From Selfish to Selfless Love

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By Venerable Mahinda

NL14-4-6Often we find that the people who make us most angry are the people we love most – our spouse, our parents or children. Although we know that we love them, they also make us very upset. Why? Because consciously or unconsciously, we expect something from them in return for our love. When we do not get it, our love can turn to hate. This can be seen in the case of many broken marriages.

This kind of love is not refined, it is based on attachment and desire. While we genuinely care for the other person, there is always a sense of gain for ourselves, of fulfilling our own desires, needs and wants. Our love comes with strings attached – expectations and hopes we place on the other person. For example, when you whisper ‘I love you’ to another, very often somewhere in the back of your mind you may be thinking ‘Now I will not be so lonely,’ or ‘ Now I will have someone to look after me when I grow old…’. Isn’t this true?

We need to become aware of how much emphasis we are placing on our own ‘self’ in our relationships, and to understand that identifying so strongly with this ‘I’ and ‘my’ in our relationships, is the cause of a lot of suffering.

We all conform to a belief that this is ‘my’ wife, ‘my’ husband, ‘my’ child and so on. Our world is centred around this ‘I’ and ‘my’ – the ego – and what this ego wants. But we need to consider what is this ‘I’ and ‘my’? Many parents get upset with their children because their children do not want to become what they want them to be. Simply because they are ‘your’ children, can you really make them what you want them to be? If not, are they really yours? Do you really own them? In the same manner, simply because you have married and signed a contract, can you really make your husband/wife be what you want him/her to be?

That is why true metta must be accompanied with the wisdom and purity of mind to see beyond our limited idea of self, to recognise that each and every being wishes to be happy, no matter whether they are friendly, indifferent, or hostile towards us. Metta transforms ordinary love into an unconditional, unlimited kind of love, which involves care, respect, and trust – without any ‘strings’ attached.

When we sincerely wish all beings well and happy, we go beyond our own selfishness. It is an act of generosity – generosity of the heart. When we get upset with people, we need to be aware that there is some selfish motivation behind it. We are no longer caring for the other person’s wellbeing and happiness, only for our own ideas of what we want.

When we meditate on metta, we experience calm and peace because our mind is not on ourselves, it is focussed on radiating loving-kindness all around us, to others. If we become distracted and start to focus on ourselves, we feel the aches and pains and tension in our own body. The experience of real metta occurs when we can transcend our ‘self’ and our mind is truly empty; then compassionate love towards all beings will naturally develop.

All the great spiritual traditions teach us to reduce selfishness and ego, eventually paving the way for the development of unconditional and unlimited love that embraces all beings without exception. If we can genuinely develop such unconditional love, it will bring about true peace and happiness, both for ourselves and all other beings.

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