Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that everyone is capable of putting unconditional love into practice. This love includes your family, friends, acquaintances, and even your enemies.
“We all need love. Love brings us joy and well-being. It is as natural as the air” (Thich, 2010).
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, mindfulness is the first step to understanding, and understanding is the second step leading to love. Think of love as taking baby steps toward someone or something. You put one foot out and then take another step. You are present which means you are aware of and learning from your environment. Presence brings you to an understanding that gives you compassion, and compassion also leads to love.
Nhat Hanh’s teachings tell us that understanding is love’s other name. If you truly understand someone and recognize their suffering or profound dissatisfaction, you will learn to love them. “Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love (Thich Nhat Hanh, 2010).
Related: Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism According to The Zen Master
Everyone is Capable of Love: Four Elements of True Love
The Zen Master teaches that everyone is capable of love, and real love has its roots in four elements. These elements are loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. The first two elements address the relationship between your suffering and your capacity to understand others.
“The essence of loving kindness can offer happiness. You can be the sunshine for another person. You can’t offer happiness until you have it for yourself. To build a home inside by accepting yourself and learning to love and heal yourself. Learn how to practice mindfulness in such a way that you can create moments of happiness and joy for your nourishment. Then you have something to offer the other person. If you have enough understanding and love, then every moment — whether it’s spent making breakfast, driving the car, watering the garden, or doing anything else in your day — can be a moment of joy” (Popova, 2014).
The second element of love is compassion. Compassion is the desire to ease another’s burdens and the ability to ease these trials. Practice looking deep into the soul of another to gain an understanding of their suffering. Meditate to learn to understand.
Understand yourself and embrace all of the negativity plus all the positivity. This gives you the capacity to understand how others feel. Accept yourself with all your faults. Embracing all that life gives you provides a way you can accept and love others. You learn from yourself as you learn from others.
Joy is the third step to true love. If the is no joy in life, there cannot be love. If you suffer all the time and are depressed, and if you make the person you love cry, this is not love.
Love is a learned vibrant interaction and is formed from what we have seen and understood early in life. It comes via imitation rather than a conscious creation.
Nhat Hanh tells us, “If our parents didn’t love and understand each other, how are we to know what love looks like? … The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their happiness. Our parents may be able to leave us money, houses, and land, but they may not be happy people. If we have happy parents, we have received the richest inheritance of all” (Popova, 2014).
Nhat Hanh further says that love means you trust and have confidence in someone else. Love without trust and confidence is not loving. You do have to love and trust plus respect yourself. Believe that you have a compassionate nature and know you are part of the universe. When you look at someone you love you can see that person also carries eternity inside. Now it is easier to love. Apply this lesson to your enemies, as well as your friends and family.
Nhat Hanh’s fourth step to love is freedom. If you love someone, you bring freedom to them. You don’t keep them in slavery, but give them the freedom to learn and grow.
Love is the capacity to protect, nourish and take care of someone. If you can’t take care of and love yourself, you are not capable of taking care of anyone else. Buddhist teachings state that to love oneself is the foundation of love for others.
Nhat Hanh’s poetic words summarize love, “When you love someone, you should have the capacity to bring relief and help him to suffer less. This is an art. If you don’t understand the roots of his suffering, you can’t help, just as a doctor can’t help heal your illness if she doesn’t know the cause. You need to understand the cause of your loved one’s suffering to help bring relief” (Popova, 2014).
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