From pop songs to our own parents, we have all heard it before: “Love hurts”. In our close relationships with others there seems to exist both an incredible potential for joy and happiness, as well as the potential for incredible pain. When our loved one disappoints us, pushes our buttons, or when or relationship falls apart altogether, we often feel unhappy. From a Buddhist point of view, however, this idea that love brings with it a potential for pain couldn’t be further from the truth. Love can never bring unhappiness or pain, but can only bring happiness and benefit.
If love can’t bring pain or unhappiness, what the heck does bring about this mental pain in our relationships? According to Buddhism, what hurts in relationships is actually the mind of attachment. Although we naturally have minds of pure love in our relationships with others, it is usually mixed, or contaminated, by the painful mind of attachment.
What is Attachment?
Attachment is a self-centered mind that wants to obtain happiness from another person or thing outside ourself. It is a confused mind because it thinks that we can find lasting peace and satisfaction from external things. Since there is no external thing that can do this, it leaves us feeling discontented and incomplete until we possess the object of our attachment. Even when we do get in the seemingly “perfect” relationship, attachment prevents us from feeling content. We are always hoping for our partner to behave in a certain way or say certain things that will please us; this attitude arises from attachment. Likewise, when we are separated from our partner, or do not have one, it is attachment that makes us feel depressed or lonely.
When we have a mind of attachment in a relationship, our love has strings attached. We feel warmly towards others only if they behave a certain way or make us feel good. The minute they stop living up to our expectations of them, we become angry or disappointed.
The good news is that we can remain in our relationships with others while reducing our attachment. As we make progress with removing our attachment, our happiness and love in all our relationships, including with our friends, will grow. We will experience far fewer problems and our health will improve.
In the remarkable book, Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains the Buddhist solution to overcoming our relationship difficulties:
“We often become strongly attached to another person who we feel will help us overcome our loneliness by providing the comfort, security, or excitement we crave. If we have a loving mind toward everyone, however, we do not feel lonely. Instead of clinging on to others to fulfill our desires we will want to help them fulfill their needs and wishes.” (p.58)
So even in the midst of our relationships, we can work on growing and improving our mind of pure love, which is essentially a mind that views another person as precious and wishes for them to be happy — without strings attached. We can develop this mind of love for our children, parents, and significant other, as well as our acquaintances and even strangers. When we want the other person to be happy, we are less anxious and frustrated with what we are getting (or not getting) out of our relationship with others and our mind is naturally at peace.
Love is a Skill
Like all skills, love is something that actually needs to be practiced for it to become perfected. It is unreasonable to expect that we will immediately remove all pain related to our relationships overnight, but through steadfastly applying the teachings on training the mind explained by Buddha, we will gradually experience greater happiness and fulfillment in our relationships. Eventually, we will be able to maintain a happy and loving mind all the time.
If you are interested in learning more about the Buddhist perspective on love, come by our Love Panel this Sunday!
What do you think? We would love to hear your questions or comments in the box below!