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Why Do Buddhists Fall In Love?

It happened again; another double question:

A reader writes:

If life is suffering and we are supposed to disconnect from attachments, why fall in love or get married?

A caller phoned in a question:

Thanks for the weekly podcast. I try to lead my life considering the philosophy of Buddhism. I recently ended a relationship with a young woman, we had been together for nine months. The decision was not mutual; it was mine. I know I am causing her so much hurt. I do care about her very much, and I am feeling a lot of guilt and sadness for the heartbreak I am causing her. I am causing suffering, but I know that by staying with her I know this would be wrong also. What would be the Buddhist view on this situation?

My Answer:

loverssunThis is a huge subject, and there’s no way I can cover it adequately, even if I had unlimited space. Also, I’m probably the last person on Earth to ask about relationship advice 🙂

The first question is much easier. There is much suffering in life, but suffering is not something we desire; it’s something to try to eliminate or avoid. Love is a good, positive outlet for us, but does involve some suffering. I’m not sure this is particularly a Buddhist problem, since everyone knows going into a marriage or long-term relationship that “till death do us part” implies some serious suffering later.Buddhism is not a negative thing; go ahead and enjoy life. Just don’t be too invested in expectations.

There is no harm in enjoying the moment and loving others. The suffering comes from aggressively holding on to things that must change. As the second question shows, the suffering comes from the change (the breakup) rather than the loving relationship that precedes it.

As the second caller says in his message, staying with this woman would also be bad. I don’t know the details, so I will have to trust his judgment in deciding that leaving is better than staying. There really is no “winning” in this situation, and the choice to take the road that leads to less suffering is probably the best one. It may be better to take some short-lived, intense suffering right now than try to survive years of drawn out problems later. One could argue that it might be better to have not loved at all, which brings us right back to the first question.

Love is a natural emotion, and if you’re lucky, it just happens. Trying to avoid love causes suffering too. Accept that the suffering will eventually come, and do prepare yourself for it, but don’t try to avoid it completely. Bad things are going to happen, you need some good things to help offset them to make life worth living.

My thoughts on this one are all over the place. Maybe a reader who has been there can offer some advice below.

12 comments to Why Do Buddhists Fall In Love?

  • Mat S

    The aim is not to disconnect from attatchments, but to understand that attachment is the cause of suffering (aversion is also a form of attachment – as in trying to avoid falling in love). If this is deeply understood we can enjoy falling in love and getting married, but also be clear that that this isn’t necessarily for ever and that all things are subject to impermanence.

    To be present with what is happening right now and not to cling to the good or reject the bad is a tricky thing to do. But with clarity and acceptance we can allow these difficult mind-states to be knowing they too are impermanent and will also pass.

  • Abe Simpson

    I think Mat S got right. I would only add this quote from H.H.

    Compassion and love are not mere luxuries.
    As the source both of inner and external peace,
    they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species.
    His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

  • steve

    My limited understanding of love is “to extend oneself for the benefit of another”.I think that Brian gave some good advice also.

  • David

    I would highly recommend both of these books by Kasl:

    If the Buddha Dated

    If the Buddha Got Married

    Also, check out: If the Buddha Got Stuck

    Brillion work by Kasl.

    djs

  • Tina

    I love Brian and Mat’s responses. What to look at are the lessons learned from each relationship. If there was suffering this time – what would you do different the next time around to avoid suffering or causing another person to suffer. With any relationship suffering is going to happen – i have learned thru lovingkindness mediations to love better and decrease suffering!

  • babu

    The person who called in with the question should know that purpose of life is to attain ‘no life’ i.e. salvation or freedom from rebirth or moksha or nirvana or samadhi etc. just the words are different but mean only the same. This is the basis of Buddhism. Buddhism like other traditions from India are all ‘way of life’ not ‘a set of rituals just for the sake of rituals’. if this is accepted, then this resolves the differences that continusouly arise in social life. at least for me, after ‘knowing’ this, the question itself does not arise in the first place.

  • Michael

    I think both Mat and Brian have offered wonderfully insightful replies. I would add the the thread only to share my very similar experience, having ended an engagement last year with a woman I deeply loved. She had elected to end the relationship and I went through a lengthy period of mourning; feeling betrayed, alone, somehow defective for not being “good enough” any longer to meet her needs. In the end, through careful insight meditation, I came to realize that I had been given a tremendous gift in having to face these emotions. I had pinned my own happiness on her, on the life we were building an the life we were planning. I was guilty of attaching my innermost happiness to that relationship and to her presence in my life. I had begun to pin my sense of self upon her and that union. What I learned though, is that I was in error in doing so, and that my own true happiness was right where it had always been, within. My sense of self is integrated to the self, not to the outward validation she provided. In the end, I’m grateful for the experience and the pain of having “lost” something I never “had”. I learned to experience transience, to value each moment for what it provides (for better or worse), and that I had been the cause of my own suffering, having attached so much to that which is transient. I feel better than ever having experienced that depth of pain, and know that what I felt was a manifestation of my own misguided attachment to something other than the “self”. My focus had turned from what was once kind and pure, to something that became greedy and selfish. I love more freely now, with more honesty and more selflessness, and with a better understanding of how, through attachment, I manifested my own pain through a journey of self discovery. She no more caused that pain than she caused the sun to rise the next day. For better or worse, it seems to me at least, that we’re challenged with our own self-discovery as we grow brighter and stronger with each passing day.

  • Paul

    Hi, I was the person who called in with the question. I would like to thank, Brian, Mat S, Michael and all the othres who left comments. reading you words have been very helpful to me.
    Many Thanks

    Paul

  • Benjamin C.

    Speaking from experience, I broke up with my girlfriend because I was unsure how to balance my spiritual and secular life.

    It has to do with grasping to something that will cause you suffering. Everyone will loose everyone that they have ever known and loved either all at once or one at a time. The Buddha himself left his wife and child because he knew that there was nothing that he could do for them until he himself became enlightened.

    So needless to say that we broke up. I also listen to a podcast by Lama Marut, and there are some podcasts that helped me on this topic. He says that you don’t know that your partner isn’t your guru, for who better to teach you patience. If you think of your partner as being your guru then imagine how much better your relationship will be. How many times will you get mad when they don’t wash their dishes or take out the trash? Then he says that either your partner will become more guru-like or someone will emerge as being your true guru. And if that happens you now have 2 gurus, and how wonderful would that be? It is a very interesting podcast but I don’t know is Brian will be upset if I tell everyone to listen to another podcast.

    So after thinking about this for awhile I came to the Buddhist conclusion of that the middle way is the best way for me to go. I recently married and am very happy. I got married with the understanding that she is not “my” wife. If she was “my” wife then I would never loose her, and one day I will either by her or me passing. So now I cherish every moment with my “guru”.

  • Jennifer

    Benjamin: “He says that you don‚Äôt know that your partner isn‚Äôt your guru, for who better to teach you patience. If you think of your partner as being your guru then imagine how much better your relationship will be.”

    – Wow. I think that has just changed my entire perspective on my marriage. Thank you for relating that.

  • shifu

    The real nature of man is decided between the conscious mind and the desires of the subconscious.
    The desire our subconscious is to strong to resist the only way to win is denied it battle.

    with love shifu

  • daisy

    Hello,

    I’ve enjoyed reading this page a lot!

    Benjamin C – please could you tell me where I can find that podcast by Lama Marut?

    Many thanks