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Dear Dharma Friends,

The topic we are going to talk about today is "Love and Affection." Some of you may be a bit surprised by our choice of topic because most people associate love and affection with a man-woman relationship. This is not exactly correct. Love and affection also applies to relationships in families, between friends, and among a nation's fellow citizens.

The world of love is wide and expansive. We do not only love our parents, friends, or countries; we may also love many other things. Some people love plants and flowers; others love their pets. Some other people love to collect mineral rocks, stamps, or matchboxes, and they derive a lot of joy from their collections. It is just as natural to love sentient beings with whom we can share our emotions as it is to love insentient things that do not understand our emotions.

Very often, we hear people raise this question: Where do we come from? The sutras tell us that we human beings arise out of love; in fact, it is said in the sutras, "When one's love is not strong, one will not be born into the saha world." In Buddhist literature, human beings are referred to as sentient beings. Love is the source of life and our existence represents a continuum of love and affection.

While some kinds of love are "healthy," others are "unhealthy"; some are "giving," others are "possessive." What is love? Love has its pluses and minuses. From the perspective of its pluses, love gives us the strength to make sacrifices, to give, to encourage, and to be compassionate. [Love is like a roadmap; it gives life direction and a clear visibility of life's destination. Love is like a blanket; it provides us with warmth and security. Love is like a box of chocolates; it is sweet and full of surprises.] From the perspective of its minuses, love is like a piece of rope; it can be binding and restrictive. Love is like a lock; it can shackle us and make us restless. Love can be blinding; it can keep us in the dark without us even aware of it. Love is like the honey on a sharp blade; it can entice us to lick the blade, even at the risk of cutting our tongues and risking our lives. Love can be like a sea of suffering; its turbulent tall waves can trap us in its depths.

We all want to be loved by others. Others go a step further and want to share their love with the many that their lives touch. Regardless if we love or are loved by others, we have to be watchful that our love does not turn sour. Love and hate are inseparable, one shadowing the other. If we do not love properly, if we do not expand our love to all, and if we do not elevate our love [for a few] to compassion for all, love can turn into hate. Today, I'd like to discuss with you four different levels of love and affection.


I. Everyday Love

[Everyday love is also most basic and common. This includes love between a man and a woman, between a parent and a child, among family members, and between friends. While love can be blissful, there are times when love can hurt. While most of us know or long for the joys of love, we may not understand why love can cause us so much pain. Because of this, I believe it is more useful if we spend the next few minutes talking about the latter.] When love is parochial, finite in capacity, and limited in scope, it often becomes possessive and clinging in nature. There are three main situations when love causes us problems:


A. When the object of our love is inappro-priate

It is human nature to love someone with whom we feel a special affinity, but when the object of our love is inappropriate, our love can bring us many headaches. When we love someone who is spoken for or is married to another person, our love is destined for troubles. It takes two to love; when we love someone who has no feeling for us, it is like banging our head against the wall. Depending on the object of our love, we should also moderate our intensity accordingly. If not, problems will ensue.


B. When our perspective of love is inappro-priate

[One of the most common, though faulty, perspectives of love is to view love as some kind of trade.] Some people believe that, because of their personal wealth, they can buy love. Others dare not love others who are more affluent that they are. Some other people would not consider falling into love with someone without first considering that person's looks, education, profession, or how wealthy his or her family is. In these instances, love is looked at as a kind of trade; this is an erroneous perspective of love. True love does not speak of requirements and prerequisites; true love is about giving.


C. When the manner in which we love is in-appropriate

Some people only love themselves and have little regard for how others feel. In their continual pursuit of personal enjoyment, some even engage in extra-marital affairs. Others let their own emotions cloud their judgement; they become partial to people they love and overly critical of others they dislike. Sometimes, love is like a pair of colored glasses, preventing us from seeing the true face of those we love. No wonder we say that love is blind. There is a common Chinese saying which we can use as our guide, "Know the ills of those we love and the goodness of those we dislike." When we love properly, love brings out the best in each one of us.

While the excessive love of a parent for his or her child can spoil the child and ruin the child's life, the love of a parent, when in moderation, can give enormous support for the child and help the child grow up well. I still remember some twenty years ago, when Venerable Tzu Chuang decided to renounce the household life to become a monastic, her parents came to witness the ordination ceremony. With tears in their eyes, they gave her a warm smile. Why were they both happy and sad? Although it is quite common now for young college graduates to enter the monastic life, it was quite unusual at that time. On the one hand, her parents wanted to spend the rest of their lives with their child; on the other hand, they recognized their daughter's love and dedication to the Dharma. Their tears, as well as their smiles, left a strong impression in my memory.

At this point, you may think that there is no room in Buddhism for the kind of love that exists between a man and a woman, or between a husband and wife. This is not the case at all. Buddhism does not disapprove of wholesome love between a man and a woman; what Buddhism disapproves of is love that is unhealthy and unsound. It is unfortunate when love becomes the cause of problems and heartbreaks. When I read in the newspaper about the many alarming stories of love-driven assaults or even homicides, I cannot help but lament how tragic it is not to love properly.

Love is about giving; even if we cannot make huge sacrifices for our loved ones, the least we can do is not to hurt them. In the Documentary of the Warring Period, Yueh Yi once said, "When a gentleman breaks off a friendship, he does not speak ill of the other party. When a patriotic official is asked to leave the emperor's court, he does not try to clear his name." Similarly, while most people would like to see their romance develop into marital bliss, it is important to know how to handle a relationship when it fails. When friends part ways, they should do so amiably and not bear a grudge against the other party. How can one make an enemy out of someone whom one has once loved? To defame or destroy another person just because of a failed relationship is so unnecessary.

Some people describe how people love this way: Young people love with their words, middle-aged adults love with their actions, and elder people love with their hearts. What this means is that how we love matures with age. Likewise, our love also evolves as we grow in spiritual maturity. From loving ourselves, our love grows to loving our families and to loving the entire human race.


II. Heroic Love

What kind of love is heroicXremarkable and extraordinary? How does it differ from the everyday love we talked about in the previous section? I am going to give a few examples here to help us answer these questions.


A. Selfless love for the country

Ta Yu was a well-known virtuous man of ancient China. During that time, there was a major flood, and many people lost their farms and homes. The emperor assigned Yu to see what could be done to divert the river water and alleviate the floods. Thirteen years he was away from home, supervising the project. He was so dedicated to finishing the project and thus relieving his fellow countrypeople of further pain that, during these thirteen years, three times he passed his house and three times he did not stop to visit with his family. In his love for his country and fellow countrypeople, there was little time for himself and his family. Such selfless love for the country is a very good example for all of us to emulate.

During the Warring Period in ancient China, there was a government official by the name of Chiu Yuan. He was very patriotic and was very trusted by then Emperor Chu Hwai. When some of the corrupt officials began to see themselves losing ground to Chiu Yuan, they began to spread rumors about Chiu Yuan. Unfortunately, the emperor believed the rumors and distanced himself from Chiu Yuan, finally dispatching him to a far-away post. Even then, Chiu Yuan loved his emperor and maintained high hopes that his country would not fall into the hands of these corrupt officials. He would rather give his life in patriotism than to kow-tow to the plans of the political parasites. When he was ordered by the emperor to implement a policy put forward by the corrupt officials or to face death, he chose death. He jumped into Mi-low Lake and took his own life. Since the villagers could not recover his body, they rowed about the lake in boats and made loud noises with their drums so that the fishes would be scared away and not feed on his body. In fact, this is the beginning of the Dragon Boat Festival. From many of the letters left behind by Chiu Yuan, we can see his steadfast love for his country. He would rather give his own life than to watch helplessly his country on the decline. This is another example of selfless patriotic love for the country.

During the later years of Sung dynasty, China was divided into Northern Sung and Southern Sung. When the poet Lu Fang-weng lay dying on his death-bed, he told his sons, "As I lay dying, I should know that all phenomena are empty; however, I grieved I did not see the unification of the nine states. On the day General Hwang reclaims the north, please do not forget to tell me the news when you make your ancestral offerings." This kind of love for the country is another example of remarkable love.


B. Selfless love for others

One of the Buddha's cousins was a general by the name of Mahanaman. He was responsible for guarding the city of Kapilavastu. When the city was attacked and was about to fall into the hands of the enemies, he pleaded with the other general, "Please do not kill my countrypeople. But if you have to, can you please wait until I resurface after jumping down to the bottom of the river." The other general was none other than the fierce King Virudhaka. He looked at Mahanaman and answered, "As it is, you and your countrypeople have no escape but to die. Alright, I am going to grant you your last wish." Mahanaman then jumped into the river and disappeared. A long time passed and he still did not float back up. Virudhaka was getting impatient and sent his people to the bottom of the river to find out what happened. They found Mahanaman at the bottom of the river with his hair tied to a tree root. In giving his life, he bought some time for his fellow countrypeople to escape out of the city. This kind of willingness to sacrifice oneself for others is a form of fearless love. It is, indeed, extraordinary love.


C. Selfless love for the Dharma

Within Chinese Buddhism, we have all heard of Master Hsuan-tsang. He was also referred to as the "Confucius of Chinese Buddhism." Master Hsuan-tsang was remembered for his determination to go to India to learn about Buddhism and bring sutras back to China. To do this, he had to cross over eight hundred miles of desert. One day while in the desert, the water that he and his entourage were carrying suddenly all spilled out. The situation was really grim because there was little chance they could cross the desert without water. Under the fierce sun and with dying thirst, he made this very famous vow: "I would rather die trying to take the last step westward than try to make it back east alive." This fervor for truth is also a form of remarkable love.

If you look at how the Japanese live, eat, and dress, you will see that there is a heavy flavor of Chinese influence. Who was the first to introduce Chinese culture to Japan? To this, we have to credit Venerable Chien-chen of the Tang dynasty. He was a forefather of the area of Yangchou, where I grew up. In order to realize his dream of going to Japan to spread the Dharma, he tried to cross the sea to Japan on seven different occasions and over a twelve-year period. One time, he was stopped by government officials; another time, he was robbed clean by bandits. On another trial, he had to turn back because of bad weather and turbulent seas. There was even one time when he was sold out by one of his disciples. After six difficult attempts, he finally arrived in Japan at the age of sixty, blinded in both eyes. Even with all these hardships, his resolve of spreading the Dharma in Japan remained unshaken. He also made this moving remark about his experience: "What is the risking of life in the face of great undertakings?" He did not hesitate to give up his life for the chance of spreading the Dharma. His compassion of spreading the truth to all was a remarkable love for others.


D. To love one's parents to the best of one's abilities

The Buddha's disciple, Maudgalyayana, was a filial son. After his mother passed away, he learned with his supernatural powers that his mother was suffering in hell. His love for his mother was so great that he did not hesitate to go to hell to help console his mother in her suffering. His dedication to his mother so moved the Buddha that the Buddha told him only the united efforts of the whole Sangha could alleviate his mother's suffering. This is the beginning of Ullambana. In this way, not only was he able to save his mother, many others are able to help their deceased relatives. This form of filial behavior is the direct transformation of a remarkable love.

Ch'an Master Tao-chi of North Chi dynasty was another example of a filial son. When he traveled about spreading the Dharma, he carried his books and mother in baskets suspended from a bamboo pole set across his shoulders. When others offered him a hand, he would politely decline and say, "This is my mother who gave me life and raised me. I should be the one to take care of her." Chen Tzun-su of Tang dynasty was a very accomplished Ch'an master. He was also very attentive to his mother. He earned his living by mending shoes; thus, he was also called Chen the Shoesmith.

There are many other examples of selfless love for one's parents. Filial love is a true and pure form of emotions; it is also a manifestation of what extraordinary love is.


E. To love one's students like oneself

The following examples serve to show how past masters loved their students and followers. To teach and train their students, they used varying methods and seized every opportunity possible. With love and dedication, the bond between a teacher and his students was forever sealed.

It was recorded in Lun-U how heart-broken Confucius was when he learned of the death of his student, Yen Hwei. He wailed and said repeatedly, "The heavens have let me down!" His tears fully captured his feelings for his students. He was saddened by the premature death of his student; he grieved at the loss of someone with great potential. His love for his student was most compassionate and remarkable.

Milaraspa traveled far and wide looking for a teacher. After extensive search and travels, Milaraspa finally found Marpa to be his Dharma teacher. His teacher asked him, "You said you want to call me your teacher. Let me ask you what you have to offer me?"

Milaraspa prostrated respectfully and said, "I am going to offer you all that I engage in my actions, speech, and thought."

With this, Marpa agreed to accept him as his disciple. One day, Marpa told Milaraspa, "You are a strong young man. I want you to build me a stone house so that I can store all my sutras. Once it is completed, I will teach you the Dharma."

Milaraspa was most delighted. When he asked his teacher for a sketch of what he wanted, his teacher told him, "I want you to go to the tip of the east face of the mountain and build me a circular house. The roads are steep and treacherous, but your hard work can help you burn off your bad karma."

Milaraspa worked day in and day out. When it was about half finished, his teacher came up the mountain. He took off his half-moon shaped topcoat, folded it a few times and left it on the floor. He then turned toward Milaraspa and said, "This does not look like a good spot. I want you to take the house apart and move to the west face of the mountain. I want you to build me a house that looks like this garment here."

Frustrated and speechless, he complied. When he was about half-way done, his teacher again came up the mountain and said, "The house still does not look right. I want you to take this apart and move all the materials to the north face of the mountain. There I want you to build me a triangular-shaped house to symbolize what a true cultivator I am."

Milaraspa again followed his teacher's direction. Rain or shine, he worked non-stop, hoping to finish the house. It was about a third completed when his teacher came up the mountain and asked him, "Who told you to build this house?"

Nervously, Milaraspa replied, "You personally asked me to build you this house."

The teacher looked puzzled. Scratching his head, he said, "Oh! I can't really recall anything like this. Why would I ask you to build me a triangular-shaped house at this poor location? It looks like the type of altar used by cults. Do you want to do me harm? Take it apart! Take it apart! I want you to go to the south side and build me a square-shaped house. I want it to be nine stories tall, on top of which is one more floor for storage, for a total of ten stories. Once it is completed, I will teach you the Dharma!"

Just with a few words, all of Milaraspa's efforts were washed down the drain. In this way, building and de-constructing, many months and years passed. He was exhausted and physically beat. Some of his fellow students could not bear to see him suffer alone and so offered to help him move tiles and bricks. When the teacher found out, he exploded and scolded Milaraspa, "I asked you to build me a house. Did I say that you can ask others for help? Why are you so lazy and ask others for help?" His teacher did not only yell at him, he also gave him a few blows with a club. When he could no longer bear the pain, he let out a little squeal. Instead of comforting him, the teacher continued to reprimand him, "Why are you crying? When you first came and wanted to be my student, did you not say that you wanted to offer me all your actions, speech, and thought. I am just striking what is mine, and I am only yelling at what is mine. What is there for you to cry about?"

What Milaraspa had to endure is beyond our imagination; he tacitly accepted all kinds of hardships. After a few years, Milaraspa attained enlightenment and became an arhat. On the night that he attained enlightenment, his teacher embraced him crying, "When I first saw you, I realized you were one of those rare individuals with great potential. This is why I had to put you through the toughest tests so that you may soon attain enlightenment. When I reprimanded you, hit you, and was just outright unreasonable toward you, my heart ached with pain. But when I thought about the good it would do you in the future, I just have to hide my pain and continue to task you." What looked unreasonable on the surface was in fact a teacher's love for his students. It was his way to groom his student for greatness.

When I entered monkhood many years ago as a young man, I was lucky enough to be educated in a similar fashion. On the day when we entered the hall to be ordained, all the precept masters were seated in a row. I remember the precept master asking us sternly, "Today, you are here to be ordained. Are you coming here today because you want to or because your teacher wants you to?"

Someone immediately answered, "It is my desire to come here today to be ordained."

When the precept master heard his reply, he took up his rattan stick and began beating this student. Afterwards, he said, "How dare you come here without being asked by your teacher!"

It was another precept master's turn; he asked us the same question, "Are you here today because you want to or because you were asked to?"

The other students saw what happened earlier, so one of them got smart. He stood up and said carefully, "Please be patient with me, I am here today because my teacher asked me to come."

He thought he was very clever; instead his answer did not put him in any better light. The precept master gave him a beating and said, "If your teacher had not ask you to come, does it mean that you would not be here today?"

Upon reflection, the precept master did have a point. Did we have to be asked to come to be ordained? Did we not have the commitment to enter monkhood on our own? Next, it was another precept master's turn. Like the two before him, he asked us the same question. With both experiences behind us, we thought we knew better. One of us said, "My teacher did tell me to come to be ordained, but I myself also want to come." He thought that such an answer could not go wrong. He could never have guessed that his answer would also bring him the same punishment as the two other students before him. After the punishment, the precept master said, "You are too smooth."

Next, we were told to appear before another precept master. This time, the question was quite different. The precept master asked, "Have you ever violated the precept of killing?" Now, killing is a very serious offense, so we all shook our heads and said, "No, we have never violated the precept of killing."

The precept master then said, "Impossible! Are you telling me that you have never swatted a fly or stepped on an ant before? It is obvious that all of you are lying." With this, the precept master gave each one of us a few strokes. I guessed he was right. We were not telling the whole truth, and we deserved to be punished. Then, another precept master asked us if we had violated the precept of killing. This time we replied, "Yes teacher, we have violated the precept of killing."

"This is violation of the precepts and calls for punishment." With these words, the precept master gave each one of us a few strokes with a whip. As the day progressed, we did not want to answer any questions put before us. Helplessly, we just said, "Teacher, if you want to punish us, please do so."

On the surface, this form of teaching method looks ridiculous and unreasonable. As it turned out, what our teachers wanted to do was use unreasonableness to teach us to let go of our reasoning intellect and to use feelinglessness to teach us how to deal with our emotions. If we could surrender ourselves in the face of unreasonableness and feelinglessness, then would we not be more apt to accept the truth? Their demonstration of unreasonableness and feelinglessness was, in fact, a tool to teach us to let go of our stubborn delusions. It was out of compassion that our teachers were so unfeeling. Looking back, I was indeed very lucky to have the opportunity to be trained under the old school. The training was tough and painful, but without pain, how could there be greatness? If we were not to throw iron scraps into the smelter, how could we get steel? The stringent test we had to go through was a blessing. When I look at the youths of today, I do feel sorry for them. They do not have the opportunity to be so tested; the education of today does not instill in our youths the spirit of toughness and endurance. Discipline, when coupled with compassion and remarkable love, is a means for teachers to truly prepare their students for greatness in the future.


III. Enlightened Love

There are many levels of love. When we extend our love from loving our spouse to loving our siblings, to loving our relatives and friends, to loving our neighbors, our fellow countrypeople, all animals, and to all sentient beings, our love also matures. In this way, basic love first transforms into heroic love, which further matures into enlightened love.

A lot of us have heard about Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. Before he became a bodhisattva, he cultivated at the hills of Chiu-hua in An-hwei. This was a region of very steep hills and few people. At that time, there was a young boy living with him. One day, this youngster could no longer bear to live in such isolation, so he asked to leave the temple and go back down to the village below. Ksitigarbha escorted the youngster down the mountain and offered him a poem as a parting gift. From the sentiments of the poem, we can see the transcendental love that bodhisattvas have for us. The poem goes like this:

                Within the quiet gates of this temple you long for your family;
                As you descend the mountain, you say goodbye to this temple in the clouds.
                You love to ride bamboo horses within bamboo fences
                Rather than collect gold sand in this land of gold.
                Do not try to pick up the moon in the water while filling the vase;
                Or try to play with the flowers in the water while washing the basin in the pond.
                Go, and do not shed a tear for me;
                This old man has the clouds in the sky to keep him company.


In the first stanza, Ksitigarbha captured the feeling of the youngster: how lonely he was within the gates of the quiet temple and why he wanted to return to his home in the village. In the second stanza, Ksitigarbha cautioned him what he was giving up in his leaving the temple. He described the little boy's desire of wanting to ride bamboo horses and play games rather than cultivate within the walls of the temple. In the third stanza, Ksitigarbha left words of advice for the youngster to keep in mind. He told the little boy that when he took a vase to go to the river to fill it up with water, he would see the reflection of the moon in the water. He warned the boy not to try to pick up the moon in the water for it was just a reflection. Life in the world is illusive, too. Ksitigarbha also told the boy that he when he washed the basin in the pond, he should be careful not to mistake the reflections of trees and flowers in the water as a flowery world in the pond. In the fourth stanza, Ksitigarbha comforted the youngster so that he would not feel guilty about leaving him. He told him to go and do not feel sorry for him. Although he, Ksitigarbha himself, lived in the quiet temple on the mountain, he could still find company in the fleeting fog and the floating clouds of the sky.

From this poem, we can see the love and affection bodhisattvas and arhats have for us. The feelings Ksitigarbha had for the little boy is multi-dimensional. He knew how the little boy felt, provided him with guidance, and even comforted him. Each word was superbly chosen and rich in meaning.

When Venerable Dao-chi of Tang dynasty was the abbot of the Fu-kan Temple in Yi-chou, he opened the temple to many lepers, many of whom had open stenchful sores. Venerable Dao-chi was not at all put off by their condition; he even lived and ate with them. He also dressed their sores and helped them with their baths. Some of his disciples made excuses and tried to keep their distance from the lepers. Finally, someone asked the Venerable, "Venerable, you spend time with the lepers everyday. Are you not afraid that you will also become infected?"

Venerable Dao-chi smiled gently and said, "What we call clean or dirty is the result of our discriminating mind. If we do not have any dislikes in our minds, how can aversions arise? When our mind is pure, everything and everywhere is pure. If a monk like myself cannot even let go of this bit of delusion and let compassion arise in its place, I should be ashamed of myself for not living in accordance with the Dharma."

Such is the love of arhats and bodhisattvas. Their love is embracive, their compassion knows no discrimination, and their view of self and others is rooted in equality.

Maha-Kasyapa was one the Buddha's great disciples. He was also an arhat. Maha-Kasyapa's parents, who were very affluent, wanted him to get married. Getting married was really not in Maha-Kasyapa's plans, for he wanted to dedicate his life to Buddhist cultivation. After being repeatedly pressured by his parents, he had no choice but to appease his parents. In order to buy some time, he asked a goldsmith to sculpt a statue of a beautiful young maiden. He took the sculpture to his parents and told them that he would marry only if he could find someone as elegant as the gold sculpture. In order to get his son to marry, his parents had no choice but asked a few servants to carry the sculpture around the country looking for someone that could match its beauty. The servants first spread words that the golden statue was really an image of a deva and would bring good luck to all young maidens who would come to pay her respect. This way, all young maidens got wind of this wonderful statue, and they all came forward to pay their respects. Among the many who came, there was one who was so striking in her beauty that the gold statue paled in comparison. She was the beautiful maiden Subhadra. They finally asked for the permission of her parents and brought her back to Maha-Kasyapa's parents.

Maha-Kasyapa had no choice but to keep his promise to his parents, and the two were married. As it turned out, this young lady also wanted to dedicate her life to cultivation, and she complained to Maha-Kasyapa, "This is really my parents' idea. They wanted me to marry you because of your family's wealth. As for me personally, I would rather live a life of cultivation." When Maha-Kasyapa heard this, he told her, "Good. I also want to live a life of cultivation. Then why don't we practice separately." Thus, though they were husband and wife in name, they both continued their own course of cultivation. After twenty years when both sets of parents had passed away, they finally got their wish to renounce the household life and lived a monastic life. They became a bhiksu and a bhiksuni respectively. Although Subhadra became a bhiksuni, her beauty still attracted the attention of many men. When she went out to beg for alms, men would follow her and tease her. She was so taken aback by all the unwanted attention that she dared not go out to beg for alms. When Maha-Kasyapa saw what was happening to Subhadra, whom he called his wife once upon a time, he felt compassion for her and shared with her whatever food he got from his alms round. Others misread his compassion and began to circulate rumors by saying, "Look! They said they were only husband and wife in name, but they are still such a loving couple even though they are now in the Sangha." Subhadra lamented that her physical beauty was in fact a burden, so she disfigured herself in the hope that she could become a bhiksuni who was ugly in appearance but beautiful in her cultivation. From this, we can see the enlightened love and affection of arhats is different from the worldly way we normally perceive love.

Most people think that arhats, who are no longer bound by worldly emotions, are without emotions. This is not true at all. Though arhats have severed the ties of emotions, they are rich in emotions. They are enlightened individuals who are rich in personality and true to their character. When we say arhats are empty of emotions, what we mean is that they have transcended the limited scope of man-woman kind of love, and that they have expanded their love for a few to a limitless and selfless compassion for all. From loving one's spouse, children, and family, we extend our love to the Dharma and all sentient beings. Thus, true love does not speak of possessing others. True love is the touching of others' lives and the giving of ourselves for all.


IV. The Buddha's Kind of Love

The Buddha is a fully enlightened individual; what is the Buddha's emotional life like?

As a lot of you may have known, the Buddha's mother died seven days after giving birth to the Buddha. The Buddha, who had always wanted to preach the Dharma to his mother to thank her for delivering him into this world, finally fulfilled his wish and went to Trayastrimsas Heaven to preach the Dharma to his mother. When King Suddhodana, the father of the Buddha, passed away, all the princes expressed their desire to be pallbearers. Though the Buddha was the fully enlightened one and was most revered, he still insisted on being one of the pallbearers for his father. When everyone saw the Buddha carrying the coffin, everyone was very touched. The Buddha was indeed a filial son and a great enlightened individual. He gave us a very good example of how to love our parents.

The Buddha loved everyone, friends and foes alike, equally and without discrimination. Before the Buddha renounced his household life, he was married to Princess Yasodhara of Devadista. Many years after the Buddha attained enlightenment, the Buddha went back to his hometown to see his family. Princess Yasodhara had not seen the Buddha for all these years and wondered how her husband had changed. Filled with hope and uncertainty, she was anxious about what to say to the Buddha, who was once her husband. After the Buddha met with his father, the imperial court, and various royal cousins, he finally met up with Princess Yasodhara. She thought to herself, "I really have to give him a piece of my mind and ask him why he left me." When Princess Yasodhara saw the majestic look of the Buddha, she could not help herself but knelt down before the Buddha. The Buddha looked at her and said to her in a calm and stately tone of voice, "Yasodhara, I have to ask for your forgiveness for what I did to you. Though my leaving home to cultivate was not fair to you, I am most true to all sentient beings. Now, I ask you to rejoice for me for it had been my wish for many kalpas to become the Buddha. My wish is to preach the Dharma and help all sentient beings, including yourself, cross the sea of suffering." His voice was compassionate, his appearance was august, and his words transcended all worldly love. Everyone was moved, and eventually Yasodhara also renounced her household life. From the way in which the Buddha handled his relationship with Yasodhara, we can see that to truly love a person is to help him or her grow and stay on the right path; to love a person does not necessarily mean a fairy tale life of living together happily ever after.

The Buddha did not just love his family; he also loved those who were hostile toward him. Though his cousin, Devadatta, treated the Buddha like an enemy, the Buddha did not bear any grudges against him. In fact, the Buddha used to tell everyone that Devadatta was his good teacher and instrumental to helping him with his cultivation. Without darkness, how do we appreciate the illumination of light? Without evil, how do we appreciate the goodness of truth? Without Devadatta, how do we see the greatness of the Buddha?

The Buddha did not just extend his compassion to the rich and the mighty; he was equally compassionate to all sentient beings without discrimination. When his students were sick, the Buddha would prepare the medication or deliver water to his students. When older bhiksus failed in their eyesight and could not mend their clothes, the Buddha would personally help them thread needles or mend their clothes for them. The Buddha loved his disciples like a loving mother cares for her children. To his disciples, the Buddha was a source of light and strength. The Buddha is most compassionate and gives us limitless hope!

The Buddha was also a very patient teacher and adapted his teachings to the student and the occasion. When Nidhi, who made his living disposing of night-soil for others, felt inadequate and tried to avoid the Buddha, the Buddha purposely went out of his way to meet up with him. With Ksudrapanthaka, who was very slow and had trouble even memorizing a simple gatha, the Buddha spent extra time to teach the Dharma to him. When his disciple, Katyayana, who was preaching the Dharma in another area, sent one of his young students to pay respect to the Buddha, the Buddha made sure that this young student was well cared for. The Buddha told his disciples, "Now that the young student of Katyayana had arrived, please set up a cot next to my bed for him to rest for the night." The great Buddha found time for everyone, even for a young student. In showing his concern for the youngster, the Buddha was also showing his love for his disciple who was away preaching the Dharma. The Buddha often thought about Aniruddha, who lost his sight because of long hours of cultivation and not getting enough rest. Only after Aniruddha attained supernatural vision did the Buddha stop worrying about him. The Buddha also worried about his cousin Ananda, who was very handsome and often attracted the unwanted attention of women. Only after Ananda became successful in his cultivation did the Buddha feel a sigh of relief for his cousin.

Thus, when we speak of love and affection, there are actually many levels of love and affection. Love starts at home. We love our spouse, our children, and our siblings. From here, we extend our love to loving our relatives and friends. Further, our love encompasses all human beings and then all beings. From a possessive kind of love, love matures into a giving kind of love, and finally into the enlightened love that bodhisattvas have for us. This kind of love is the great compassion that is described by the saying, "[I] long for all sentient beings to be free of suffering, but I would not seek pleasure just for myself."

Love is like water. On the one hand, it can nurture our lives; on the other hand, it can drown us. Thus, if we do not know how to love properly, love can bring us many problems and ruin our lives. How do we love properly? Let me offer the following four guidelines:

  1. Love wiselyXWe should use our wisdom to purify our love.
  2. Love compassionatelyXWe should use our compassion to manifest our love.
  3. Love in accordance with the DharmaXWe should use the Dharma to guide our love.
  4. Love morallyXWe should use morals and ethics to direct our love.

Love is such an important subject of our lives. How do we love selflessly and offer our love to all? How do we transform a possessive love to a giving love, to a love for the Dharma? How do we purify our love from one of discrimination to one of great compassion? How do we love in the spirit of this common saying: "Cultivate our kindness without conditions, and ground our compassion on oneness"? These are very important questions for us to ponder. When we offer our love and affection to serve the community, then our lives will be that much fuller and that much more everlasting! Thank you.