It is not easy to break through the illusion of being a separate self. We spend a lot of energy trying to fill the gap of loneliness with distractions and passions. We want to be fulfilled, to find meaning so as to lose that sense of loneliness because experiencing oneself as a separate entity in this vast universe is quite frightening.
When I was very young, every time I looked at the stars at night I would feel a sense of panic because it seemed as if I had disappeared. I would start crying because I felt an intense fear of destruction and annihilation. The universe seemed vast and overwhelming, and this little entity felt so small, just a tiny speck of dust. It was unbearable. The sense of death in that moment, the sense of being annihilated, was very strong and powerful. Now when I look at a starry sky, I feel very happy.
Love is perhaps our main way of seeking to overcome this sense of separation and loneliness and probably the most pervasive theme in our human realm. We seek love. We miss love. We try to figure out how to love ourselves and others. All religions speak of love – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism. Love is an ever-present theme, whether it is love for a person or an object, divine love or love of truth.
We know a lot about the love associated with attachment, with passion. We know about loving something because it gives us something in return. We ‘love’ chocolates because they make us happy for a few minutes. We love a partner because of the satisfaction we get from the relationship. But we may also come to realize that human love is bound up with attachment, with self-satisfaction, with physical, mental, emotional or sexual pleasure. Love based on something that satisfies us only on the sensory level is ultimately disappointing. This kind of love is initially interesting, fascinating and exciting, but then we become disenchanted.
The Buddha’s teaching of the Brahma-vihāras, ‘the immeasurables’ or the ‘divine abidings’, expresses a sense of vastness, spaciousness, limitlessness. These four abidings are loving-kindness (mettā), compassion (karunā), selfless joy (muditā) and serenity (upekkhā).
Giving someone (or ourselves) the space to be the way they are is a form of love. Love is not necessarily a feeling or a sentiment. It is the fruit of acceptance. It is what happens when we stop attaching and clinging to ourself, people or situations. Love then comes quite naturally. Walking the path of liberation is truly an act of love. Taking refuge in awareness and letting go of our attachment to suffering are acts of love. We don’t normally call these things ‘love’, but really they’re an expression of deep love towards ourselves and others in the truest sense of the word.
When we are not expecting something in return but are just letting go, we open our heart to universal love.
This reflection by Ajahn Sundara is from the book, Seeds of Dhamma, (pdf) pp. 49-52.