Love vs. Attachment

Each of the qualities of the awakened heart, such as love, joy and peace, have what are called “near enemies”—aspects which mimic and limit them. The near enemy of love is attachment. Attachment masquerades as love. It says, “I will love this person (because I need something from them).” Or, “I’ll love you if you’ll love me back. I’ll love you, but only if you will be the way I want.” This isn’t the fullness of love. Instead there is attachment—there is clinging and fear. True love allows, honors, and appreciates; attachment grasps, demands, needs, and aims to possess. If we examine our own attachment with compassion, we can see how it is constricted, fear-based and conditional; it offers love only to certain people in certain ways—it is exclusive. Then we can practice opening to love, in the sense of metta, used by the Buddha—a universal, heartfelt feeling of caring and connectedness. This love is a dedication to the welfare of—and a wishing the best for—others near and far.

We can even learn to love those whom we may not approve of or like. We may not condone their behavior, but we cultivate compassion for them as another being. Love is not passive acquiescence. It is a powerful force that can transform any situation. As the Buddha teaches, “Hatred never ceases through hatred. Hatred is only overcome by love.” Love embraces all beings without exception, and discards ill will.

We might wonder about nonattachment, how to reconcile service and responsible action with a meditative life that fosters letting go. Do the values that lead us to actively give, serve, and care for one another differ from the values that lead us on a journey of nonclinging, liberation and awakening?

It helps to distinguish between the four radiant abodes, of the awakened heart —love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity—and their near enemies. Each of the near enemies can seem to be like these beautiful heart qualities and may even be mistaken for them, but they are not fundamentally alike. The near enemies mistakenly separate us from life and true connection with all things. Instead of the near enemy of attachment, love grows with dedication and care, commitment and courage. This is genuine love. Real compassion connects, rather than its near enemy, pity, which separates. Shared joy connects, rather than jealousy, which separates. And equanimity brings peace to all, rather than its near enemy, indifference, which disconnects us.

As each of these true heart qualities infuses our awareness, they enable us to accept the truth of each moment, to feel our intimate connectedness with all things, and to see the wholeness of life. Whether we are sitting in meditation or sitting somewhere in protest, this genuine love is our spiritual practice wherever we are.

Find Peace


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