The Highest Love
“Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get, only with what you are expecting to give, which is everything.”
— Katharine Hepburn
- Selfless: we only care about benefiting the other person, and we have no thought of selfish benefit
- Unconditional: you will treat others lovingly no matter who they are, what their condition is, or how they treat you.
- Broad: our love is not limited to our small family, our ethnic group, or own country, but rather reaches all people.
This kind of Pure Love is probably hard for most of us to relate to because our virtues are not highly cultivated, but if you look at any of history’s heroes and sages, they all have Pure Love.
For example, Confucius risked his life traveling around warring states to urge country kings towards harmony and peace. Despite people telling him to hide and protect his own life, he chose to risk his life out of love for all people. Pure Love is also a defining trait of Nobel Peace Prize winners like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama.
Just look at how compassionate and loving these people’s smiles are!
From selfish to selfless love
Selfless love can be easily seen from parents, who will give the best to their children and not ask for anything in return. That’s why it is easiest for children to nurture selfless love towards their parents first, and then widen that love out towards others.
Selfless love is not just idealistic, it is also necessary. No one likes nor trusts a selfish person. If we only do things when it benefits us, then people will not want to interact with us, and we certainly won’t have a happy or successful life.
From conditional to unconditional love
Most people have conditional love. The most common condition is
“If you behave the way I like, I will treat you well. If you behave against what I like, then I won’t treat you well.”
But a truly loving person treats all people with love and equality. Why?
The Buddha said it well:
“The people before them set a bad example. They didn’t know morality and virtues. Nobody taught them. Thus we cannot blame them.”
To give an analogy imagine a baby having an emotional fit, crying and hitting things. We can understand that this baby has not learned to manage her emotions well and solve her problems in an effective way, so we don’t blame the baby.
If you think about it, many adults are the same. They were never taught how to be a good person, how to resolve their emotional problems in a healthy way, or how to foster good relationships. Instead, they might have been taught vices like selfishness, arrogance, and entitlement.
Their bad behavior hurts them greatly too, so a loving person would not make their life even more miserable by treating them badly. Instead, a loving person would try to help them, calm down their negative emotions, and teach them virtues and important life skills.
Of course, that requires us to first cultivate our virtues first, which is why the Guide to Happy Life places Pure Love after filial piety, carefulness, and trustworthiness.
From narrow to broad love
Most people have narrow love because they didn’t have role models of broad love. Unfortunately, narrow love leads to discrimination and conflict, and that’s why so many Nobel Peace Winners are known for resolving discrimination via broad love.
As mentioned before, it is most natural to start cultivating love towards parents because parents gave us selfless and unconditional love. Once we are filial towards parents, then we can extend out that love towards others. That is why the Guide to Happy Life tells us to
“Treat all parents as my own parents. Treat all siblings as my own siblings.”
For most of my life, I thought “love” was what was shown in Hollywood movies, a kind of intense and passionate love. But what the movies didn’t tell me was that this kind of love is short-lasting and will lead to a low afterwards. No wonder I had so many problems in relationships! Only in the past year did I learned about Pure Love. Of course, I’m nowhere near close to having pure love, but at least I’m going in the right direction now!
In the past, I treated my friends, colleagues, and bosses well, but I didn’t really respect my own parents. I now realize I only treated those other people well because there was selfish benefit for me to do so. Therefore my love was selfish.
Before, if someone ticked me off, I would hold feelings of resentment towards them. That meant I had conditional love. Looking back, that caused me a lot of unnecessary suffering!
Finally, my love was very narrow. I rarely thought about anyone’s benefit other than myself. Always thinking about my future benefit and whether I will be okay is quite a stressful way to live! On the other hand, trying to help others and being happy for their good fortune is a much happier mindset.
Now, I make conscious effort to treat everyone with equal respect and love. For example, in my job as a teacher, if a “bad” student asks me for help and then a “good” student asks me for help, I will help them both with my utmost effort. Moreover, I will first help whoever asked me first and not pick favorites.
One time, my mother was upset that I spend so much of my free time doing work. I explained to her that I am incorporating virtuous teachings into the curriculum, so it is really helpful to the students’ lives. Furthermore, I told her, “Why don’t you view these students as your own grandchildren? Then you would be very happy to see me working hard to give them the best education.” When she broadened her heart, her unhappiness went away.
- When was a time you received unconditional love?
- How can you give back unconditional love to that person?
- How can you broaden that love out towards people whom you did not love before?