You don’t need an article to tell you if you are physically attracted to another person. Attraction — sexual and platonic — is obvious and magnetic. But how do we measure the spirituality of our relationships, the characteristics that rise above the basic drives of need, lust and companionship?
In Buddhism, there are four immeasurable aspects to true love: Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.
In his book, “Teachings on Love”, scholar, activist and Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, referred to these aspects as ". . . 'immeasurable,' because if you practice them, they will grow in you every day until they embrace the whole world. You will become happier, and everyone around you will become happier, also.”
Love, the first aspect of the overarching “True Love”, is an outward expression affecting more than just two individuals in relationship. From the Sanskrit word maitri, it is defined by Thich Nhat Hanh as “the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness.”
Love is other-centered — an offering, a gift, a sacrifice to the world. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that such love cannot exist without understanding. Understanding opens us to the needs, desires, sufferings and aspirations of others.
Some of us, survivors of trauma or of childhood abuse or neglect, are often so focused on day-to-day survival and affirmation that we can forget that our partners do not exist exclusively to fulfill our unmet emotional needs.
Our partners have their own doubts, weaknesses and aspirations. Keeping the humanness of one’s partner in mind is an affirmation of love.
Compassion, from the Sanskrit word karuna, is “the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows.” Also other-centered, this aspect of love enlightens us to the sufferings of another.
Love garners knowledge. Compassion spurs us to act on that knowledge.