Love and Zen

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  • Hans
    Member
    • Mar 2007
    • 1853

    Love and Zen

    Hello fellow Treeleafers,

    I just wanted to share a few impressions, feelings and thoughts about a topic that I feel has deserved too little attention (to my limited knowledge) in the wider Zen discourse. This is not meant as an attempt to promote any kind of teaching etc., it really is just sharing a few impressions.

    Although there is no such thing as a set Western mind, or Asian mind (no matter what some imperialists might have wanted us to believe), one notion that I feel is vital to the overall cultural makeup of who I am as a western European is the notion of love.

    Now of course the term is much abused on a daily basis and can mean nothing and everything at the same time....we have erotic love, romantic love, or the kind of love called "agape". However, due to cultural and historical reasons, the Buddhist and Zen ancestors hardly ever mention it outside of the topic of attachment.

    My gut tells me that in order for Zen to truly take root in the West, those following this path will have to integrate this cornerstone of our western cultural heritage, love, much more deeply into their Zen practise.

    Even most western Zen teachers only mention love in passing, although it is apparent that their life actions too often follow the path that their inner love for someone or something creates.

    Having recently read through Taigen Leighton's Zen Questions, this whole topic was highlighted again in the chapter on the Sufi poet Rumi (for whom love is a key concept).

    However I twist and turn it, the compassion and unselfish joy described in the Sutras and Suttas seems to be related to , but isn't the equivalent of unselfish or even sacrificial love (to me).

    If truth be told, this bugs me. It bugs me that some of the strongest experiences that shape my life again and again are not adressed adequately (as far as I can see/feel) by the tradition as it is practised today.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    My feeling is that those who identify as cultural westerners (or those with similar cultural feelings towards this mystery called love) should have to work on bridging that gap....but maybe I am completely wrong.


    Gassho and thank you for your input,


    Hans Chudo Mongen
  • Nindo

    #2
    Hallo Hans,

    it's true that there is not much talk about the topic of love, but I still don't see a gap. For me, love comes out of this practice quite naturally, when appreciation and gratitude arise. I've had periods during sesshin where I was overwhelmed with love for all the other participants and in tears. I'm just back from a long hiking trip in Austria and I felt so much love for plants, animals, stones, my breath. I've seen love even through anger at some occasions.
    As you say, love "can mean nothing and everything", so I think the word would serve more as a hindrance .... but love is certainly in this practice, in many ways, at its very core - this is my experience.

    I'm not going to touch on the meeting of romantic love and zen practice - maybe because 20 years into my relationship, love in this respect is still romance but also so much more, and one word just doesn't capture it. Of course the relationship is the real testing ground for any fuzzy lovely feelings that come up on the cushion.

    I'll be interested what others have to say!

    In love
    Nindo

    Comment

    • Hans
      Member
      • Mar 2007
      • 1853

      #3
      Hello,

      thank you Nindo for your reply. I personally do not find a gap in my practise either, but I do feel there is a gap in terms of what gets mentioned time and again in this Zen tradition as it is unfolding today and what doesn't.

      Gassho,

      Hans Chudo Mongen

      Comment

      • Dosho
        Member
        • Jun 2008
        • 5784

        #4
        Hans,

        I always assumed the reason that love is not put into words in the sutras is because love really cannot be put into words! It is there, in all the words, but explained by none of them.

        Gassho,
        Dosho

        Comment

        • RichardH
          Member
          • Nov 2011
          • 2800

          #5
          Hi Hans.

          There is a wonderful Theravadin monk I know who's mother recently died. He has been a monk for maybe 40 years, and has been abbot of several monasteries. About ten years ago his elderly mother took ill and did not recover. My friend stepped down as abbot, returned to Canada, and moved in with his mother to nurse her.... she was very frail and could not take care of herself. He did this for ten years, which is tough for a Theravadin monk living by strict vinaya. His focus was nursing his mother, but he still gave talks from time to time, and lead the occasional weekend retreat. One time during a public talk, a lay person who was aware of his situation challenged him.. and told him he was (horrors) "attached" to his mother. This monk's response was angry.. "Ofcourse I'm attached to my mother.. SHE'S MY MOTHER!!". Now that is Theravada Buddhism, where sometimes you'll fine hard cases who just want to kiss this suffering world goodbye. But, I have found a pretty cold attitude among some Zen folk to... a kind of sublime sociopathy for an "illusory" world. It is not a stretch to imagine the Zen soldier hacking his way through Nanking. So.. yes, if I understand you correctly, I agree, more loving commitment... less selfish preoccupation with cool non-attachment, and the dissolving of every human value in emptiness to that end.

          Gassho, kojip.
          Last edited by RichardH; 08-17-2012, 04:17 AM.

          Comment

          • Heisoku
            Member
            • Jun 2010
            • 1338

            #6
            My tuppence worth on this topic is what we mean by 'love' in the west? Is it compassion, loyalty to one person, a subservience to an emotion? And what is 'love' called in Asia? Compassion, acceptance, harmony?
            Perhaps the roots of (western) love are the same as in Asia but have been lost in translation in the sutras? Or is it that more attention has been paid to the roots of suffering that the liberation of 'love' has been overlooked? Just some questions...... I too am reading Taigen's book! Maybe this is an area to explore in more depth, after all there is certainly as much 'love' visible in the east as in the west!!!
            Last edited by Heisoku; 08-17-2012, 02:36 PM.
            Heisoku 平 息
            Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. (Basho)

            Comment

            • Jinyo
              Member
              • Jan 2012
              • 1957

              #7
              Originally posted by Hans
              Hello fellow Treeleafers,

              I just wanted to share a few impressions, feelings and thoughts about a topic that I feel has deserved too little attention (to my limited knowledge) in the wider Zen discourse. This is not meant as an attempt to promote any kind of teaching etc., it really is just sharing a few impressions.

              Although there is no such thing as a set Western mind, or Asian mind (no matter what some imperialists might have wanted us to believe), one notion that I feel is vital to the overall cultural makeup of who I am as a western European is the notion of love.

              Now of course the term is much abused on a daily basis and can mean nothing and everything at the same time....we have erotic love, romantic love, or the kind of love called "agape". However, due to cultural and historical reasons, the Buddhist and Zen ancestors hardly ever mention it outside of the topic of attachment.

              My gut tells me that in order for Zen to truly take root in the West, those following this path will have to integrate this cornerstone of our western cultural heritage, love, much more deeply into their Zen practise.

              Even most western Zen teachers only mention love in passing, although it is apparent that their life actions too often follow the path that their inner love for someone or something creates.

              Having recently read through Taigen Leighton's Zen Questions, this whole topic was highlighted again in the chapter on the Sufi poet Rumi (for whom love is a key concept).

              However I twist and turn it, the compassion and unselfish joy described in the Sutras and Suttas seems to be related to , but isn't the equivalent of unselfish or even sacrificial love (to me).

              If truth be told, this bugs me. It bugs me that some of the strongest experiences that shape my life again and again are not adressed adequately (as far as I can see/feel) by the tradition as it is practised today.

              What are your thoughts on this?

              My feeling is that those who identify as cultural westerners (or those with similar cultural feelings towards this mystery called love) should have to work on bridging that gap....but maybe I am completely wrong.


              Gassho and thank you for your input,


              Hans Chudo Mongen
              Hans - would you be able to say a little bit more. I'm new to any indepth study of Zen but I haven't yet come across anything that particularly jars with a western understanding of love. I tend to agree with Nindo's thoughts but I'm wondering if I'm missing something in what you write. Can you give some concrete examples of how you would like to re-express things?

              An interesting topic,

              Gassho

              Willow

              Comment

              • Rich
                Member
                • Apr 2009
                • 2595

                #8
                There are so many ways to express love and I think they all involve some caring compassionate action even if it is just listening attentively. LOVE is such a loaded word maybe that's why western zen teachers have shied away from it.

                fav love quotes
                Joan Baez - Love is just a four letter word.
                tina Turner - What's love got to with it, what's love but a second hand emotion.
                Beatles - All you need is love.
                Beethoven - I can live only wholly with you or not at all

                And the #1 fav is The Beatles - And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make
                _/_
                Rich
                MUHYO
                無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

                https://instagram.com/notmovingmind

                Comment

                • Hans
                  Member
                  • Mar 2007
                  • 1853

                  #9
                  Hello,

                  thank you for all your input. Obviously defining love would take aeons...which is why I am intentionally using it here in the broades sense of the meaning, though I am excluding superficial and egotistic ideas about it.

                  Having said that - basically most Zen practitioners I know a little bit better on a personal level do a lot of things out of love, whether this means marrying someone, choosing one job over another one etc..... yet when I look at the spoken or written expressions of most people engaging in Zen practise, I see wonderful re-formulations of old school style nature poetry or references to the ancestors of our lineage, but I don't seem to have read/heard/seen a lot that explicitly mentions the kind of love that I assume is nevertheless being felt by many.

                  The slight concern I have is that a lot of us (or let's just talk about me then) are still acting in very contrived ways in which to express their living Zen...and maybe all I wanted to point to is my gut feeling that at some point we in the West will have to be more independent in our expression of our own life reality, instead of conjuring up rice paddies and mist covered mountain cliffs.

                  This is not a call to arms, an argument or anything really...just me sharing a gut feeling.


                  Gassho and thanks once more for your thoughtful responses,

                  Hans Chudo Mongen

                  Comment

                  • JustBen
                    Member
                    • Jul 2012
                    • 14

                    #10
                    I think I get what you're saying, Hans. I also have trouble reconciling love--as I understand it--with Buddhist ideals of non-attachment. Whether this is a lack of understanding or a lack of enlightenment on my part, I suppose only time and practice will tell.

                    As for the presumably-contrived behavior of some teachers and practitioners, I don't know what to think. Could it be that it's not contrived for them, but would be for us? The adaptation of Buddhism for the West is still in its infancy, I think.

                    Comment

                    • galen
                      Member
                      • Feb 2012
                      • 322

                      #11
                      Hi Hans,

                      Personally, living about as far west as you can get here in the States, and from my studies in metaphysical and so-called mystical concepts and teachings, to me love seems rather trite, esp romantic love. While I embrace it, can and do fall into these type of relationships, the word love seems small, as a word, in the much larger picture of universal love of all there Is. I know where you are coming from and know your feelings for this one on one personal love or romantic love. I just don’t see the dilemma about Zen having to cover it or get into it, just do it. It has been said from some of the Zen concepts and writings I have read, that words such as love are just ideas, and as you point to early, ‘the notion’ or just a notion, they are human constructs. I do not feel the Oneness concept misses even romantic love or that it needs a discussion. I tend to lean more to the two Zen-women on this thread and their perception. It just seems that this Zen thing is so much bigger and universal, then to get caught up in something that seems more about drama.

                      Does not the concept of Oneness, cover all aspects of this love from a Zen perspective? This romantic love often seems to be about dramatic and more shallow ideas. Of course it is awesome to fall head over heels, and the romance leading up to and through that type of relationship, but from my perspective it just seems so small, esp in the West. Love is the small mind and ego, which we are all sitting in and communicating right now, and Zen is also about that, but much more in the processing to the big Mind picture. It just does not seem to me that its a subject, even in these modern times, from a very ancient school and teaching, necessary as a subject. But that is just me, and do not feel there is a need for any intellectualizing or conceptualizing it in Zen. Leave that up to the love birds, even those Zen lovers, with their emotions, ideas and 'notions'.

                      Thank you for your bring forth such a great discussion topic, esp with you being a Priest in training and your supposed discomfort with this in Zen. I just don’t see a problem with it in a Zen Way.


                      _/\_

                      galen
                      Last edited by galen; 08-19-2012, 11:03 PM.
                      Nothing Special

                      Comment

                      • Myoshin

                        #12
                        Mmm, I have a kind of problem with love indead featuring my practise. Some questions arise like "what' love"? (being with someone), would it be easier with a buddhist to live with? what do i have to wait for love? It's like looking for or aspiring in this way like the will to go forward like in the Dharma, a quest even though we don't need to search, there's still this will.
                        I'm scared sometimes not make difference with non attachement to someone and a lack of love for someone. I mean love here in the sense of love relationship.

                        That's what I can say if I share my "private" life to you.

                        Good post Hans, it fits well with what I'm living of wondering

                        Gassho all

                        Yang Hsin

                        Comment

                        • Graceleejenkins
                          Member
                          • Feb 2011
                          • 434

                          #13
                          I know what you mean, Hans. There is loving-kindness, compassion, the oneness of the loved and lover,and the realization that we all want to be happy and avoid suffering, but the teachings just don’t quite seem to cover everything that the West often loads into the concept of love, do they? It is kind of hard to express. Maybe it’s the Judeo-Christian tradition that makes us miss a certain kind of emphasis: “wither thou goest, I go,”, “He so loved the world. . ., ” “hope, faith and charity, but the greatest of these is love,” and St. Francis of Assisi with his love of animals and “grant that I may not seek to be loved, as to love. ”

                          I don’t know, but on a gut level, I understand your point. Everyday life, it doesn't really affect me. I still love my husband madly, and I still learn from Zen, but I do know what you mean. If I had the genius to express it, I would. Gassho, Grace.
                          Last edited by Graceleejenkins; 08-19-2012, 10:46 PM.
                          Sat today and 10 more in honor of Treeleaf's 10th Anniversary!

                          Comment

                          • Stephanie

                            #14
                            I was just thinking about this topic a few days ago myself. I was musing on how I have encountered lamentations that the term "love" is so overly broad, describing everything from a high level of enthusiasm for a particular food to romantic eroticism to selfless spiritual love. I don't find this to be a problem. Actually, I find it to be a boon, and to point toward a deeper truth:, however subtly, I believe all of these different experiences to which we refer with the word "love" are connected. In my spiritual journey, every time I have become lost, whether lost in terms of feeling a lack of direction or enthusiasm or in terms of being overwhelmed by darkness, love has been what has revived me. Love is the one consistent guidepost I have found in navigating a life of practice. When you can trust no one and nothing else, you can trust where love guides you.

                            I especially find this guiding love in the context of relationships. And in my experience, love comes forth more clearly in non-romantic relationships than in romantic relationships. "Romance" seems to be predominated by more shallow drives and feelings, and to be very self-centered, full of desire and need. It is when the blush and thrill of romance is past or absent from a human connection that the more subtle and transformative phenomenon of love becomes apparent to me. I experience it most in the context of situations that require me to accept and/or forgive something another person I care about has done or is doing that I do not like, that I find personally uncomfortable or hurtful. In that moment when I get past what I want for me, and find it does not matter as much as caring about this other person and wanting them to be happy, I find something far more rewarding and mysterious--love. I am struck by the closeness of these concepts of love and forgiveness in the Christian tradition, and while Christian metaphysics do not speak to me, this expression of Christ's life as an act of love and forgiveness is a very powerful spiritual trope for me. And I think few, if any, have written on love in a spiritual context as powerfully and clearly as Rumi.

                            I also think of love in a scientific context. I have an avid interest in evolution and find contemplating evolution to be very spiritual and awe-inspiring, increasing my sense of connection to this world, its creatures and its history. And it is very striking to me that the more research that is done into the evolution of the human species, the more clear it becomes that we are what we are because of love: because of our strong social bonds (a common trait among mammals), because of our skill in cooperation, because of our altruism and sense of the importance of the group's survival being greater than an individual's survival. It is striking how scientists describe evidence that deeply ancient human ancestors cared for the crippled and elderly. And neuroscience is showing us that our very consciousness, the very way we experience the world, is rooted in the way we experience others and our place among them. We learn through the activity of mirror neurons that fire when we observe others. We experience the grief of loss with the same brain activity we do when we experience physical pain. I think if any clear "purpose" for our species can be gleaned from our history and our increasing scientific knowledge of who and what we are, it is the expression of love.

                            As for the absence of this topic in Zen teachings, I think there are likely many reasons. One is very much that the strong power of human-to-human attachment has always been viewed with a skeptical eye in the Buddhist tradition. I think there is a value in this; to see clearly, we must be able to see through the powerful feelings that arise out of our human relationships, even as we still feel them. And most of the traditional teachings we study in Zen were written by monastics, who undoubtedly experienced strong bonds of friendship and spiritual connection with one another, yet all the same saw the typical pattern of human love as problematic, an obstacle in developing a clear eye, to the extent that giving up "family life" was an important part of their path. I do find Buddhist teachings on the "brahma-viharas" to be very inspiring, and to capture how I experience love in its clearest and most potent form. And I think we are already seeing the topic of love become much more common in Zen writings as more and more lay practitioners are contributing significant writings. All the same, I don't think any tradition is perfect--and I certainly tend to look to other traditions when looking for inspiration and guidance on the topic of love.

                            Although one of my favorite love poems was written by John Daido Loori:

                            I love you.
                            This is loving the self,
                            loving loving,
                            being loved by loving,
                            being loved by the Way.
                            Isn't this the same as loving a mountain,
                            or a river, a bird or a tree;
                            loving a person, loving you, loving the self?
                            My love for you is you;
                            your love for me is me.
                            This is true not only for love
                            but for all activity.
                            This is true not only for sentient beings
                            but for the myriad dharmas.
                            I love you.

                            Comment

                            • galen
                              Member
                              • Feb 2012
                              • 322

                              #15
                              Originally posted by Stephanie
                              I was just thinking about this topic a few days ago myself. I was musing on how I have encountered lamentations that the term "love" is so overly broad, describing everything from a high level of enthusiasm for a particular food to romantic eroticism to selfless spiritual love. I don't find this to be a problem. Actually, I find it to be a boon, and to point toward a deeper truth:, however subtly, I believe all of these different experiences to which we refer with the word "love" are connected. In my spiritual journey, every time I have become lost, whether lost in terms of feeling a lack of direction or enthusiasm or in terms of being overwhelmed by darkness, love has been what has revived me. Love is the one consistent guidepost I have found in navigating a life of practice. When you can trust no one and nothing else, you can trust where love guides you.

                              I especially find this guiding love in the context of relationships. And in my experience, love comes forth more clearly in non-romantic relationships than in romantic relationships. "Romance" seems to be predominated by more shallow drives and feelings, and to be very self-centered, full of desire and need. It is when the blush and thrill of romance is past or absent from a human connection that the more subtle and transformative phenomenon of love becomes apparent to me. I experience it most in the context of situations that require me to accept and/or forgive something another person I care about has done or is doing that I do not like, that I find personally uncomfortable or hurtful. In that moment when I get past what I want for me, and find it does not matter as much as caring about this other person and wanting them to be happy, I find something far more rewarding and mysterious--love. I am struck by the closeness of these concepts of love and forgiveness in the Christian tradition, and while Christian metaphysics do not speak to me, this expression of Christ's life as an act of love and forgiveness is a very powerful spiritual trope for me. And I think few, if any, have written on love in a spiritual context as powerfully and clearly as Rumi.

                              I also think of love in a scientific context. I have an avid interest in evolution and find contemplating evolution to be very spiritual and awe-inspiring, increasing my sense of connection to this world, its creatures and its history. And it is very striking to me that the more research that is done into the evolution of the human species, the more clear it becomes that we are what we are because of love: because of our strong social bonds (a common trait among mammals), because of our skill in cooperation, because of our altruism and sense of the importance of the group's survival being greater than an individual's survival. It is striking how scientists describe evidence that deeply ancient human ancestors cared for the crippled and elderly. And neuroscience is showing us that our very consciousness, the very way we experience the world, is rooted in the way we experience others and our place among them. We learn through the activity of mirror neurons that fire when we observe others. We experience the grief of loss with the same brain activity we do when we experience physical pain. I think if any clear "purpose" for our species can be gleaned from our history and our increasing scientific knowledge of who and what we are, it is the expression of love.

                              As for the absence of this topic in Zen teachings, I think there are likely many reasons. One is very much that the strong power of human-to-human attachment has always been viewed with a skeptical eye in the Buddhist tradition. I think there is a value in this; to see clearly, we must be able to see through the powerful feelings that arise out of our human relationships, even as we still feel them. And most of the traditional teachings we study in Zen were written by monastics, who undoubtedly experienced strong bonds of friendship and spiritual connection with one another, yet all the same saw the typical pattern of human love as problematic, an obstacle in developing a clear eye, to the extent that giving up "family life" was an important part of their path. I do find Buddhist teachings on the "brahma-viharas" to be very inspiring, and to capture how I experience love in its clearest and most potent form. And I think we are already seeing the topic of love become much more common in Zen writings as more and more lay practitioners are contributing significant writings. All the same, I don't think any tradition is perfect--and I certainly tend to look to other traditions when looking for inspiration and guidance on the topic of love.

                              Although one of my favorite love poems was written by John Daido Loori:

                              I love you.
                              This is loving the self,
                              loving loving,
                              being loved by loving,
                              being loved by the Way.
                              Isn't this the same as loving a mountain,
                              or a river, a bird or a tree;
                              loving a person, loving you, loving the self?
                              My love for you is you;
                              your love for me is me.
                              This is true not only for love
                              but for all activity.
                              This is true not only for sentient beings
                              but for the myriad dharmas.
                              I love you.


                              Thank you, Stephanie.


                              _/\_

                              galen
                              Nothing Special

                              Comment

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