Norman gives his fourth talk based on Thich Nhat Hanh”s “Old Path White Clouds” to the January 2016 Dharma Seminar
Old Path White Clouds, Talk 4
By Norman Fischer | Jan 27, 2016
Excerpt by Barbara Byrum and Cynthia Schrager
I want to skip forward to the Buddha’s teachings about love. Maybe you remember the story. A man lost his son, and he was standing in the cemetery crying, looking around for his son, saying “my son, my son, where have you gone,” in a state of madness. The Buddha said, “In love there is great suffering.” The man, in the midst of his grief, said, “No, that’s not right. Love does not cause suffering. Love brings happiness.”
It’s an amazing story. This man is beside himself with grief because he loves his son. He’s totally miserable, and yet, he does not accept the idea that love brings suffering. He insists, “no, no, it only brings happiness.” This is another case of one’s ideology holding power over the mind.
However, this became an important moment. People heard about this story. They heard that the Buddha told a man who had just lost his son that love is suffering. Everyone thought, Wow! Love is suffering. What a crabby guy the Buddha is. Love is not suffering. Love is wonderful. We all know love is wonderful. Why is the ¡Buddha saying that love is suffering?
The sangha had been developing with magical ease up until now. But from about this time until the end of the Buddha’s life, there were a lot of problems: people hearing some of his teachings, not understanding them, not liking them, being jealous. Many things happened in the Buddha’s life that were not easy and didn’t give him pleasure and that didn’t unfold easily and naturally.
More and more people were complaining about his teaching. Around the same time, the Buddha ran into an Untouchable and ordained that person. This shocked people. This is an Untouchable. You don’t get near such a person, let alone allow a person to be an equal member of the sangha. If you don’t think an Untouchable is untouchable, this goes to the root of our social structure.This caste system, you can’t violate it and expect to be supported in this culture. Plus, you think that love is suffering. We are not so sure about you, Buddha.
This was what was roiling around. The king of the realm heard about this, and he eventually had a chance to ask the Buddha directly about the teaching of love and suffering.
Reading from chapter 42:
“Teacher Gautama, there are people who say you advise people not to love. They say you have said that the more a person loves, the more he will suffer and despair. I can see some truth in that statement, but I am unable to find peace with it. Without love, life would be empty of meaning. Please help me resolve this.”
The Buddha looked at the king warmly. “Your Majesty, your question is a very good one, and many people can benefit from it. There are many kinds of love. We should examine closely the nature of each kind of love, but not the sort of love that is based on lust, passion, attachment, discrimination, and prejudice. Majesty, there is another kind of love, sorely needed, which consists of loving kindness and compassion, or maitri and karuna.“
“Usually when people speak of love they are referring only to the love that exists between parents and children, husbands and wives, family members, or the member of one’s caste or country. Because the nature of such love depends on the concepts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, it remains entangled in attachment and discrimination. People want to love only their parents, spouse, children, grandchildren, their own relatives and countrymen. Because they are caught in attachment, they worry about accidents that could befall their loved ones even before these things actually take place. When such accidents occur, they suffer terribly. Love that is based on discrimination breeds prejudice. People become indifferent or even hostile to those outside their own circle of love. Attachment and discrimination are sources of suffering for others and ourselves.
Majesty, the love for which all beings truly hunger, is loving kindness and compassion. Maitri is the love that has the capacity to bring happiness to another. Karuna is the love which has the capacity to remove another’s suffering. Maitri and karuna do not demand anything in return. Loving kindness and compassion are not limited to one’s parents, spouse, children, relatives, caste members and countrymen. They extend to all people and all beings. In maitri and karuna there is no discrimination, no “mine” or “not mine.” And because there is no discrimination, there is no attachment. Maitri and karuna bring happiness and ease suffering. They do not cause suffering and despair. Without them, life would be empty of meaning, as you said. But with loving kindness and compassion, life is filled with peace, joy and contentment.”
I think we can appreciate what the Buddha is saying here, to be with our family, emphasizing the love and connection, and de-emphasizing the pain, attachment, and confusion.