Love & Attachment: a Zen perspective
Which constitute true and genuine love?
Contrary to others spiritual sources, Zen Buddhist literature does not specifically answer this question but rather look at the attributes and attitudes of what the practice should be and what attachment means.
In the Sutras, the practice of love can be summarized as follow:
Wanting others to be happy in achieving permanent well being using an altruistic, non-conditional and
unselfish behavior and without expecting anything in return.
It includes support, compassion, generosity, understanding, non-judgmental and patience.
It is not a “given-take” feeling or a trade.
This is also how all other scriptures describe what love should be: truly unconditional, unselfish and altruistic.
It requires an enormous courage, generosity and tolerance (including self-acceptance).
Do we love someone accordingly to this definition? Probably not.
How do we see and practice “love”?
What we call “love” is, in fact, sort of conditional love and self-centered love that is: giving something as long as receiving something else in exchange. This subconscious “give and take” is more a “trade contract” than true love and will always create attachment since person A becomes in love to person B because B is/will provide x,y,z to A. These expectations are normal since how can we be attracted to someone giving nothing back.
This distinction between unconditional and conditional love means that ‘love’ in Zen Buddhism and other religions refers to something quite impossible to achieve and very different from the ordinary secular and mundane term of love that we are all using and misusing.
The meaning of the word “love” that we are using all the time is usually related to attachment to what the other is providing such as living together, successful commune relationship including sex, money, family, friends, sharing the good and the bad, etc. In these settings there is always —–at the subconscious level——with some degree of self-centered.
What is attachment?
Attachment from the French word attachement coming from the Latin root meaning, “to be one”. English has 2 words: fasten which is physical and attachment, which is emotional.
Attachment and love share a very similar meaning in that both of them draw us to a person or object. But in fact, these two feelings or emotions are very different. When we’re attached we’re drawn to someone because he or she meets or will meet our needs and expectations to make us happier and content.
In other words: it seems that the more we are getting from someone such as love, happiness, security, pleasure, interactions, understanding, fulfillment, success, the more attached we are to that person. This is an absolutely normal behavior more subconscious than conscious and our ego is surely behind this.
The more attached we are to someone/something, the more fearful we become of loosing what we get. This fear is based not too much on what we are giving to the other one but on what we may loose physically and emotionally. This maybe why death of our loved one is perceived as a “loss” even if we do not own anything or anybody.
Attachment can go up and down like a yo-yo, depending on how the other person is treating and giving us at any moment.
Again, there is nothing wrong of being attached to someone or something as long we realize that
“de-attachment” when occurring – and it will – can and will be very painful.
Does attachment comes with love?
Yes it does automatically because we are expecting to receive something back from the other. However, regarding attachment, it is important is to keep in mind the following.
Nothing is permanent including our reasons of attachment and attachments-based relationship.
therefore enjoy every moments of it.
Nothing can be controlled 100%.
Everything changes all the time in quality and quantity.
The true love from Zen teaching and from any religions being altruistic, unselfish, unconditional, non-interested, detached from self-interests is almost impossible to achieve. In this hypothetical love we simply want other to have happiness, serenity and to help without any strings attached, without getting anything back in exchange. Very hard to understand, accept and follow.
The 3 main keys are:
1) To accept that our “so-called love” is not totally altruistic but also by our ego-driven attachments that is what we are getting positively or expecting to get back in exchange.
2) The sources of these attachment are transient, will always changed with age / events and cannot be controlled.
3) Understanding+ communication + compromises + mindfulness and adaptation to change should always be kept in mind in any love-based relationship.