Most do not seek unconditional love but rather conditional love, that
which is limited to certain persons and even in that case only under
certain conditions. Conditional love is selfish love while unconditional
love is unselfish love.
Love, as a social pact, or love of an ideology, or even love of a God, can also produce war or self-destruction. This is all selfish love.
Unconditional love, being unselfish love, is not based on sense pleasures or security, not based on possession. It does not have attachment to any thing or any person but embraces all equally. This is the Buddhist ideal, which is hard for most to achieve, even for the monk or nun. It is focusing not on social status, to know those with fame or power, but upon those in need, of the lowest social rank, as all are equal and compassion forms for those in need. It forsakes all carnal desire in favor of real human understanding and concern for the real person within ourselves and others.
Unselfish love is not just a better way to have a relationship, but the way to love all sentient beings, to not be fooled by beauty, which is transient in any case, or riches, power, fame, or even formal education. The monk does not enter the monastery with any degrees but leaves them behind. So unselfish love is the ideal kind of love of the Buddhist life, whether for the monastic or the lay person. So with unselfish love, one can bear the separation from parents and family.
Unselfish love is much more secure than selfish love because it cannot be taken away from a person, even by being killed or self-sacrifice. The unselfish love comes from within each person and does not depend on others or any one particular relation.
There can be no expectations of any kind in unselfish love. It does not seek to control anyone, to bind anyone, or to limit anyone. Unselfish loves sets people free, particularly in spirit and mind. So love is the natural result of being unselfish, and in this way it sustains itself. Unselfish love creates a good karma that extends beyond the self and one's lifetime. It is also the basis of wisdom and compassion, which is itself a great unselfish love.
With unselfish love, there is no need of fear or anger. It is like Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest in Burma said, that she has no fear of her captors because she "feels no animosity towards them." This is hard for the non-Buddhist to understand. Letting go of hatred and animosity is also the basis for letting go of fear and vexation. The former are dependent on selfish love. Unselfish love can also be the basis for world peace and harmony.
Even though we may not reach the ideal of unselfish love in one lifetime, it is a goal to strive for. I think that as we get older, starting infancy, we move towards more unselfishness in our love. The infant is total need. When one is old, one is total generosity, or should be according to the ancient Chinese ideal. Confucius thought that one becomes more virtuous as one grows older because of wisdom, meaning that there is no desire to do foolish things and less selfishness. There is more tolerance of imperfection and acceptance of the mortality of the body. There should also be more acceptance of other people as wisdom grows, less fussiness with others, less demand for perfection in others, that is we can love others more unconditionally, being less critical.
Criticism comes from judgment of others. Being excessively critical is detrimental to love and demands more patience from those around us. This is why Buddhists meet criticism with silence, or a thank you. If one has truly unselfish love, then even criticism cannot bother us, cannot make us feel bad or angry.
Bhante also talked about letting go of anger. He talked about anger as an old friend that comes to visit us. He said that we should welcome anger and allow it to leave peacefully without doing damage inside our house, inside ourselves. The point of the talk I think is that it is easier to let go of anger if one cultivates unselfish love, to love uncritically, without judging. This can lift up people, especially those in turmoil and help them to become peaceful. Then one can become more like the Bodhisattva who seeks to bring peace and enlightenment to others through the practice of unselfish unconditional love.
Since we can have no expectations, so we can not also expect someone or others to love us and certainly not to demand such love. But paradoxically, love will be most returned when one is not needy, places no demands, has no expectations because others will feel less pressure and no coercion, so they may act freely.
Others may not act wisely or even be nice to us, but the way to teaching is by example, that of forming the attitude of unselfish love. The Buddhists also often use the example of others being angry with us or mean to us as providing a great opportunity to practice peace and understanding, to release any anger. The more we are able to let go of anger and frustration by such practice, then the stronger we become in ourselves. Conversely, the more anger we let ourselves feel, the weaker and more anxious we become.
Thus, in my opinion, how we experience love, as either selfish or unselfish, is a major point in building our own self-confidence and strength of moral character. Personal strength does not lie in being cold or stern but in being loving and compassionate. And since love comes from within each of us, we can cultivate such love in both meditation and in daily practice, in our relations to others. Such unselfish love, as the basis for compassion cannot be calculating or forced, not to be followed as one simply follows a precept or commandment. It is rather something that becomes part of our inner nature and is that virtue that can be spread and live beyond this life, or even the next.
Once we understand this, then there is no possible reason or inclination to be mean or cold to other people, even when they are mean, cold, or critical of ourselves.
We did not get to discuss the other two topics, "compassion"
and "cause and effect" due to lack of time but will continue them next
(These comments are based on memory and are expounded upon by the author. They are not a transcript of the talk.)