“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.” Thich Nhat Hanh on Mastering the Art of “Interbeing”
CI’m sure that you’ve all asked yourselves the following question at least once in your life: “What is love?”
Is love a feeling, an action, or perhaps something that people simply cannot clearly define?
According to the words of Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, love is simply a way of being.
In fact, using a simply worded but profound explanation, Thich Nhat Hanh says that the way people love is one of the most complex and rewarding experiences a person could ever have.
This renowned Buddhist teacher expresses his opinion that love is not just a feeling, an action, or something that is fully undefinable. Instead, he says that human love is a way of being, and the most rewarding of all human experiences, while understanding is actually another form of love. And according to the Buddhist tradition, all people need understanding.
To put it another way, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks in a metaphorical way, saying:
“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”
But an important question arises here: how can we truly devote ourselves to understanding the suffering of others? Ironically, the very comprehension of other people’s suffering involves reflecting on our own personal happiness:
“When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness. Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”
However, the ability of a person to understand love also depends on their unique life experiences, and especially on their unique experiences during childhood:
“If our parents didn’t love and understand each other, how are we to know what love looks like? . . . The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness. Our parents may be able to leave us money, houses, and land, but they may not be happy people. If we have happy parents, we have received the richest inheritance of all.”
Each individual in this world may not be fully capable to learn to love truly simply by way of Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, insights, and metaphors, but if we contemplate these things alongside each of our personal life experiences and efforts, the chances of humanity succeeding in this noble mission will rise significantly. Let’s start right now. It is time!