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Love, Compassion and the Mind of Enlightenment


In Buddhism, 'love' means that we want others (feeling beings) to be happy; nothing more or less.

This means that when we think of love relationships between two people, we are often not talking about 'real' love because there is a lot of self-interest involved; my partner is sexually attractive to me, s/he understands me so well, s/he has similar hobbies and interests, etc. This shows that our self-interest in love relationships usually comes first; we don't get into a relationship when we can't get anything for ourselves, not even just attention. So many relationships are actually based more on self-interest and attachment than on the desire to see the other person happy. This makes it easy to get into trouble and to end up disappointed; after all, our partner has probably also chosen us out of self-interest and expects all kinds of things from us!

True love, according to Buddhism, is not at all so self-serving or simple, because it requires putting aside our expectations of others and our selfishness.

Compassion and Wisdom

Compassion is defined in Buddhism as 'wanting others (feeling beings) not to suffer'. This may sound logical, but our daily reality is often quite different. We may dislike some people, have an aversion to spiders or cockroaches, and we may automatically kill mosquitoes without even thinking that we are killing living beings. How often do we really think about the other person's interests without thinking about our own self-interest as well? A deeply felt compassion brings with it the desire to want to help others, to improve something about their fate. This is, of course, a wonderful pursuit, but we should remember that without common sense and wisdom we sometimes do more harm than good.

Therefore, in the Tibetan tradition, much emphasis is placed on the fact that we try to develop the two qualities simultaneously: compassion and wisdom. We need both to be able to help meaningfully, just as a bird needs two wings to fly.

People who are naturally inclined to help others, tend to get into trouble; after much toiling for others, they suddenly develop depression or get a burnout. Two things are often overlooked. Firstly, that we ourselves also need and deserve loving kindness and compassion, and secondly, our motivation is often not entirely pure.
We often expect something in return from others when we help them, even if only a look of appreciation. When this expectation is not fulfilled after a lot of work on our part, we easily become frustrated.
The great advantage of a pure, altruistic motivation is that we can never be disappointed because we expect nothing in return, not even gratitude, love or a kind word. As with impure love, problems arise because we tend to think of our own interests rather than the interests of the other person.

Bodhicitta, the Mind of Enlightenment

The spirit of enlightenment or bodhicitta is central to Mahayana Buddhism. 'Bodhi' is Sanskrit for enlightenment and 'citta' means spirit. In fact, Bodhicitta is an extension of true compassion as described above. Wanting to help others reduce their suffering is great, but how can you get rid of all their problems for good? According to Buddhism, this only happens when others attain liberation or Buddhahood. It is only then that their uncontrolled rebirths (samsara) and the problems associated with them finally stop.

But how do you help others achieve enlightenment? That really only works if you yourself are a good teacher and guide for them. And you are the most perfect guide when you are a Buddha yourself, completely free of negative thoughts and emotions. A mind in which all positive qualities are fully developed is omniscient, and thus the ultimate tool for helping others. So, the logical conclusion is that in order to really fully relieve others from all of their suffering, we must first become a Buddha ourselves. Striving for this goal is what is called bodhichitta or the enlightenment mind.

One who has actually developed this altruistic motivation is called a Bodhisattva - an 'enlightenment being'. You can safely call these kinds of people holy, because everything they do is aimed at attaining Buddhahood in order to be able to help others.

See the next page: The wisdom of the emptiness and selflessness