"If one's thoughts towards spirituality
were of the same intensity as those towards love,
one would become a Buddha
in this very body, in this very life."

--from the Love Poems of the Sixth Dalai Lama

Valentine's Day is one of my favorite American holidays. The fact that this heart-centered if over-commercialized day falls around the same time as Tibetan New Year reminds me to make new year's resolutions relating to those I love and renew my commitment to cultivating goodness of heart. These resolutions usually involve opening my heart and mind; listening better; learning to forgive and to love even those I don't like; and coming to accept and bless the world, rather than fighting with it or trying to escape from it. As Zen Master Dogen says: "To study the Buddha Way is to be intimate with all things."

Some say we are here in this world to learn and to evolve in consciousness. Certainly primary among life's lessons is how to love and to love well, and to BE love, as well to give and receive it. I believe love is central to happiness, growth and fulfillment.

How would Buddha love? By seeing every single being, human and otherwise, as fundamentally like himself, and thus able to treat them and love them in the way he would be treated. We call this infinitely benevolent, selfless love, Bodhicitta or the Awakened Heart, the very spirit of enlightenment.

One can find this taught beautifully in the "Loving-kindness Sutra"; in Shantideva's classic "The Way of the Bodhisattva"; in Atisha's "Mind Training and Attitude Transformation"; and in Togmed's "Thirty Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas"... As well as in the Old Testament.

Each relationship and every single encounter can be a vehicle for meaningful spiritual connection, through the transformative magic of Bodhicitta. Buddha taught that this Bodhicitta or spiritual love has four active arms, known as the Four Boundless Heartitudes, and four expressive faces known as the Four Forms of Compassion in action. This is how we love, Buddha-style: impartial to all, free from excessive attachment or false hope and expectation; accepting, tolerant, and forgiving. Buddhist nonattachment doesn't imply complacence or indifference, or not having committed relationships or being passionately engaged with society, but rather has to do with our effort to defy change and resist the fact of impermanence and our mortality. By holding on to that which in any case is forever slipping through our fingers, we just get rope burn.

Buddhist love is based on recognizing our fundamental interconnectedness and knowing that all beings are like ourselves in wanting and needing happiness, safety, fulfillment, and not wanting suffering and misery. The Dalai Lama says, "If you want to be wisely selfish, care for others." All the happiness and virtue in this world comes from selflessness and generosity, all the sorrow from egotism, selfishness, and greed.

The immaculate image of Buddhist love is the four-armed Avalokitsevara, known as Chenrayzig in Tibet and Kuan Yin in China. Each of his/her four arms represent one of the Four Boundless Attitudes, and each one of her four radiant faces or aspects - peaceful, magnetizing, powerful, and fierce-express one of the four styles or modes of active compassion.


We might, for example, think of Buddhist spirituality as peace-loving, calm, virtuous and nonviolent; but in the case of a child or a pet running into the street, the active sides of compassion's calm heart spontaneously blaze forth, even as the loving center remains unchanged. Thus, the selfless Bodhisattva could possibly use force for the greater good, to protect, or to prevent harm and so forth, and need not be passive in the face of danger or when there is need for skillful, appropriate action.

The first arm of Buddhist love is maitri or lovingkindness, a boundless feeling of friendliness and wishing well for others. Maitri, or metta in the Pali language, implies friendliness: befriending and accepting yourself, your body and mind, and the world.

The second is karuna, or compassion, empathy, being moved by feeling what others feel. The third arm is upeksha, equanimity, recognizing the equality of all that lives. This recognition leads to the wisdom of detachment but not indifference or complacence, which are its near enemies.

The fourth arm is mudita, spiritual joy and satisfaction. This includes rejoicing in the virtue and success of others, -- the antidote to envy and jealousy.

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