking with a friend and coworker the the other day about how far this is from our natural state. We don’t talk about love often enough, and so I told him what I feel needs to be said, that rather than training in and fostering anger, we should have zero aggression in us. Zero, and less than zero. I told him, this is more in line with our true nature which is naturally gentle. Our real nature is love, but how could we ever know this if we are just endlessly reactive, hitting back or preparing to do so? We have to start somewhere, and I suggested to him that it is right here, simply, that: Love begins with non-harming. This is how we can start to know our real selves.
We have it in us also to create peace though our bodily actions, words, and thoughts, and the root of these is love. If we begin with non-harming, which is essentially knowing how we would want to be treated, and then acting with a even a modicum of wisdom, we naturally become gentle, respectful, and conscientious.
Once we face in that direction, then no matter how wrong or careless or hurtful we might have once been, right away we experience a change of heart and mind. From our heart, our love goes out, and it extends peace everywhere.
To adopt an attitude of non-harming naturally creates the feeling of safety and comfort. It removes fear, and it is soothing.
Love begins there, and yet it goes beyond such mere restraint. In the very character of love that we all carry with us at all times there is the willingness to remove suffering, now and in the future.
My friend asked me, oh, can we really do that? and I immediately said, Yes! We do it all the time – like when someone puts their hand on a friend’s shoulder when they need it, or when someone just shows up, or says a kind word just at the right time. It’s easier to see how we remove one another’s suffering if we think of it happening by degrees instead of all at once. We do quite often care for and comfort each other, and this is one of the beautiful, precious qualities found in our inherent capacity for love.
If we go further with this, we see there is the movement to relieve suffering in the moment, and there is also what we do for one another to help prevent future suffering.
In Buddhism we have this prayer,
May all beings be free of suffering,
and the causes of suffering
and in this we see the wish to remove the hurt and needs of the moment, and then also to prevent future discomfort or unhappiness. Love contains all of this motivation and the spontaneous movement to see it’s aims fulfilled.
Starting with non harming and going on to removing suffering, we can tell that there is even more to love than this. Love naturally brings joy to others, now and in the future.
The prayer of loving kindness says
May all beings have happiness
and the causes of happiness
The first part of this expresses the natural quality inherent in love of bringing light, joy, inspiration, freshness and peace, everywhere it goes, and the second line refers to looking ahead with the union of love and far-seeing wisdom.
We plant trees that will flower and bear fruit in future times, long after we are gone, and we do this out of love and wisdom, looking ahead.
We seek a remedy, and give food today, and we also build a home for our family, for their future safety, comfort and happiness.
We need to look in to causes, both of misery and health and happiness. Then we can sow the causes for the life we most naturally want for ourselves and our loved ones. We can see far into the future and then act out of love.
Love naturally expands. It wakes us up, and it reaches out in this way, more and more. Such is its nature.
This one quality we call love at its best has such richness to it. Don’t you agree? We can certainly speak of it as inherently not wishing ourselves or others any harm at all, and we can then mention its function of removing suffering and bringing happiness to ourselves and others more and more, now, and with wisdom, into the future.
But there is one more more facet that deserves to be mentioned when speaking of the naturally occurring qualities of love. It should be said here that when someone is causing suffering, love would have us respond to them with even greater love and compassion and wisdom.
Thich Nhat Hanh said, When someone is suffering enough, his or her suffering will spill over, and they will cause others also to suffer. Responding to them with even more kindness and compassion is the only thing that will eventually remedy the situation, but how far that is from how most people, groups and governments respond to violence, aggression, and acts of provocation. The usual response is one of retaliation, but its clear that this only furthers the cycle of violence. We lock people up, declare war, reject ourselves and others and start battles that go on for generations without end.
We use a cliche like ‘their act was a cry for help’ to describe some errant, hurtful action, but it is more than this – it is a call for deeper attention, for more energy, wisdom and love. If we don’t heed these messages, then we turn away from where help is most needed.
A doctor runs towards the sounds of suffering, not away; he or she does not neglect the least sign that something is wrong. If we are to heal self, our relationships, family, community, and especially those who are lost and causing harm to themselves and others, we do so need this precept. It is the highest expression of love, at its most caring and far seeing.
These are the precepts of love, ever available for those who would pick up on them and bring greater light, peace, health, harmony and joy to our lives together, and to this whole ten direction world.