Alternative MethodsConventional Methods


March 29

Zen Master Explains What It Really Means When People Say “I Love You”

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You already know that “I love you” is a large step to take in any relationship.

That much is clear. But how do you know if it’s the right step to take in your relationship? I mean, how do you know if they actually mean it? And more significantly, how do you know that they’re saying it for you, and not for them? Well, that’s right what Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Han has explained in his book, How to Love. Below, we’ve found a passage where he explains why “I love you” might not mean what you believe it does.

What “I love you” really means

At the core of Thich Nhat Hanh’s ideas is the notion that “understanding is love’s other name.” In other words, to love someone is to completely understand his or her suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh states that when we say “I love you”, we are caught in the idea of “self” and paying attention to the “I”. But according to Thich Nhat Hanh, true love means letting go of the ego and understanding that we’re in this together: “Often, when we say, “I love you” we focus mostly on the idea of the “I” who is doing the loving and less on the quality of the love that’s being offered. This is because we are caught by the idea of self. We think we have a self. But there is no such thing as an individual separate self. A flower is made only of non-flower compounds, such as chlorophyll, sunlight, and water. If we were to remove all the non-flower compounds from the flower, there would be no flower left. A flower cannot be by herself alone. A flower can only inter-be with all of us… Humans are like this as well. We can’t exist by ourselves alone. We can only inter-be. I am made only of non-me elements, such as the Earth, the sun, parents, and ancestors. In a relationship, if you can see the nature of interbeing between you and the other one, you can see that his suffering is your own suffering, and your happiness is his own happiness. With this way of seeing, you speak and act in another way. This in itself can relieve so much suffering.”

True love is when two becomes one

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that when it comes to love, there’s no “I”. Instead, true love means realizing that you’ve become one together: “In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no more individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one… In true love, there’s no more separation or discrimination. His happiness is your happiness. Your suffering is his suffering. You can no more say, “That’s your problem.”

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