The 11the Session of the Middle Way Buddhist Association

Personal Thoughts by Say Lee on the Talk by Bhante Dhammawansha

(These are personal thoughts of the author and not an official position of the MWBA)

“ ... Love is nature's way of giving; a reason to be living ...”

For those of us who belong to the so-called baby boomer generation, this is likely to be familiar lyrics; otherwise the tune itself, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, may also evoke a trip down the memory lane. Love can indeed move mountains. At the same time, love can be the source of untold misery too, when its twin brother, hate, comes to the fore. But it does not have to be that way, when we subscribe to the Buddhist notion of love, as expounded by Bhante Dhammawansha at the occasion of the 11th Dharma session of Middle Way Buddhist Association (MBWA) held on December, 15, 2007 at its Pinellas Park venue.

This was to be the first of the three topics that Bhante would speak on, immediately following the mutual introduction of fellow attendees, the other two being cause and effect, and compassion, two of the central tenets in Buddhism.

Broadly, love can be conditional or unconditional. The former lies within the purview of us mere mortals, it being the preoccupation of the mundane world, be it between married couples, among family members, friends, leaders and followers, etc. On the other hand, unconditional love is a particular rarity in this time when materialism reigns supreme but is professed by the Buddha and Bodhisattvas nonetheless.

Conditional love is characterized by the duality of love and hate, the line of division being often tenuous at best. It is selfish, driven by self benefits, and is loaded with expectations. It is carnal in nature and fixates on the ego. Since “I” is in the thick of action, negative emotions like anger, fear, worry, and doubt abound, thereby accentuating the negative feedback to the extent of destroying the lives of others. This proliferating trend has turned the world into a time bomb, a catastrophe in waiting.

The only way to defuse the dire situation is to propagate unconditional love, one that is fulfilling, healing, uplifting, and reinforcing. It nips hatred in the bud. Unconditional love starts from within, by changing our mind. It is said that the difference between a murderer and a saint is only one thought away.

Ever noticed that the poisons in animals are confined to certain parts of their bodies: the tail of a scorpion, the fangs of a venomous snake, the skin of some animals? But all five senses of a human body are poisonous, but they can be controlled, with the mind. Think no retaliation, practice forbearance. When in a group, do only one of two things: spiritual discussion or noble silence.

A pre-requisite to embracing unconditional love is self love, the ability and capacity to love ourselves. It may seem paradoxical, but is like having a bottle of water, you can't give it to others if you don't have one. Through self love, we will be able to give love to others. This is one way to develop the seed of unconditional love. One other way is to appreciate life, going above and beyond the oft-quoted raison detre: eat, drink and be merry.

Cultivate the right understanding, and hold the right view. Let go of clinging, avoid emotional roller coaster, talk to “anger”, without giving it plus or minus, be friendly with negative emotions, not hiding or rejecting, but accepting, observing. Be mindful, focusing in the moment.

How to be detached from the 5 senses? When seeing, just see. When touching, just touch. We need to control our senses, just like the turtle retracting its head and limbs into the shell when it encounters a tiger, leaving the tiger no choice but to walk away.

Satisfying our desires only brings temporary relief, after which they will continue to fester to become long-term afflictions.

Bhante concluded the meaningful session on love by passing on another gem of Buddhist teaching:

“Worldly things are always ready for our needs, but not for our greed


Additional Comments by Tom Lacey on the Talk by Bhante Dhammawansha

Bhante said that complete unconditional love was only possible  by the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. We can strive for but rarely attain unselfish love because of the compromises made in living in the material world and the world of familial, social, and political relations.


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 time.

(These comments are based on memory and are expounded upon by the author. They are not a transcript of the talk.)

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