True Love

A Dharma Talk

by Musai Sensei

I'm going to talk about true love today. Uchiyama Roshi in his book The Wholehearted Way identifies three kinds of love. Sexual love he somewhat dismisses, although in other places in the book he's clearly appreciative of it. He refers to it as instinctual love. The second kind of love is, and I quote, petting or making a toy of someone. And the example he uses is lonely people with their pets, but I think he could also use grandparents. I'm a fairly recent addition to the roster of grandparents, and I can see that there's that aspect of being a grandparent. The third type of love is true love.

This book, The Wholehearted Way, I recommend to you wholeheartedly. It's Uchiyama's commentary on Dogen Zenji's "Bendowa". "Bendowa" itself is not very long, it's just a few pages but it's the clearest and most expansive statement of what zazen is. So zazen being the heart of our practice and Dogen being one of the great teachers in our lineage, this is a very valuable piece of writing.

So what does Uchiyama Roshi mean by true love? First of all, I want to say that I don't think these other forms of love are bad. I don't think there's anything wrong with them. Sexual love is terrific. Obviously it can cause us a lot of problems, but it can also cause us a lot of joy and connection and so on. And making a pet of someone, that's not such a bad thing. I'm enjoying it immensely making a pet out of my granddaughter. I got a letter from her, the first letter. She lives in San Francisco and for some reason she won't talk to me on the phone. When her mother says to her "Hanna Papa Syd is on the phone" Hanna says to her, "No, he isn't. That's how she takes care of it. "Yes he is !" Nope!" So, I have to wait until I see her. But she wrote me a letter, with her mother's help, and she sent me some wonderful photographs. I mean, you couldn't help making a pet out of this creature; she's just so beautiful and wonderful.

Here's what Uchiyama Roshi says about true love: "Each and every one of us is living as the self that is only the self. Everything we encounter in this world is the content of our world; therefore we value, take care of, and think tenderly of every one of these things as a part of ourselves, and this is the third type, true love". That's a tall order, as my mother would say. When you think of loving everything you encounter as yourself - who can do that? But to undertake that, or even to consider that that might be appropriate, or that we can describe true love that way, well it makes for a wonderful practice.

You know we say that everything is coming into being in this moment, moment to moment. And of course, each one of us individuals has a perception of what is coming into being, and each one of our perceptions is different. Just from the simple fact that you're sitting there looking at me and I'm sitting here looking at you, our perception of this moment has to be different. That's just the most obvious level. But on every level, it's different. What you make of this moment, how you think of this moment, how you feel about this moment and how I feel about this moment are different. Maybe it's just a little bit different and maybe it's radically different. But there's just one moment, and all of these perceptions, even all of the perceptions of the thirty or so people in this room, don't begin to encompass what this moment is. And every moment is like that. Conventionally, my life ends right here at my skin or maybe if I'm a little more advanced than that in my thinking, I think that my life involves some sphere about me and my perceptions of you. But that's very limited, too, because there is only my life it's emerging in this quite miraculous way. So, it's up to me to take care of this moment which includes you and me, the building, the air, everything - everything that's in my perception and that's not in my perception.

The universe is alive in Buddhism. You can make a distinction between organic and non-organic and that's a useful distinction because you want to eat vegetables, you don't want to eat rocks. But the rocks are alive, too, and they have the life of a rock. If you really take Buddhism seriously, not just Zen, but Buddhism, you have to take care of the whole world. Being an environmentalist becomes an automatic kind of thing if you really have a Buddhist practice that is authentic, because the trees are alive the rocks are alive, the asphalt is alive. What does he say here? "Therefore we value, take care of, and think tenderly of all of these things as a part of ours selves." And he use the word "things" at least in translation, so it's not just people. In some ways it's easier to take care of people, but it's also easier to hate and abuse and not take care of people.

This is also a quote from Uchiyama "When I was young since I also had strong sexual desire, I was interested in and attached to many different things. I couldn't actually feel such love (referring back to true love) but now I am aging [Uchiyama Roshi was fairly old, I think probably in his eighties when he gave this talk], not many outward things weigh on my mind and sexual desire naturally falls away. When I think of these conditions, I deeply feel that to be aging is wonderful". That's kind of a nice thought for those of us who are aging. We're all aging, of course but for some of us it's more of a reality than for others. And mostly, I think I speak for most of us who are in the aging category, we don't generally think, "Oh, this is wonderful!" We don't get up in the morning with the aches and pains that we didn't used to have or notice and think, "Oh, isn't this wonderful". I must have two dozen pairs of glasses which I personally own, and it's pathetic how many times I end up looking for my glasses. Whenever I do, I don't think, "Oh, this is wonderful." But it is very nice to think that some of the urgency, the need for sexual love and maybe the need to create pets for ourselves decreases a bit, and maybe this true love that he talks about can emerge a bit more clearly. I don't think that's an automatic thing with aging. I know some old people who are very cramped and bitter arid unhappy in their aging. I don't think it's automatic but maybe it's a real possibility.

Here's a poem I wrote a few years ago:

Here is a mystery
You can lust after sexual beauty;
You can desire what gratifies your senses;
You can long for what remains out of reach;
But you can only love what you pour love into.

I believe that very strongly. I believed it when I wrote it and I believe it now. I think that lust, desire and longing are often mistaken for love and labeled as love. Love's a funny word; I mean it covers a broad range of experiences in our language Yet somehow we all have this sense that if ought to be reserved for things other than "Oh, I love pistachio ice cream." I think you can't love anything that you don't pour your love into. So in some ways, it's your  own love coming back. When you love and you're loved in return, it's your own love; it's not two things happening. It's one thing happening that maybe you could call true love. So Uchiyama Roshi is asking us to recognize oneness, and not as an abstract concept, which is easy to do, but as a fact in our lives; even more than that, as a practice that we should undertake. It's not difficult to have a notion of oneness: we're all one. There are bumper stickers that make that point succinctly, and it's not a big stretch to think, "Oh, yeah, that's true." But to experience it in our hearts and in our guts, that's not so easy.

It may be easier to experience under certain circumstances. I took three people on a hike yesterday; I do it every other month. I call it a wilderness teaching. We went down to the Manzano Mountains, to a part of the Manzano Mountains where the Rocky Mountain maples are in their full splendor and it was just extraordinary. These Rocky Mountain maples are not like the eastern maples, those big trees with the dense foliage. They're rather open; they're small trees, and they're very branching and the leaves don't form a dense unit. They have rather sparse foliage, and they turn all colors of red, from scarlet, to pink, to salmon - a huge range of colors - and you look through the woods and you can see them in layers, because you can see through one tree to the next tree. The timing turned out to be just wonderful, because we got to the trail-head about seven o'clock. You don't see these trees right away, but as soon as you start down the trail, there they are. At about the same time the sun came up behind us. We were walking west, and the sun was filtering through the trees at that horizontal angle that happens at sunrise and it was breathtaking. As I go out to places like that frequently, and, it's very easy for me to love everything, including myself, which is nice. One of the great treats for me in going out into places like that, natural places, is that I never feel like I have to fix anything. I think, "Well, this just perfect. A few days before, my sister and I went up to the Sandias, where there'd been an ice storm. In a band from about Cedar Crest up about a thousand feet, everything had been iced, so that every blade of grass, every leaf and every rock had been covered in ice, and it was beautiful!. Of course, it had created a lost of destruction. Because a lot of the branches still had leaves on them, branches had crashed and trees had fallen over. You know, if that were in my back yard, I'd think, "Oh, gee, my tree is falling apart," and I'd think, "Oh, now I've got to clean it up." But out there I think, "Gee, it looks just right; It's perfect." So it's very easy for me to love everything I see there and to love myself and the people I'm with. I get in the city, and I'm driving behind somebody on Twelfth Street and he opens his window and throws a crumpled cigarette pack out on the street. I find it difficult to feel love for that person. So it's nice to go to a place where it's easy to feel it; I can bring some of that back with me.

Until we do zazen, we might not have this experience, we might not have some sense that we're all one body. You know, the Christians have it: we're all the body of Christ. I'm not saying it's strictly a Buddhist notion, but until we do some practice, it's hard to appreciate this oneness and maybe it's hard to feel what Uchiyama Roshi is calling true love. I think the practice of zazen is the very best way. I know I'm prejudiced about it, but I think it's the very best way to begin to realize this. It's not an easy practice. At this point, I've been practicing for thirty years, so it's not usually difficult. But certainly for a long time, when I began my practice, I found it difficult: not just difficult physically, although that's part of it, but difficult because of what happens with your mind when you don't have some distraction, someone giving you a lecture or music to listen to. We sit and we face the wall. And what comes up? Well, usually what comes up is problematic and sometimes very painful. So it's not an easy practice.

Many years ago I read a short story. I think it was by Carson McCullers, and I think it was called "A Tree a Rock, a Cloud. The point that the main character makes is how difficult it is to love a human being. He wants to start with something simple and so, he's trying to learn how to love a rock, a tree, a cloud. He figures that when he's been able, to manage that, which isn't to easy, maybe he can go on and begin to think about loving a human being. The story made a big impression on me all those years ago, and now I see it as a Buddhist approach.

I think that these other kinds of love sexual love and petting love, can also be true love. Often they're not but they can be. Sexual love, can be a wonderful experience if it happens with this kind of understanding that myself and this other person are different and yet not different; myself and this other person are one being: the experience of the other person is equally important to my experience. If you have two people taking this attitude toward each other, it can be amazing.

So how do we do it? That's a good question. Maybe the question would be better stated: "What gets in the way? What gets in the way of our feeling true love?" Well, I think the answer is pretty obvious. What gets in the way is our own self-centered ideas and our belief that we're not one: "I'm different from who you are and when you behave in a certain way it makes me unhappy and don't like that and I'm going to make some adjustment to that to make sure you know. it." So the constantly referring back to ourselves, our own comfort, our own safety, our own opinions more than anything else, our own opinions - that's what gets in the way. One of our dharma predecessors, Hung Ji, said "You must completely withdraw from the pounding and weaving of your ingrained ideas." But he doesn't say stop them, which I think is important. He doesn't say, "You must stop," because you can't.. Forget it. Just try to stop thinking. It's futile. The translator of this text chose "withdraw," but maybe, "Don't be attached" would be better. So all of us have the pounding and weaving of our ingrained ideas and our practice can help us be a little less attached to that pounding and weaving.