By Allan Hunter Badiner A commentary on the fourth of the Five Awareness: "We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love."
While the foundation of love may be understanding, it is equally true that confusion and misunderstanding often surround love. The key to the Five Awarenesses is to understand ourselves as a link in a chain of being. A being is seen less as an individual person, and more as a range of behaviors, a composite of conditioning that asserts itself through many lives over time.
When we say we love someone and that we understand them, it is to say that we see them in the context of a lineage. It is a full recognition and acceptance of all the qualities found in the person we love, not just those that are endearing.
Understanding the one we love is understanding the pattern of conditions that brought him or her into this state of being. The inherited seeds of joy and pain, the treatment received by parents, how they treated each other, and even the way they walked, and took their breath, as well as friends, education, and society—all conspired to create our loved one, and continues to condition her state of being.
Many of us suffered greatly as children. Expectations of a harmonious family and an abundance of love were unfulfilled. Internal formations of pain and fear that have been left within us find their own expression. Looking deeply, we see that suffering conditions us in such a way that we say and do things that make others suffer. We know we are loved when someone sees the bondage within our own consciousness and accepts us in full view of it. This is loving kindness: loving the unlovable too, and bringing the light of love and understanding to it.
Love, in the light of true understanding, manifests less as a result of our own desire, then as a response to the needs of others. Loving someone because they need you is a higher form of love than loving someone because you need them. Cultivating this higher form of love is an opportunity to practice loving kindness and compassion. It is also an opportunity to grow and change. By accepting and reciprocating your unconditional love, your partner works together with you to transform the pain, fear, and anger that conditions both of your lives.
Aware, and in the present moment, we can observe the deep roots of another's weaknesses, accept them, and balance that view with the truth that they also have Buddha nature. To be awake is to smile and to understand the negative and positive life within us in a kind of perpetual interplay. Choosing to nurture the positive in our partner makes it more real for them, and helps manifest more of it. Accepting the negative with understanding allows our partner to stop being dominated by it and accept it as well.
To achieve love with understanding, a couple must develop the skills of loving speech and the ability to listen carefully to each other. Love and understanding live in the communication between partners, and in the way experiences of suffering and joy are shared. Sometimes, when we suffer or become angry, it is better to keep it to ourselves for a while and study it carefully for what it can teach us about ourselves. We may discover one good insight that will liberate us, or that our perception was faulty.
When we have love and understanding, we are not repelled by the darkness found in our loved one. Responding honestly to circumstances and telling the truth doesn't need to be painful, even when our partner is blinded by past conditioning. We can assert the truth, but in a kind and loving way. Whatever truth is there will be rendered more true, and more easily understood, when communicated in this way.
Sometimes the pain is too great and we feel the need to be supported by our partner. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a few hours of conscious breathing or walking meditation. To follow that, he offers us "magic" words that, when recited calmly to our loved one, destroy the obstacles to communication and create the possibility of active compassion. "Darling, I suffer. Please help me. I need you."
At times, irritation gets hold of me and my words can become dangerous and destructive. The challenge for me has been to breathe into that moment, filling my body with space and my mind with awareness, feeling the pain and remembering the disappointed joy from which it often springs. Sometimes I walk outside amongst trees or by the sea. Aware of where I am and what I am in contact with, such as the beauty and perfection of nature, I am calmed. When understanding is there, love is there. When the suffering of others touches your heart and provokes you to act, it is love with wisdom. It allows us to suffer with the stranger in pain and know the need to be liberated. In some Buddhist temples, this wise love is depicted by the image of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, her eyes bright with understanding, while her hands untie the knots of suffering, or a bodhisattva image with one thousand arms, and eyes embedded in each hand, representing mindfulness in every movement.
Practicing love with our partners and cultivating understanding in each other, and of each other, do more than bring joy and harmony to our lives—they also bring happiness to the whole Earth. The vast net of interconnected people and events is impacted and transformed by the smallest ray of love. Love grounded in understanding may be our only chance to make peace with each other, our families, the world, and ourselves. It has the power at all times to reach all hearts, and all minds.
Allan Hunt Badiner, editor of the book Dharma Gaia, lives in Big Sur, California. This is the fourth in a series of five articles.