We all yearn to experience a love that is more joyful and profound. Teachings on Love provides a time-tested path we can follow to nurture this love in ourselves and for others. Thich Nhat Hanh draws from many sources to present the Buddha’s teachings on love in ways resonant for contemporary readers. He elaborates on the Four Immeasurable Minds—love, compassion, joy, and equanimity—as concrete expressions of our deepest love for ourselves, others, and all beings. Weaving together traditional anecdotes, personal experiences, and a deep understanding of the Buddha’s way of mindful living, Thich Nhat Hanh offers step-by-step practices that foster growth of understanding and intimacy in any relationship, even those that have done us harm.
A Buddhist monk, prolific author of 30 books, and candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts during the Paris peace talks, Hanh here continues his theme of peace, this time through the tool of love. His topic, how to love well, will be of interest to many, and his simple prose style is easy and soothing to read. Hanh makes a point of trying to reach his modern audience, even those without Buddhist sensibility, with refences to E-mail and faxes in his chapter on deep listening. Elsewhere he speaks of four-star hotels as nothing compared to the “abode of Brahma…a four thousand star hotel.” His message is clear: love yourself and others by listening deeply, using “right” speech, and building a strong sangha (community). To stay away from harming ourselves and others he advises mindfulness and practicing the four immeasurable minds: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. By using these disciplines, Hanh promises a sense of contentment and peace. There is honesty and beauty in Hanh’s writing. Recommended for all libraries.
Happiness is not an individual matter; it has the nature of interbeing. When you are able to make one friend smile, her happiness will nourish you also. When you find ways to peace, joy, and happiness, you do it for everyone. Begin by nourishing yourself with joyful feelings. Practice walking meditation outside, enjoying the fresh air, the trees, the stars in the night sky. What do you do to nourish yourself? It is important to discuss this subject with dear friends to find concrete ways to nourish joy and happiness.
When you succeed in doing this, your suffering, sorrow, and painful mental formations will begin to transform. When your body is invaded by harmful bacteria, your own antibodies surround the bacteria and render them harmless. When there aren’t enough antibodies, your body will create more so it can neutralize the infection. Likewise, when you suffuse your body and mind with feelings of the joy of meditation, your body and spirit will be strengthened. Joyous feelings have a capacity to transform the feelings of sorrow and pain in us.
Please also practice, “May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in him or her every day.” Insert the name of the person you’ve chosen—your friend, brother, sister, or teacher–and nourish the seeds of joy in him or her. We often need to unburden ourselves of our suffering by sharing it with someone we trust. But we mustn’t forget that she may be coping with her own pain and needs to be nourished by feelings of joy herself. If we pour our suffering onto her, she may become exhausted. If we want to rely on her for future support, we need to be careful not to pile too much suffering on her. She will reach her limit and will not be able to take it anymore.
Learn to nourish yourself and the other person with joy. Are you able to make her smile? Are you able to increase her faith and enthusiasm? If you are not able to do these small things for her, how can you say you love her? To love someone means to bring her joy and happiness in concrete ways. If you act skillfully, your words and actions will make her feel fresh and light. Sometimes a kind word or two are enough to help her blossom like a flower.
To practice this love meditation from the Visuddhimagga, sit still, calm your body and your breathing, and recite, “May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit. May I be safe and free from injury. May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.” The sitting position is a wonderful position for practicing this. Sitting still, we are not too preoccupied with other matters, so we can look deeply at ourselves as we are, cultivate our love for ourselves, and determine the best ways to express this love in the world.
The practice begins with an aspiration: ”May I be….” Then we transcend the level of aspiration and look deeply at all the positive and negative characteristics of the object of our meditation, in this case ourselves. The willingness to love is not yet love. We look deeply, with all our being, in order to understand. We don’t just repeat the words, or imitate others, or strive after some ideal. The practice of love meditation is not auto-suggestion. We don’t just say, “I love myself. I love all beings”. We look deeply at our body, our feelings, our perceptions, our mental formations, and our consciousness, and in just a few weeks, our aspiration to love will become a deep intention. Love will enter our thoughts, our words, and our actions, and we will notice that we have become peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit; safe and free from injury; and free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.
When you practice, observe how much peace, happiness, and lightness you already have. Notice whether you are anxious about accidents or misfortunes, and how much anger, irritation, fear, anxiety, or worry are already in you. As you become aware of the feelings in you, your self-understanding will deepen. You will see how your fears and lack of peace contribute to your unhappiness, and you will see the value of loving yourself and cultivating a heart of compassion. Instead of living with some generalized fear of accidents, observe the ways you injure yourself all the time, and take appropriate actions to minimize illness and injury.
Look deeply, not just while on your meditation cushion but wherever you are, whatever you are doing. Living mindfully is the best way to prevent accidents and protect yourself. Recognize your deep desire to live in peace and safety, to have the support you need, and to practice mindfulness. You might like to write down some of your observations and insights. The Buddha said that once we realize that we are the closest and most precious person on Earth to ourselves, we will stop treating ourselves as an enemy. This practice dissolves in us any wish we might have to harm ourselves or others.