A Zen Buddhist master explains how to know if you’re truly in love

Do you also think the world has become a crazy place? Do you also long for a soft landing, a reassuring place of comfort and safety?

I have found the Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to be such a place. His kind and gentle voice betrays a sharp intellect that speaks directly, but comfortingly, to the concerns of troubled Westerners burdened by an alienating society created by capitalism.

We have drifted so far apart, we are so lost, that we don’t even know what love is anymore.

On more than one occasion I have questioned myself on this very issue: What is love and have I ever really loved anyone in my life?

We have a totally warped idea of what true love is. We associate it with emotional declarations and idealizing the object of our love. We think we must go out and look for it and we hope desperately to find it. And in the quiet of our inner world, we fear most of all that we won’t.

We never suspect that love is simple and that it’s available all the time.

True love is not some prize you get if you’re one of the lucky ones singled out for a life of love and happiness.

We need someone like Thich Nhat Hanh to bring us to our senses so we can realize that love is a simple matter.

He explains that there are four elements to true love, but before he goes into them, he makes a simple statement that strikes me more than anything:

“True love makes you happy and makes the other person happy.”

How simple. How could I have missed that. True love makes both people happy.

The four elements of true love

1. Loving kindness.

When you are able to generate a feeling of joy and happiness and are able to help the other person do the same, that is loving kindness and that’s true love.

“So, if you are a true lover you create a happiness for you and for the others.

“And this is not so difficult to achieve. Just breathe in and realize the many conditions of happiness and joy that are already available.”

2. Compassion

The second element of true love is compassion – this is the capacity to make yourself suffer less and help the other person to suffer less as well. In other words, it means to find a way to lessen each other’s burdens.

“Did you know there is an art to suffering? If you know how to suffer you suffer much, much less.

“We can make good use from something in order to fabricate understanding and love, so you can help the other person to suffer less.”

3. Joy

The third element of true love is joy.

“If love does not generate joy, it’s not love. If love makes the other person cry every day, it’s not love. If love makes you suffer every day, it’s not true love.

“True love is capable of generating joy for yourself and for the other person.”

If you can make someone laugh and they make you laugh, that is joy and that is love.

At least now I know that I am not the loveless fool I thought I was – don’t I laugh endlessly and effortlessly with my family and friends? Don’t I experience utter joy in their presence? I have found true love.

Do take a moment to become aware of the laughter in your life – that’s where the gem of true love is hiding in clear sight.

4. Inclusiveness

The fourth element of true love in inclusiveness. In true love you don’t see and frontier between the one who loves and the one who is loved.

“It’s like bowing to the Buddha: the one who bows and the one who is bowed to – between them there is no frontier and that’s why communication between them is perfect.”

He goes on to explain that in true love our suffering is each other’s suffering; your happiness is her happiness.

Here is the point: There is no individual suffering in happiness.

“You begin with yourself and the other person, but if you continue with this practice of true love, your heart will open and grow and very soon you will include all of us in your love; you don’t exclude anyone or anything from your love. That is the love of the Buddha including every living being; no discrimination on any basis. This kind of love is unlimited and is the basis for much happiness.”

In the end it continues to grow until it embraces everyone in the cosmos.

What do you think of that? Can you envisage yourself capable of that kind of love? Is your love expanding?

Pearl Nash