What is love?

If by bathing daily God could be realized
Sooner would I be a whale in the deep.
If by eating roots and fruits He could be known
Gladly would I choose the form of a goat.
If the counting of rosaries uncovered Him
I would say my prayers on mammoth beads.
If bowing before stone images unveiled Him
A rocky mountain I would humbly worship.
If by drinking milk the Lord could be imbibed
Many calves and children would know Him.
If abandoning one’s wife would summon God
Would not thousands be eunuchs?
Mirabai knows that to find the Divine One
The only indispensable is Love. (Mirabai, as translated by Yogananda)

 * * *

At that time Manjusri asked Vimalakirti, “How does the Bodhisattva regard living beings?”

Vimalakirti replied, “As a conjurer looks upon the beings he conjures up—thus does the Bodhisattva regard living beings. As the wise view the moon in the water, or a face or form seen in a mirror; as shimmers of heat in a torrid season, as the echo that follows a cry, as clouds in the sky, as foam on the water, bubbles on the water, as a thing no more substantial than the trunk of the plantain, no longer lasting than a flash of lightning; as a fifth element, a sixth skandha, a seventh sense—thus does the Bodhisattva regard living beings.”

Manjusri said, “If the Bodhisattva looks upon beings in this way, how can he treat them with compassion?” (Burton Watson, The Vimalakirti Sutra, 1997)

D. T. Suzuki: (1929)

Before proceeding, a question may be raised as to the value of doing anything for others inasmuch as, according to the doctrine of Svacittamatram or self-mind-only, or to that of Sarvadharmanam sunyata-anutpada-advaya-nihsvabhava-lakshanam, there is nothing or nobody in the world that can be the object of salvation, or upon whom any kind of benefit may be bestowed. From the absolutely idealistic point of view, we may even ask if life is at all worth living. Is it not really much ado about nothing that the Bodhisattva should try to save the world when the latter is no more than the illusion of his own mind?

This is what the Mahayanists call nihilism, which does not understand yathabhutam, the truth of things. That the world is like a mirage, that it is thus empty, does not mean that it is unreal in the sense that it has no reality in any sense. But it means that its real nature cannot be understood by a mind that cannot rise above the dualism of “to be” (sat) and “not to be” (asat). Therefore, the Lankavatara opens with this stanza recited by Mahamati: “The world transcends birth and death, it is like flowers in the air; the wise are free from being and non-being, yet a great compassionate heart is awakened.”

The last sentence: “Yet a great compassionate heart is awakened in them” is repeated in the first four verses. This is the most important passage not only in the philosophy of the Lankavatara but in the whole teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. Therefore says the Ashtasahasrika-prajna-paramita Sutra: ”Sariputra asked Subhuti, If as you say the Bodhisattva is unborn, how is it that he works hard and suffers much for the sake of all sentient beings? To this answers Subhuti: I do not wish the Bodhisattva to think that he is working hard and suffering much. If he does, he is no Bodhisattva. Why? If he does cherish such thoughts, he cannot [suffer] except to benefit sentient beings whose number is beyond calculation. Rather let him rejoice over his doings, and, towards all sentient beings, feel like mother or father, son or daughter, and let him, feeling like this among men and women, walk in the path of Bodhisattvahood. Further than that, let him feel towards all beings as if they were himself, and think, ‘If I am to be completely free from all woes, let them also be so in the same measure. I cannot leave them to their fate. I must save them from the innumerable pains they suffer, and even if I were cut to pieces many times over I would not hold any uncharitable feeling toward them.’ This is the way a Bodhisattva-Mahasattva should feel toward all beings and there will be no thought of hardship with him . . . .”

The doctrine of effortless or purposeless deeds (anabhogacarya) is rooted in the possibility of awakening . . . a loving heart for all beings even though they have from the metaphysical point of view no self-substance and are therefore only relative in existential value. That is to say, the world is only a temporal phenomenon, and whatever evils and sufferings we encounter they have no finality as far as they go; but the pitying heart that transcends the cold and severe contemplation of the reasoning philosopher has no inclination to ignore the reality of particularisation; it is determined to eradicate all the evils that are in the world and to save all the suffering ones in the sea of transmigration. This compassionate heart has no ulterior motive except that it moves spontaneously and universally like the sun that shines on the righteous and on the unrighteous. This heart is called pure and undefiled because it is above the relativity of being and non-being, and yet it never ceases to function out of its overflowing goodness. (pp. 215-216)

Lester Levenson:

When you fully love someone, you identify with and you become one with that person. When you fully love the universe, you become the universe. Love is absolutely necessary. When we love totally, we totally identify with the grand and glorious infinite Being that we are! (1993)

Meister Eckhart:

God loves himself and his own nature, being and Godhead, and in the love he has for himself he loves all creatures, not as creatures but as God. The love God bears himself contains his love for the whole world. (Suzuki, 1957, p. 6) (see Meister Eckhart’s Sermon Seventy Seven)

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist the evil person. Instead, whoever shall strike you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And to the one willing to sue you and to take your tunic, yield to him your cloak as well. And whoever shall compel you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one asking of you, and do not turn away from the one desiring to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those persecuting you, so that you may be sons of your Father in the heavens. For He makes His sun rise on evil and good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You shall be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38)

Hui-neng taught that human nature in its beginning as well as in the end is thoroughly good and does not require any artificial weeding-out, for it has its root in that which is serene.” (Suzuki, 1949, p. 227)

Loving God, loving All, loving everyone is the easiest and most natural way to attain full realization. It requires no giving up. It is an expansion of our inner feeling of love to encompass and embrace all, everyone, everything. Expand your love, for your family, for your friends, for those of your country, for those of the entire world. Expand it until there is no more room for expansion and then remain eternally intoxicated and one with God! (Lester Levenson, Keys to the Ultimate Freedom)

The Lotus, while its roots lie in the mud, is in no way soiled by the mud, nor does it lose its wonderful scent. When the time comes for it to bloom it puts forth beautiful blossoms. The Buddha-mind is neither soiled nor does it decrease within sentient beings and it is neither purified nor does it increase within a Buddha. In the Buddha, in the ordinary person, among all sentient beings it is in no way different. To be sullied by the mud of the five desires is to be just like the lotus root lying covered by the mud. — Hakuin

Nyanaponika Thera:

Four sublime states of mind have been taught by the Buddha:

  • Love or Loving-kindness (metta)
  • Compassion (karuna)
  • Sympathetic Joy (mudita)
  • Equanimity (upekkha)

In Pali, these four are known under the name of Brahma-vihara (Brahma abodes). This term may be understood as excellent, lofty or sublime states of mind; or alternatively as Brahma-like, god-like or divine abodes. These four attitudes are said to be excellent or sublime because they are the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings.

The Brahma-vihara are incompatible with a hating state of mind, and in that they are akin to Brahma, the divine but transient ruler of the higher heavens in the traditional Buddhist picture of the universe. Brahma is free from hate, and one who assiduously develops these four sublime states, by conduct and meditation, is said to become an equal of Brahma.

They are called abodes (vihara) because they should become the mind’s constant dwelling-places. They should become our inseparable companions, and we should be mindful of them in all our common activities. As the Metta Sutta, the Song of Loving-kindness, says:

When standing, walking, sitting, lying down,
Whenever he feels free of tiredness
Let him establish well this mindfulness;
This, it is said, is the Divine Abode.

These four—love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity—are also known as the boundless states, because, in their perfection and their true nature, they should not be narrowed by any limitation as to the range of beings towards whom they are extended. They should be non-exclusive and impartial.

Contemplations on the Four Sublime States

I. Love (Metta)

Love, without desire to possess, knowing well that in the ultimate sense there is no possession and no possessor: this is the highest love.

Love, without speaking and thinking of “I,” knowing well that this so-called “I” is a mere delusion.

Love, without selecting and excluding, knowing well that to do so means to create love’s own opposites: dislike, aversion and hatred.

Love, embracing all beings: small and great, far and near, be it on Earth, in the water or in the air.

Love, embracing impartially all sentient beings, and not only those who are useful, pleasing or amusing to us.

Love, embracing all beings, be they noble-minded or low-minded, good or evil. The noble and the good are embraced because love is flowing to them spontaneously. The low-minded and evil-minded are included because they are those who are most in need of love. In many of them the seed of goodness may have died merely because warmth was lacking for its growth, because it perished from cold in a loveless world.

Love, embracing all beings, knowing well that we all are fellow wayfarers through this round of existence — that we all are overcome by the same law of suffering.

Love, but not the sensuous fire that burns, scorches and tortures, that inflicts more wounds than it cures — flaring up now, at the next moment being extinguished, leaving behind more coldness and loneliness than was felt before.

Rather, love that lies like a soft but firm hand on the ailing beings, ever unchanged in its sympathy, without wavering, unconcerned with any response it meets. Love that is comforting coolness to those who burn with the fire of suffering and passion; that is life-giving warmth to those abandoned in the cold desert of loneliness, to those who are shivering in the frost of a loveless world; to those whose hearts have become as if empty and dry by the repeated calls for help, by deepest despair.

Love, that is a sublime nobility of heart and intellect which knows, understands and is ready to help.

Love, that is strength and gives strength: this is the highest love.

Love, which by the Enlightened One was named “the liberation of the heart,” “the most sublime beauty”: this is the highest love.

And what is the highest manifestation of love? To show to the world the path leading to the end of suffering, the path pointed out, trodden, and realized to perfection by Him, the Exalted One, the Buddha.

 

Nyanaponika Thera. “The Four Sublime States: Contemplations on Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity.” Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel006.html

Levenson, Lester (1993). keys-to-the-ultimate-freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Sedona Institute. (http://www.freespiritualebooks.com/keys-to-the-ultimate-freedom.html)

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (1953). Essays in Zen Buddhism (Second Series). London, Rider and Company.

Suzuki, D. T. (1998). Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers (originally published in 1929).

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (1932). The-Lankavatara-Sutra: A Mahayana Text. Translated for the first time from the original Sanskrit. (http://lirs.ru/do/lanka_eng/lanka-nondiacritical.htm)

Suzuki, D. T. (1957). Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. London and New York, Routledge Classics. https://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/d-t-suzuki-mysticism-christian-and-buddhist.pdf

Watson, Burton (2000). The Vimalakirti Sutra. Columbia University Press. (https://www.wisdomlib.org/buddhism/book/vimalakirti-sutra)

Paramhansa Yogananda (1946). Autobiography of a Yogi. NY, The Philosophical Library.

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