Christ & Buddha – Love vs Detachment

I received an email recently from a Christian viewer of my videos. He was deeply impressed by the Buddha’s teachings and he was looking for a way to reconcile them with Christianity.

One thing though was a real challenge for him. Here is what he wrote:

If nirvana means giving up thirst/desires for bad but also for good – would not we miss LOVE? Love to your close ones, family, love to GOD. Would not we become too detached?

And, as GOD is LOVE, would not we become detached from GOD?

His question struck me deeply. It is one I have been struggling with myself.

The Buddha leads us to detachment – Christ leads us to love. Are these two teachings in conflict? If not, how could we reconcile such opposites? What do love and detachment even mean?

These are broad and difficult questions, but they take us into the heart of what Christ and the Buddha teach.

In fact, they take us right into our own heart.

So, let’s investigate further.

Love and detachment, Buddha and Christ, God and nirvāṇa, self and other… Let’s put all these in dialogue and let’s see what they reveal about the journey of inner growth.

(You can watch the video version of this essay on YouTube.)

I. CHRIST

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

Matthew 22:37-39

Here is how Jesus sums up the whole Judeo-Christian message. The entire Law and everything taught by the Prophets ultimately boils down to this: ‘You shall love…

The New Testament preaches the significance of love in no uncertain terms. It goes so far as to proclaim

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

1 John 4:16

Now, it is one thing to say we should cultivate love for God, our neighbours, and ourselves. This is more or less understandable. You could even call it practical.

But it is a confounding mystery to hear that God Himself, the Creator and First Principle of reality – is love.

God Is Love?

Christians have been spreading this idea for over 2000 years now, so it has lost its novelty. ‘God is Love’ has become a cheap slogan for t-shirt prints and graffiti all around the world. It has become a mantra – something we repeat over and over with only a vague notion of its meaning.

Let’s try to unlearn that.

Let’s try to hear these words with that famous ‘beginner’s mind’ of the Buddhists. Imagine hearing for the very first time that:

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

1 John 4:16

What does this mean?

Here is one reading: Our love for each other is the love God has for us. In our mutual care, protection, and encouragement, we join God in His cosmic love for Creation.

This reading may satisfy us for a bit. But then Christ will wake us up with His hard, paralyzing words:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

Luke 14:26

Well, things don’t appear so simple now, do they?

Love?

Christ tells us we must love our neighbour as ourselves, but he also tells us we must hate those we care about, including ourselves. Even if you ignore this contradiction, how can Christ teach hatred if, indeed:

God is love…

1 John 4:16

Well, the lines we’ve quoted have been in the Bible for centuries. It is unlikely the contradiction between them is an editorial oversight.

No, contradiction in scripture is usually a sign we have missed something. It tells us we haven’t quite understood what we’re looking at.

In this case, I think it is our everyday notion of love that gets in the way of our understanding Christ.

But before we get into this, let’s take a detour from 1st-century Galilee. Let’s travel some 5000 kilometres east and 5 centuries back in time. There we can see what Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, is teaching in Ancient India.

II. BUDDHA

In our articles/videos on Buddhism, we have already covered Buddhist philosophy in some depth. Here, I will provide only a brief summary. And what better summary than what the Buddha gave in his own words? He said:

What I teach … is suffering and the cessation of suffering…

Therefore, monks, give up whatever is not yours. Your giving it up will for a long time bring you welfare and happiness.

Alagaddupama Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 22)

The Buddhist path is the path out of suffering. How do you walk this path? Not by reading about it, that’s for sure! You do it by letting go; by releasing your claim of ownership over the contents of experience.

In other words, the fewer things you attach to your sense of separate identity, the less suffering you encounter. The culmination of this practice is nirvāṇa, where the ego itself, the sense of being a subject separate from the rest of life dissolves.

This is the end of suffering.

No Self

Now, you don’t have to be the Buddha to know caring too much about possessions brings stress and discomfort.

But Buddhism takes this idea way, way further. It goes so far as to claim even your body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness are not really ‘yours’, but fully automatic phenomena.

The conclusion is that not only do you not have possessions, but there is no ‘you’ to have possessions in the first place!

As the sense of individual existence fades, so too does desire. As desire subsides, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth loses its driving force. The wheel of existence slows to a halt and finally, when even the desire for nirvāṇa disappears – nirvāṇa is achieved.

You can read my article on the Four Noble Truths to get a clearer idea of this.

Anyway, here we arrive at our question.

If nirvana means giving up thirst/desires for bad but also for good – would not we miss LOVE … Would not we become too detached?

Nirvāṇa = No Love?

The Buddha’s teaching can be interpreted this way.

In Nandana Sutta, the Buddha has a conversation with the demon Mara. For my Western readers, you can imagine Mara as the Buddhist Devil to get an idea of what he’s about.

Mara exclaims how delightful it is to have children, cattle, and all other kinds of possessions. Acquiring things, Mara says, is the way to acquire happiness.

Being a 21st-century materialist, I find nothing unusual about this idea. But the Buddha replies with the following verse:

Those with children

grieve

because of their children.       

Those with cattle

grieve

because of their cows.

A person’s grief

comes from acquisitions,

since a person with no acquisitions

doesn’t grief.

Nandana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 4)

Detachment

The message seems clear. The fewer people and things you care about, the better off you are. So, abandon everything and everyone – spend your days meditating in the shade of a tree! May your only social contact be your begging for alms on the road. 

We may imagine Christ nodding in approval to this as he tells his disciples they should learn to hate their ‘own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even [their] own life’.

Christ says:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor … and come, follow Me.”

Mathew 19:21

Really, we could end this essay here.

We can conclude both Buddhism and Christianity are world-renouncing religions presenting as saintliness what is really just hatred for life. There is no authentic love in them and we can quote some Nietzsche to back that up. Then we can pat ourselves on the back for driving yet another nail in the coffin of good ol’ religion.

But… we would be wrong.

A Love Supreme

For one, the Buddha spent his entire liberated life teaching others the way to liberation. And his disciples would recite verses like these:

As a mother would risk her life

to protect her child, her only child,

even so should one cultivate the heart limitlessly

with regard to all beings.

Karaṇīya Mettā Sutta (KN 9)

Does this sound to you like world-renouncement and life-hatred?

In the same vein, Christ says:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:43-45

How can these be the words of the same One who teaches hatred for our family and for ourselves?

Both the Buddha and Christ tell us we must let go of those we hold dear. But they tell us also we must cultivate love for all.

Here is the crux of the matter.

We read about love and we expect to immediately know what these scriptures are talking about. Love, after all, is a universal human experience we all understand.

But… do we really?

Let’s pause on this. Let’s take a look at what we talk about when we talk about love.

III. LOVE

Consider these statements, each of them is a perfectly valid English sentence:

They love violence.

I love cheesecake.

He loves his brother.

She is full of love.

God is love.

Can you extract a single definition of love based on these sentences? Obviously, we know in each case ‘love’ is meant in a different way.

If I love cheesecake and also love my brother, you wouldn’t think I feel the same way towards them both. We would hope not, at least!

Narcissistic Love

If I love cheesecake, I enjoy consuming it for the pleasure it brings me. Clearly, I don’t love other people’s cheesecake or the Platonic form of cheesecake. I love cheesecake as my own possession which I can consume to satisfy my own desires. In my ‘love’ for cheesecake I express and reinforce my sense of individuality.

Loving cheesecake is really a way of loving my desires. We can call it narcissistic love.

Now, loving my brother is a whole different thing.

I would wish to consume as little of my brother’s time and energy as possible. I would sacrifice my own comfort to help my brother in need. In my love for him, my brother is not my possession; it is rather I who belong to him. Any desires I might have are eclipsed by my care for my brother.

This sounds neat on paper, but of course, things are not so simple in real life.

In real life, I demand respect from my brother. I have opinions and beliefs I want him to share. I give advice and judge my brother’s actions when they don’t align with my views. Or, even better, I make time for my brother, I listen to him, I do him favours… And I cherish the satisfaction of what a great brother I am.

In this so-called ‘brotherly love’, I end up consuming my brother in more ways than I can ever consume cheesecake.

So, which is the more narcissistic kind of love? Is all love simply a strategy for desire gratification?

No, it isn’t.

Personal Love

While narcissistic elements may enter my love for my brother, this is natural for a world where nothing is ever black and white.

We all know what it is like to genuinely care for another being. We have experienced the impulse to protect and encourage another just for their sake. Yes, we shouldn’t romanticise this impulse, but we shouldn’t dismiss it either. Our cynical age makes it hard to admit it, but man, sometimes we simply, genuinely love each other.

We can call this ‘personal love’, to distinguish it from narcissism. This is a love in which I recognize the reality of another person beside myself. It is the experience of care, respects, responsibility, and understanding for another. This puts a dent in the ego, which can no longer maintain its dominion over the universe.

When the Buddha teaches personal love, he says:

Searching all directions

with your awareness,

you find no one dearer

            than yourself.

In the same way, others

are thickly dear to themselves.

So you shouldn’t hurt others

            if you love yourself.

Rājan Sutta (Ud 5.1)

Like narcissism, personal love also expands the self, but not by consuming the other. It expands the self by making him or her part of something greater, a relationship with another self.

The other is no longer a ‘thing’ among other things in my private universe. She is a whole universe in herself which I experience not only objectively, but subjectively. My personal sense of reality no longer eclipses the reality of the other. Rather, it shows me just how real the other is in her own experience.

In the words of Erich Fromm,

[M]ature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity.

In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.

Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

As it deepens, personal love dissolves the distinction I feel between myself and the one I love. At its extreme, personal love no longer sees such a distinction. The great mystic Rūmī has captured this in verse:

Neither I am me, nor you are you, nor you are me.

I am also me, you are also you, and you are also me.

Sweetheart, I am in love with you so very much,

I am confused if I am you or you are me.

Rūmī

True Love

Personal love is far more transformative and deeper than narcissism. But if we continue our descent into the heart, we will find still a deeper region. Some would call this an esoteric form of love as few speak of it, beside the mystics and poets of the world.

Here is how these latter ones describe it:

When your chest is washed clean from the ego,

you will see your true self and your first love.

You cannot see your own face without a mirror.

Look at the Beloved; He is your mirror.

Rūmī

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”

Khalil Gibran

Love is the experience that others are not others.

Rupert Spira

We can label this third kind of love ‘True Love’. I know these are big words, but I think they are not out of place. Whenever we try to describe this state, we always use big words.

In True Love, the person is

replaced by the mystery of the heart

Adrianne Lenker, Replaced

In other words, True Love empties the person of himself. In that emptiness, things appear in their timeless, universal aspect. As William Blake wrote,

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

In True Love, life appears in its wholeness and the meaning of objects and phenomena is no longer coloured by the interests of the ego. The perceived boundaries in the external world also dissolve. Every corner of existence becomes a mirror reflecting all other corners.

Loving The All

I know this sounds abstract, so here is an example.

When I love my brother as a means for my ends (as cheesecake) this is narcissistic love. When I love my brother for the man he is, this is personal love. But when I love the whole of life in my brother, when through him I love the essence of which both he and I are images – this is True Love.

As Erich Fromm writes,

If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life.

If I can say to somebody else, “I love you,” I must be able to say, “I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself.”

Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

It is important to see how True Love, as we have described it, is not a feeling or emotion. Though it may have the most profound emotional impact, True Love is rather a form of understanding. Not intellectual understanding, but an intuitive sort of understanding.

A knowing of the heart.

Love Is A Knowing

If we look back at the forms of love we’ve discussed, we will see deeper love is always equivalent to higher understanding.

The Buddha too teaches compassion is an expression of insight. He says:

If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of selfishness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared, if there were someone to receive their gift.

But because beings do not know, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they eat without having given. The stain of selfishness overcomes their minds.

Itivuttaka (Iti 1-27)

Notice here, love is a very specific kind of insight. It is insight into the interconnectedness, indeed, the identity of self and other. The feeling of separate, individual existence is but the lack of this insight. You do not give food to the other, because you do not understand his hunger is your hunger.

Again, the Buddha says:

[B]ecause beings do not know, as I know, … [t]he stain of selfishness overcomes their minds.

Itivuttaka (Iti 1-27)

Love, then, appears to be a different name for insight, for vision… For light.

IV. LIGHT

Below are two fragments. See if you can notice anything there about the relationship between personal love and True Love.

We read:

As a mother would risk her life

to protect her child, her only child,

even so should one cultivate the heart limitlessly

with regard to all beings.

Karaṇīya Mettā Sutta (KN 9)

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? … he who loves God must love his brother also.

1 John 4:20-21

Both passages draw an analogy.

On the one hand, there is a mother’s love for her child, ‘her only child’. Also, one’s love for one’s brother. This is personal love.

On the other hand, there is love for God, whom one ‘has not seen’ and also love for all beings, which, naturally, one has also not seen. This is what we’ve called True Love.

We’ve seen True Love is deeper than the personal. But it also appears True Love is not really ‘True’ unless it contains the essence of the personal.

For True Love to count, I must have the same care for all the world’s beings that a mother has for her only child. Just so, my True Love for God is hollow unless it shows in my personal love for my brother.

The Spectrum Of Love

It seems then, that personal love and True Love are not separate phenomena. We have also seen narcissistic love and personal love share a fuzzy border.

It appears to me that describing the different forms of love is like describing the different colours of light. We speak about red light, green light, violet light, but in all cases, we are describing the same fundamental phenomenon.

Like light, love appears to have a wide spectrum and may appear in a variety of forms. Narcissism, personal love, and True Love can be seen as different modulations of one and the same phenomenon. Where we are along this spectrum seems to be a measure of how strong our sense of separate identity is.

Like how red and violet bracket the visible spectrum of light, so too the sense of being a separate self and the sense of oneness with life bracket the spectrum of love.

Now, remember our initial question:

And, as GOD is LOVE, would not we become detached from GOD?

If nirvana means giving up thirst/desires for bad but also for good – would not we miss LOVE. Love to your close ones, family, love to GOD. Would not we become too detached?

Love vs Detachment?

We seem to have discovered a spectrum of human love – selfish at one end and selfless at the other. If we return to Christ and the Buddha, we may find both invite us on the same path. Both guide us through the spectrum of love, beginning from the surface of narcissism, through personal love, towards the depths of True Love.

This is only a working hypothesis, so let’s take it to our scriptural fragments. Perhaps what we first thought were contradictions were simply different statements for the different frequencies of love.

The Buddha and Christ were addressing different audiences at different times. They spoke to peasants, holy men, merchants… Is it unlikely that in each case they spoke of love and detachment on the level of their audience’s understanding?

Let’s try to order our Christian and Buddhist fragments now, beginning with ones addressing narcissism and ending with ones about True Love.

We read:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

Luke 14:26

Therefore … give up whatever is not yours. Your giving it up will for a long time bring you welfare and happiness.

Alagaddupama Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 22)

you shouldn’t hurt others if you love yourself.

Rājan Sutta (Ud 5.1)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…

Matthew 5:43-44

As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate the heart limitlessly with regard to all beings.

Karaṇīya Mettā Sutta (KN 9)

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

1 John 4:16

The Ladder Of Love & Detachment

We’ve seen the movement from narcissism into True Love is really the process of ego dissolution. The Buddhist tradition has named the culmination of this process nirvāṇa. The Christian tradition, in a round-about way, has called it the kingdom of God.  We remember the words of Christ that

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Luke 17:20-21

So, we have found a possible answer to our question.

The detachment taught by the Buddha appears to be a different wording of the love taught by Christ. Detachment, in this sense, is the maturation of love. Similarly, love detaches us from the concrete and separate and joins us to the universal and whole.

But I think there’s an opportunity to learn more here…

You see, we used the spectrum of visible light as a metaphor for the varieties of human love. This metaphor has an additional, subtler, meaning.

The Invisible

We know red and violet are not real limits in the spectrum of light. They are only limits in our human-all-too-human perception. Beyond them, there is a universe of light in which we are submerged constantly without knowing it. I speak, of course, of ultraviolet and infrared light. Light that appears to us as darkness.

Is it inconceivable then that love too may continue beyond the horizon of our experience? Could there be forms of love which surround us without us recognizing them?

This may seem as an outlandish question, but we do find hints of that in both the Buddhist and the Christian tradition.

Before we conclude, I want to speak briefly about the sublime and terrifying forms of inhuman love.

V. DARKNESS

What could be a more depraved form of love than narcissism? And what form of love can surpass True Love?

I’ll start with the former.

We’ve learned love is a form of seeing the essence of another being and of oneself. The narcissist is naturally the one most deprived of this knowledge. His lack of connection is also a lack of knowing. In this lack he may become desperate. His attempts to fill this lack may become desperate.

As Erich Fromm writes:

The ultimate degree of this attempt to know lies in the extremes of sadism, the desire and ability to make a human being suffer; to torture him, to force him to betray his secret in his suffering. In this craving for penetrating man’s secret, his and hence our own, lies an essential motivation for the depth and intensity of cruelty and destructiveness.

Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

Beneath Love?

Now, I warned you, here we speak of things we wouldn’t normally call love. Sadism, cruelty, torture. What could be more distant from love then these?

But…

Perhaps even these may be a perverted, misbegotten offshoots of love. Distant extremities, so far removed from their source that we may no longer recognize them as love.

Christ and the Buddha themselves did not shy away from such depravity. Did not Jesus say:

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.

Luke 5:32

And did not the Buddha convert Aṅgulimāla, a serial killer, who wore his victims’ fingers as a garland around his neck?

Perhaps we too should not judge so hastily who is irredeemable.

So much for these dark fringes of love. We shouldn’t linger here without a good reason. As Nietzsche warns us:

[I]f you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Now onto the deeper mystery.

Above Love?

Opposite of narcissism we discovered True Love. The full dissolution of the ego into the oneness of life.

What could possibly transcend this? What can be more whole than the one?

Well, I’ll use some help here. And not the help of just anybody, but of him who people called ‘the man from whom God hides nothing’. I speak, of course, of Meister Eckhart.

He tells us:

[I] have sought earnestly and with all diligence to discover which is the best and highest virtue whereby a man may … join himself to God …

[I have found that] only pure detachment surpasses all things, for all virtues have some regard to creatures, but detachment is free of all creatures.

Meister Eckhart, On Detachment

On his search for the best and highest thing, Meister Eckhart did not stop at any of the traditional Christian virtues. To him, union with God does not come through faith or hope, not even through love.

Why?

Because each of these is a form of relationship. You have faith in something, you hope for something, you love something or someone.

And what is a relationship is always a division.

The Most Simple

In True Love you see yourself as the oneness of life and love that oneness as yourself. Even there you love an image, an experience. Even there, you are in a relationship, no matter how circular.

But the essential nature of God, for Eckhart, cannot be a relationship. Not even a relationship with one’s self. As Eckhart saw it,

God’s natural place is unity and purity

Meister Ekchart, On Detachment

The Divine essence is utterly simple. Indivisible. Even the idea of oneness is too complex for it.

But what can be simpler than one? What can be more indivisible?

Well, nothing.

Literally.

No-thing

Zero is the sole indivisible number. It is also the centre point of the whole infinity of numbers. It is the eye of the storm, utter rest and stillness from which all form and motion arises. As T.S. Eliot writes:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is…

T.S. Eliot

It is this stillness and emptiness that Eckhart sees as the essence of God. The only way to join God in this essence is to become as utterly empty as He is.

The master tells us:

Some people imagine that they are going to see God … as if he were standing there, and they here, but it is not to be so. God and I: we are one. By knowing God I take him to myself. By loving God, I penetrate him.

Meister Eckhart

The emptiness of ultimate reality is not elaborated much in mainstream Christianity. It has been mostly left to the mystics. In Buddhism, on the other hand, it has become a central doctrine.

Emptiness

Here is what the great Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna says of the Tathāgata. Tathāgata refers to the Buddha and also, indirectly, to nirvāṇa:

What is the intrinsic nature of the Tathāgata, that is the intrinsic nature of this world.

The Tathāgata is devoid of intrinsic nature; this world is devoid of intrinsic nature.

Nāgārjuna, Mūlamadhyamakakārikā

I have already discussed Buddhist emptiness at length. You can have a look at my previous article if you wish to learn more.

But can we really call this emptiness and detachment a form of love?

I was discussing this with my partner and she told me something simple and yet profound. She is an Indologist, having spent years in India and written much about Indian culture. She told me that for all the years she has listened and read about it, she still cannot fully understand how detachment can be a form of love.

I wanted to give some clever reply, but then I saw that I too do not understand, not really. Not with my heart.

Detached Love?

If we accept God’s detachment, we must also admit He is a silent witness to all tragedy and evil in the world. If God ‘makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’, well, this doesn’t show much care either way…

The Buddhist tradition is not immune to this criticism either. The Dharmakāya of the Buddha, his ultimate body of consciousness is supposed to be ever-present in our world with perfect wisdom and detachment. This would mean the Buddha is present amid all war, strife, and injustice without taking the slightest action.

But what good is love if it doesn’t act? What does not act is not actual. Where was the Dharmakaya during the bombing of Hiroshima? Where was God when the twin towers collapsed?

We can see the detachment, but where was the love?

These are difficult questions. If anyone offers me easy answers, I would suspect him of either being a cheat or a fool. As Roger Waters sings,

If I had been God

I would have sired many sons

And I would not have suffered

The Romans to kill even one of them

Roger Waters, Déjà Vu

As crude as this sentiment can be, it is also unapologetically human. For this alone it demands to be taken seriously.

A Mortal’s Humility

Still… I would refrain from passing judgement over matters beyond human understanding. Remember, a narcissist is just as suspicious and ignorant of True Love as we are of the detachment of God or the Dharmakāya.

Perhaps the most mature response is to admit our incompetence before these questions. Perhaps the peak of human knowledge is to join Socrates in understanding the depth of our ignorance…

In the Bible, Job asks God to justify suffering. How does God answer? God shows him the majesty of Creation and Job is left speechless.

In the Brothers Karamazov, Ivan blames God for all the suffering inflicted on innocent children. How does his brother, the faithful Alyosha respond? He kisses him and Ivan is left speechless.

These stories suggest the answers we seek will not come to us as words or clever arguments. In fact, they might arrive only after all words and arguments have ceased. This is not intellectual defeatism. It is a confession of the human condition.

Marooned creatures we are, stranded in waters we do not comprehend.

CONCLUSION

We started this video as a study of love and detachment in the teachings of Christ and the Buddha. We ended up discussing the ultimate nature of being, suffering, and the limits of our understanding.

This goes to show the fundamental place of love on all planes of existence.

Let’s summarize our findings. We have sketched out a spectrum of love.

At its fringes, love appears as sadism, cruelty, and evil. Here we find a complete lack of connection and understanding. The last desperate attempt to attain these is violence.

We then go through narcissism, where the ego has superficial understanding of and connection with itself and uses others as means of gratifying its desires. The ego experiences itself as the Axis Mundi around which the world revolves. Disregard for others naturally follows from this delusion. As far as the ego is concerned… there are no others.

As love matures, it blossoms into personal love. Here, the person recognizes the reality of other persons. She cultivates for others care, respect, responsibility, and understanding. With desire for mutual flourishing, the sense of separateness fades.

Sinking yet deeper, we arrive at True Love. Here the ego dissolves completely into oneness with life. The person recognizes their own face in every part of creation. Within and without, self and other, world and God – these are no longer meaningful distinctions. Things appear not as they are in space and time, but in their universal aspect.

Finally, at its source, love settles into the stillness of detachment. This detachment transcends understanding and connection so much that it appears as their opposite. But what looks like ultimate ignorance is really the perfection of wisdom.

As St. John of the Cross says,

[T]hey who know [God] most perfectly perceive most clearly that He is infinitely incomprehensible.

St. John of the Cross

The Architecture Of Love

It is curious to note the symmetry of this spectrum.

Against the depraved ignorance of sadism, we find the divine ignorance of detachment.

In this same way, narcissistic love is the surface equivalent of True Love. True Love is simply the narcissism of the Cosmic Person, the Vedic Puruṣa.

Personal love ends up being the central point along this spectrum. The place where the part and the whole, the concrete and the universal, the material and the spiritual meet.

Now, we shouldn’t think we are distributed along this spectrum in a linear, static fashion. It is not the case that I have personal love, she is a narcissist, he is a sadist, you are in True Love, and Meister Eckhart in detachment.

The spectrum of love describes the range of each of our hearts. All of love is encoded in each of us and we exist on all its planes simultaneously.

Whether we like it or not, the narcissist and the sadist lurk in each of us. Whether we believe it or not, True Love and detachment are already within us.

The human heart then appears to be a vessel for pure white light which contains all frequencies of love within itself. This love, however, as it passes through us, is refracted by the prism of our ego.

The practice of love then can be seen as the practice of emptying ourselves of ourselves. The practice of becoming a clear aperture for love. In Christian terms, we become vessels for Christ, who said:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

John 8:12

As he empties himself to receive love, the Christian proclaims:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…

Galatians 2:20

This same idea is prominent in Mahāyāna Buddhism too. I speak, of course, of the Tathāgatagarbha, the Buddha Nature within us. The nature of luminous mind that shines through to the degree we have removed the dust of ignorance.

We read:

Within the dust of ignorance of all beings, the Tathāgatagarbha sits motionless, great and indestructible.

Tathāgatagarbha Sutra

You can have a look at chapter 4 of my video on emptiness to learn more about this.

If this video has given you no simple answers, hopefully it leaves you with a new perspective. In the final analysis, thinking about love is like dancing about architecture. It is an awkward attempt of the mind to approach what only the heart can know.

May it be that where our mind stumbles, our heart will carry on in understanding. And may we keep learning, always afresh, that

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

1 John 4:16
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