Love is kind: it is a mind that wishes happiness upon others. It is the great protector from suffering because when our mind is filled with love it is always at peace. There is a beautiful story from the life of Buddha Shakyamuni: when he is sitting under the bodhi tree striving for enlightenment, all the obstructing spirits in the world attack him with fearsome weapons; but through the force of his concentration on love, the spears and arrows turn into a rain of flowers. I think this is such a wonderful symbol for how love transforms our world and the people in it. When you love someone, they appear beautiful, you can see the good in them. While you truly love them, they can do nothing to hurt you.
This may at first glance seem like an overly romanticised view of love: in our experience, it feels like love can sometimes cause us pain, rather than protect us from it. But this is because it is very difficult for us to separate out all the different things that are happening in our mind. We may have a mind of love – just focused on wanting the other person’s happiness – but do we also perhaps have some attachment, wanting them to behave in a certain way in order to benefit us? For example, we may give someone good advice that we know could help them; if they fail to take that advice and we feel bad, check to see what is causing that bad feeling. Do we feel just a little bit slighted that our advice has been ignored? Were we expecting a bit more gratitude? If we could get rid of all the reactions that are about us rather than them, we would have no problems.
In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang says:
We sometimes feel that the reason we are unhappy is that someone we love is in trouble. We need to remember that at the moment our love for others is almost invariably mixed with attachment, which is a self-centered mind. The love parents generally feel for their children, for example, is deep and genuine, but it is not always pure love. Mixed with it are feelings such as the need to feel loved and appreciated in return, the belief that their children are somehow part of them, a desire to impress other people through their children, and the hope that their children will in some way fulfil their parents’ ambitions and dreams. It is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between our love and our attachment for others, but when we are able to do so we shall see that it is invariably the attachment that is the cause of our suffering. Pure unconditional love never causes any pain or worry but only peace and joy.
Making our love completely pure is a big challenge, but it will be so worthwhile. To give us the motivation to train in this, practice watching your mind and try to discriminate between these minds of attachment and love. It sounds like it should be easy – they are polar opposites, after all – but it’s not easy at all. Keep asking yourself ‘is this thought really about me or them?’ until eventually we get used to distinguishing between the two. When we can spot the difference, we will be really encouraged to train in the mind of loving kindness, because we will know from our own experience that this precious mind of love brings real happiness.
Take it further: Loving kindness retreat