What is Love? – The Amazing Insight of a Buddhist Monk

Although I cannot, alone, address such a universally challenging question of “What is Love?”, I can present some wondrous insights from Buddhism into the understanding of such an empowering yet vulnerable emotion. Some suggest love is purely chemical secretions playing games with our sensations, some suggest it is purely physical, and some souls are so pure that they their only natural state is to love. As humans, most of our blabber about love falls under the purview of romantic relationships, heartbreaks, and the extreme star-crossed, moon-struck and other astrologically inclined drama revolving around it.

But first, let’s see what mainstream media has to say.

Brainwashing Notions Portrayed about Love in “Mills & Boons” Kind of Tales and Cinema

“You Complete Me”

When people quote that awful Jerry Maguire’s “you complete me” line, I want to tell them that the only way anyone can complete you is if they are carrying one half of your paired organ. In all general circumstances, you are already complete within yourself.

Fairy Tales and The “Prince(ss)” Paradox

Personally, I will refrain from telling any fairy tale stories to my future kids at bedtime, lest my daughter thinks she is a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued from her ill fate by a prince charming, or my son has to find his elusive princess who probably has little to zero self-reliance.


Another concept that is presented way past its legal usage as a cliché is the idea of finding your soulmate.  We are enamored with the notion that there is just one person amongst the 7 billion of us, who truly matches our horoscope and helical composition and whose heartbeat coincides with our heavy bosomed breathing. Whatever the concocted definition of a soulmate may be, I assure you that you will find multiple people who connect with you on a soulful level, and they easily extend beyond the domain of romantic relationships, such as your family and close friends.

“Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” when you watch “The Notebook”

Allow me to present a memorable scene from the popular love triangle rom-com of the 90s, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

The instructor delves on the topic of love and the 40 year old male protagonist/college student, Rahul, suggests that “pyaar dosti hai” (love is friendship).  Rahul is, co-incidentally, at the center of affection from two women, one of whom is Rani, who hails from Oxford and is allergic to wearing anything below her kneecaps. The other is Kajol in a teenage Halloween costume. Whenever this movie comes on TV, kuch kuch zaroor hota hai and it is best alleviated with the help of some antacid to relief your heartburn. The point of the matter is that when the instructor poses the defining question –“What is Love?” – many of us are left fumbling for an answer.

In case of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the movie’s plot of killing one women, due to labor complications, and making the other wait long enough that she is probably past the age of maintaining her reproductive cycles, teaches us that the one you truly love is the one who ditches you for a more attractive person (*cough*), or in other words, is your best friend. There are other love stories that are equally cringe-worthy. Take for example, Love Aaj Kal. The hero confesses his feelings and royally effs up with the girl’s brain, just moments before her marriage to a great guy. Then he conveniently sets sail to San Francisco to pursue his dream career, which involves playing video games as a loner. Meanwhile, the girl calls off her marriage and patiently waits for him by painting walls; an activity reserved for those in rehab. It is only when the guy gets beaten up by thugs in San Francisco that he realizes his love for his “soulmate” and runs off to India, fully aware that she must be married by now. (It is heartwarming to know that my “soulmate” needs to get a good thrashing to regain his senses, the odds of which are low anyway in a low crime city like San Francisco.) The movie that is most cringe-worthy of all is “The Notebook.” Never have I seen two people fight and yell so much, break up repeatedly, and kiss each other like starving animals competing to death on National Geographic. It is marketed as heart-warming; in reality, it affects another vital organ- your brain, in the form of a bheja fry.

I’m sure there are those rare golden pieces of art that genuinely capture human emotions but most movies have taught me to never expect serious life advice about romance from celluloid, at the risk of harming my own brain cells.

So, what is love really?

Note: The following information is presented to you with personalized subheadings as an excerpt from Discussions on Youth Vol. 1 (SGI-USA, 1998) by Daisaku Ikeda from the Buddhist organization, Sokai Gakkai International.

Personal Choice and Private Matter

The agonies of love are many and varied. Each person has their own character and personality; they have different backgrounds and circumstances. So there is no set rule that applies equally to everyone. Whom a person dates is also a matter of personal choice. No one has any right to meddle in your private affairs.

Is Love Truly Blind?

Love should be a force that helps you expand your life and bring forth your innate potential with fresh and dynamic vitality. That is the ideal but, as the saying “Love is blind” illustrates, people often lose all objectivity when they fall in love. If the relationship you’re in is causing your parents to worry, or making you neglect your studies or engage in destructive behavior, then you and the person you’re seeing are only being a negative influence and hindrance to each other. Neither of you will be happy if you both just end up hurting each other. If you are neglecting the things you should be doing, forgetting your purpose in life because of the relationship you’re in, then you’re on the wrong path. A healthy relationship is one in which two people encourage each other to reach their respective goals while sharing each other’s hopes and dreams. A relationship should be a source of inspiration, invigoration and hope.

The Philosophy of Love (Root “philo” = “love” in Latin)

Love is a complex matter that is a reflection of each person’s attitude and philosophy toward life. That is why I believe people shouldn’t get involved in relationships lightly. The bottom line is that, without respect, no relationship will last for very long, nor will two people be able to bring out the best in each other. Rather than becoming so love-struck that you create a world where only the two of you exist, it is much healthier to learn from those aspects of your partner that you respect and admire, and continue to make efforts to improve and develop yourself. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, once wrote, “Love is not two people gazing at each other, but two people looking ahead together in the same direction.” It follows then that relationships last longer when both partners share similar values and beliefs.

Pain and Drama in Love

Please don’t succumb to the view that love is the be-all and end-all, deluding yourself that as long as you are in love, nothing else matters. Nor, I hope, will you buy into the misguided notion that sinking ever deeper into a painful and destructive relationship is somehow cool. All too often when a relationship ends, the great passion it once inspired seems nothing more than an illusion. The things you learn through studying, on the other hand, are much more permanent. It is important, therefore, that you never extinguish the flame of your intellectual curiosity. Far too many people nip their own brilliant promise in the bud because of their blind pursuit of love. Much of daily life tends to be ordinary and unexciting. Making steady efforts day-to-day can be trying. It’s not always going to be fun. But, when you fall in love, life seems filled with drama and excitement; you feel like the leading character in a novel. 

Love as a Means of Escape

If you lose yourself in love just because you’re bored, and consequently veer from the path you should be following, then love is nothing more than escapism. What you are doing is retreating into a dream world, believing that what is only an illusion is actually real.  Even if you try to use love as an escape, the fact is that the euphoria is unlikely to last for long. If anything, you may only find yourself with even more problems along with a great deal of pain and sadness. However much you may try, you can never run away from yourself. If you remain weak, suffering will only follow you wherever you go. You will never find happiness if you don’t change yourself from within. Happiness is not something that someone else, like a lover, for instance, can give to you. You have to achieve it for yourself. And the only way to do so is by developing your own character and capacity as a human being; by fully maximizing your potential. If you sacrifice your own growth and talent for love, you will absolutely not find happiness. True happiness is obtained through fully realizing your own potential. I would also like to add that to embark on a relationship as an escape from something is extremely disrespectful to both your partner and yourself. 

Love and the Ego

Each of you has a precious mission that only you can fulfill. To neglect one’s mission and seek only personal pleasure is a sign of selfishness. It is impossible for an egotistic, self-centered individual to truly love another person. On the other hand, if you genuinely love someone, then through your relationship with them, you can develop into a person whose love extends to all humanity. Such a relationship serves to strengthen, elevate and enrich the inner realm of your life. Ultimately, the relationships you form are a reflection of your own state of life. The same is true of friendship. Only to the extent that you polish yourself now can you hope to develop wonderful bonds of the heart in the future.

Saying ‘No’ in Love

With some people, once they have gotten into a relationship, they have a hard time saying “no” to the other person for fear of losing them. In that respect, love is like riding in a car with no brakes. Sometimes, even if you want to get out, you can’t; even if you regret having gotten in, the car won’t stop. In many cases, people get involved in a relationship thinking they are free and independent, but at some point find they have become captive to the relationship. Each one of you is infinitely precious. Therefore, I hope you will treat yourself with utmost respect. Please don’t follow a path that will cause you suffering, but take the road that is best for your well-being.

Love and Heartbreak

Please have the confidence and fortitude to think to yourself when you face rejection: “It’s their loss if they can’t appreciate how wonderful I am!” This is the kind of resilient spirit you must strive to cultivate. Please don’t let a broken heart discourage you. Tell yourself that you’re not so weak or fragile as to let such a minor thing bring you down. You may think there is no one who could possibly compare to that person, but how will they compare to the next hundred, the next thousand, the next ten thousand people you will meet? You cannot declare with certainty that there will not be others who far surpass them. As you yourself grow, the way you look at people will change as well. 

The Paradox of Strength and Vulnerability in Love

I’m sure quite a few among you have had your hearts broken or been badly hurt, and perhaps feel unable to go on, your self-esteem in tatters. But you must never believe that you are worthless. There is no substitute for you who are more precious than all the treasures in the universe gathered together. It is important for you to become strong. For if you are strong, even your sadness will become a source of nourishment, and the things that make you suffer will purify your life. Only when you experience the crushing, painful depths of suffering can you begin to understand the true meaning of life. Precisely because you have experienced great suffering, it is imperative that you go on living. The important thing is to keep moving forward. If you use your sadness as a source of growth, you will become a person of greater depth and breadth–an even more wonderful you.

True Love

The truth is, ideal love is fostered only between two sincere, mature and independent people. It is essential, therefore, that you work on polishing yourself first. It is demeaning to be constantly seeking your partner’s approval. Such a relationship is bereft of real caring, depth or even love. If you find yourself in a relationship where you are not treated the way your heart tells you you should be, I hope you will have the courage and dignity to decide that you are better off risking being scorned by your partner than enduring an unhappy relationship. Real love is not two people clinging to each other; it can only be fostered between two strong people secure in their individuality. A shallow person will only have shallow relationships. If you want to experience real love, it is important to first sincerely develop a strong self-identity. True love is not about doing whatever the other person wants you to do or pretending you are something you’re not. If someone genuinely loves you, they will not force you to do anything against your will nor embroil you in some dangerous activity.

For more (free!) insightful articles about health, work, and relationships from Soka Gakkai International, please visit: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhism-overview.html

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One Response to What is Love? – The Amazing Insight of a Buddhist Monk

  1. Chintoo says:

    Nice one..

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