The Passionate Buddha
Wisdom on Intimacy and Enduring Love
I wonder if it is a natural human impulse or notion to believe in true love. If one reads works from some of the world's great literary traditions, turns on a TV during the daytime soaps, listens to anything from classical to rock music through the ages, or even waits in a grocery checkout line, secretly glancing at the tabloids or rows of romance novels awaiting a last-minute purchase, this would seem to be the case.
Personally, as naively idealistic as it may seem, I have grown to have confidence in true love. I see it as the only path to liberation and fulfillment for each and every human being. Yet for me to define what I or any other person really means by the concept of true love only evokes the Buddhist story of the blindfolded wise men who, after touching just a small portion of a grown elephant, are asked to say what it is they have touched.
What then is it that makes a notion as seemingly indefinable as true love so enduring? Buddhist tradition teaches that our essential nature is basically good. This goodness, quite simply, is love. To be in love, to act in a loving way toward ourselves and others, is an external expression of how in touch we are with our own basic goodness--our own loving nature.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks passionately about the value of human affection. Love, it would seem, is of primary importance. And, in the infinite way we as humans display love and affection, my sense is that all lovers and would-be lovers of the world would agree that romantic love is the most dizzying, confusing, challenging--and possibly the most endearing--expression of our loving nature. In a sense, in the bewildering experience of losing ourselves in true romantic love with another, we are actually finding ourselves. Not only do the two become one, but each one becomes more whole.
That said, I don't mean to simplify love as the answer. For the path we travel to fully actualize love in our lives is fraught with numerous pitfalls--almost all self-created.
Gampopa, the great Tibetan physician and Buddhist teacher, once said, "It is the sign of a superior man that he treat all with equanimity yet still has a few good friends." Thus, Gampopa encourages us to identify with our absolute, unconditional loving nature while recognizing our personal preferences, our tendencies toward greater affinity with certain people. The Buddhist approach sees no real contradiction in this. Bliss and equanimity can coexist with personal happiness and satisfaction. Life lived to its fullest with complete awareness--what enlightenment is really all about--can be full-bodied and juicy. Indeed, even the sacred and profane are not separate.
What prevents us from embracing these paradoxes and this way of being is merely the force of habits reinforced over lifetimes, so deeply ingrained that they lead us to take our life circumstances and our personal characteristics far too seriously. The Buddhist approach to this dilemma and all the suffering it creates for us is to loosen these habit patterns so that we feel a bit more space. From this expansiveness we can turn around and gain a broader perspective; we can once again experience our loving nature. In Buddhist meditation and techniques for self-transformation, we strive to use skillful means and wisdom--expressions of the male and female principles respectively--in balanced action to infuse our real world situations with these ideals. What is the result of such an approach?
More than likely, in the tangled web we have created over our own lifetime as a result of our conditioned habit patterns, where we have good (perhaps more enlightened) and not so good days, the benefits of such a practice are ambiguous at best. Yet, over time we may notice in ourselves a softening, an opening, that allows more and more of the absolute view--which is an expression of our loving nature, our basic goodness--to shine through.
In relationship terms, we find it easier to have love and compassion for more and more others and, strangely, more likely than not, there just so happens to arise for us a special someone. If there is already a special someone, a Beloved, in our lives, our appreciation for who that person is--rather than how we want or expect him or her to be--grows.
The Passionate Buddha is about fully opening to our loving nature by breaking the habits we have created that prevent us from being and finding love. We live in a time when divorce rates are high, unprotected sex can lead to disease or even death, single parent families are the norm, cyber-sex is the dominant attraction on the information superhighway, and more and more people medicate their feelings of loneliness and despair. In these conditions, it seems imperative to offer a book that addresses how we can come to trust our loving nature, break the habits that alienate us from ourselves and others, and develop healthy, fulfilling, lasting relationships.