Thursday, August 27, 2009

Impermanence, Selflessness And Love

One of my regular readers, Vesile, made some interesting observations about yesterday’s post. He wrote, ‘It dawned on me that love - not just mercy, not just compassion, not just care, love proper - makes no ultimate sense if it is not forever and if the personal identity is always changing or absent at all. This is putting me in serious difficulty with Buddhism at the moment. If the goal is extinction of personal identity, what's left of love then?’
There are a few interesting points here, the main one is that love would make no sense if it does not last forever. But Vasile, your love for your wife is not going to last forever. It has probably already changed – perhaps from desperate hungering passion, to less passionate and more appreciative affectionate love. In years from now when you have grown old together, your love may have no passion in it all. The love you have for each other then might be almost like a brother/sister love or best friends-type love. As you change so does how you love; as your wife changes so does your love for her. And of course, sometimes love changes, not by becoming deeper and more mature, but by souring into indifference or even dislike.
When I was in Milan I went to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and was deeply moved by it. Does it mean that because that feeling has now faded leaving behind a treasured memory and a deeper understanding of Leonardo’s creativity, that the experience I had while gazing at his painting was worthless? I don’t think so. And when Leonardo painted his picture he must have known that it would not last forever (and it is indeed badly decayed). Does that mean that when he put his heart and soul into his painting that he was wasting his time? I don’t think so. All things are changing and impermanent, love included, but they are no less important because of that.
Vasile, you ask, ‘How do I care for my beloved if she's not gonna be herself into eternity and if my goal is to never be reborn again?’ But surely you did not love her when she was a 2 month old fetus, when she was a one year old baby or when she was a willful spotty-faced gap-toothed 13 year older, indeed you probably didn’t even know she existed. You only had the joy of loving her after she had changed enough to be a fully matured woman and when you had changed enough to feel sexual and emotional attraction. And before that she was cared for quite okay without you and you got along quite okay without knowing her. Believe me, it will be like that in the distant future.
Your love for your wife is, and hopefully it will remain for a long time, part of your life. The Buddha said that if a couple love each other deeply enough and they have similar kamma, they may even meet again in the next life. But just as your love had a beginning, it will, according to the Buddha, eventually have an end. Rejoice in it while it is here while developing an understanding of the truth of impermanence.
Now Vasile, the fact that the Buddha’s teaching of impermanence (anicca) and no-self (anatta) has come as such a shock, this suggests that you have assumed that Buddhism teaches something like a eternal life in an eternal heaven after death. If so, Vasile, you have either not studied Buddhism very deeply or have been badly misinformed. I would encourage you to do some reading on the Dhamma.
Oh! And give my regards to your lady. She must be a very special person.

35 comments:

Vasile Andreica said...

Bhante, I know fairly well about the Dhamma and its definitions of heaven and purgatory. That was not my point. I know fairly well about anatta, anicca and dukkha. I have my qualms about the impersonalism of it all.

I know fairly well that I didn't know her since she was a child, but when I look deeply into her eyes I seem to see all the process which brought her to be what she is to me. Sure it will change, sure sex won't be a part, but exactly the personal nature of it, her being the same person, child, woman, elder woman, makes love so special. How am I to recognize her in a future life if she and I won't be the same? Something just doesn't click, smells like mere consolation.

Thank your for your kind reply. I'll send her your regards.

By the way, she is not my wife yet. Don't know if she will eventually be. But I am and will be forever grateful to have met and loved her.

So when you do your prayers, aspirations, or whatever you do, add a good thought for the two of us, Vasile and Andrea, two persons which had a lot of trials in their lives before meeting and will face a lot of trials on their way. May the Blessed One, who knew the joys of love and care for his wife even if he eventually left her, bless our blossoming hearts so they may be good and kind and go together all the way through.

I try to contain a veil of tears ready to flow on the cheeks. Can't seem to. Thank you again.

Soe am i said...

Dear Vasile, Bhante mentioned:
"Does that mean that when he put his heart and soul into his painting that he was wasting his time? I don’t think so. All things are changing and impermanent, love included, but they are no less important because of that."

So it is not about whether we should love, and I believe for you it is not. You asked "How am I to recognize her in a future life if she and I won't be the same?"

I sense you fear this "inability to recognise". Or rather, you do not have any practical knowledge of this type of recognition. You must hold your beloved very dearly in your heart. But are you not being unfair to yourself to want something so uncomprehendably difficult as meeting her again in the next existance, to have her by your side as your beloved?

The highest love, without attachment, without conditions, should set free the one who gives and the one who recieves. This love, should be beyond longing for something that you actually recognise, beyond personality, deeds, memories. And this unconditionality is what makes it suitable to be given as easily to all beings.

Personally, to a certain fair lady whom I admire, I am trying to adopt this attitude. Her needs I will consider, more important than my urges to be in her company. From my own reflections, I have observed, that my attraction to her maybe borne from biological, physical and mental conditions but they are of little spiritual value. Even the attraction itself, however strong -once I thought I was about to die from breathlessness- is of no spiritual essence. It is only the attitude of or attempt at, developing a 'pure love' that is worthwhile.

Should this mean that my fair lady is no longer important? No, If i believe that then I would be thinking there is nothing to love. This might be what Vasile fears. But there is stll something about her being, although I may not fully comprehend her existance, she exists. And I can develop that highest of love, where even time, space or the unknowing would not matter. Thats how I understand it with my limited knowledge and experience.

As for your "qualms about the impersonalism of it all", rebirth like other laws of gravity, molecular decay, kamma, are impersonal in their nature. We are bound by rebirth mercilessly as long as we do not take the escape-route to freedom.

I think the unkown can torment us but your learning mind can make it known. The ignorant mind extends this tormenting sentence.

Boy, that was long, just got me warmed up to do my next writing assignment!
I will send thoughts of metta to both of you, Vasile and Andrea.)

Vasile Andreica said...

That was long for sure, but insightful.

You say: "The highest love, without attachment, without conditions, should set free the one who gives and the one who recieves. This love, should be beyond longing for something that you actually recognise, beyond personality, deeds, memories. And this unconditionality is what makes it suitable to be given as easily to all beings."

I agree, and she knows that she has the freedom to seek happiness and fulfillment and is not bound to me forcefully. She may find a man more suited to her needs (I have a physical disability after all) and move to New Zeeland for all I know, but my love and care for her won't be affected, I will always wish her well and help her however I can. This love beyond personality et alia may still be in serious danger of losing sense and being directed to a big void of not-being... I don't know if it's the way to put it. Metta is universal, but it still refers to beings which... are, which exist, be them celestial, earthly or even hellish. To send metta to us you acknowledge we are persons and not some conglomerate of functions without cohesion to keep our functioning together :)

"Her needs I will consider, more important than my urges to be in her company. From my own reflections, I have observed, that my attraction to her maybe borne from biological, physical and mental conditions but they are of little spiritual value. Even the attraction itself, however strong -once I thought I was about to die from breathlessness- is of no spiritual essence. It is only the attitude of or attempt at, developing a 'pure love' that is worthwhile."

That's what I just said before. And you continue like that. Very nice. Great minds think alike, great hearts love alike :)

Be happy!

Vasile Andreica said...

Just to add... you say maybe I fear their is nothing ontological to be loved in a dear ome... you nailed it! That's why I have a problem with impersonalism. If everything is just impersonal and without essence, just a smoke in a big void, anatta, then what is left to love? That I would like to know... the relationship, if there is any, between metta, or whatever kind of love there is, and anatta.

bobzane said...

I can sympathize. My wife of 33 years is very unsettled about me becoming a Buddhist. She has a strong belief about being with her family and me after death.

Paulo Roberto said...

Hi,

My wife has this kind of problem... in seeing the impermanence of us as a sad thing.

She says that would like to be with me forever.

I try to say to her that I’m not the same man she married about ten years ago, so there isn’t “be together forever” because we’re changing together – and that doesn’t diminish our love.

That’s the opposite – each new day we build a new love.

A new love that is the rebirth of yesterday’s love – not the same, maybe not better, but certainly not worst.

Vasile Andreica said...
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Vasile Andreica said...

nicely put, Paulo - and I guess this moment-to-moment rebirth of love is the key to understand this issue.

still, if the ultimate goal, the summum bonum of the Dhamma, is extinction of personality per se and therefore letting go of all attachments, even most dear ones, it may seem Buddhism goes against this all in its ultimate quest. So I will restate the question: what has love got to do with the postulation of no-self or not-self or however you may translate anatta?

Paulo said...
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Paulo Roberto said...

Hi,

I’m not sure if the ultimate goal is the “extinction of personality”.
I believe that the goal is the extinction of dukkha.

Letting go attachments isn’t the same of letting go our emotions.

And I believe that today I love my wife because of anatta – if there wasn’t anatta, the “me” that existed before knowing her never would change to know her and love her – and I’ve changed a lot after knowing and loving her.

And because I know that one day we will be separated I enjoy every day as it was the last one – and that make our love stronger.

Vasile Andreica said...

and after the day of separation arrives, then what is left? how long does that love subside?

David (TheDhamma.com) said...

There are some jataka stories of husbands and wives following each other through samsara and often being spouses repeatedly through samsara. How will you recognize her? I dunno, I suppose it will just happen, almost like fate, but more like kamma. Husbands and wives tend to think alike and make decisions together, so their kamma could be very similar.
Don't worry about the attachment too much right now. As Bhante mentioned, as you get older, that love will evolve. I am fortunate to have a wife who practices Dhamma with me and our love has evolved in the way Bhante describes and I don't miss the burning passion part one bit. But you won't believe me now, while you are young; just wait a few years and decades and you'll see what I mean.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

There is a story in the Mahavastu about a woman who marries a man in order to help his spiritual quest and becomes his wife and helper through many lives. Problem is, I don’t have the Mahavastu with me and I can’t remember the details. Ill try to get a copy and if I do Ill get back to you all on it.

no said...

Dear Vasile,

You said… “still, if the ultimate goal, the summum bonum of the Dhamma, is extinction of personality per se and therefore letting go of all attachments, even most dear ones, it may seem Buddhism goes against this all in its ultimate quest. So I will restate the question: what has love got to do with the postulation of no-self or not-self or however you may translate anatta?”

No, no, no… The teachings of Buddhism are to be read or heard insightfully, not clung to. Yes, on first hearing, it would appear that anatta et al is loveless and depressing, but if we further reflect on it, the not-self is there merely to help us see what is our “conditioned self” so that we can find our “true self”, which in Zen Buddhism is called the “original self”. Just like Ananda found the celestial nymphs so incomparably more attractive than his lover, so we shall find that the Unconditioned far exceeds our wildest imagination in beauty and brightness.

Whenever I think about “emptiness” or “nothingness”, I will think of a Zen story. I will relate it here and hope you will like it too. A certain student of Buddhism asked a Zen Master, “Sir, it is all empty, all is nothing. What is?” The Zen Master was silent, but gave the student a hard slap. “Wah! Ouch!” yelled the student, “What was that for?” The Zen Master, “Did you not say everything was ‘empty’?” Thereupon insight arose, the student bowed, and thanked the Master. “Thank you! ”

I am quite confident, my friend, that your conditioned love for your beloved will be transformed to something far more desirable should you ever ever reach “extinction.” :)

aah-haa said...

Isn't love an emotional feeling? Isn't love also attachment? Can non-entity feel? Can one love nothing?
Selflessness is not the same as no-self or non-self. And love (as a feeling and attachment) is certainly not static (a less confusing term than impermanence).

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear No,
I thought we had sorted out this ‘Ananda and the nymphs’ thing before! Please re-read the post for 19th July again. In fact, read it four or five times again just to get it right.

Soe am i said...

Dear no,

I think you are refering to nanda, Buddha's half brother and not ananda.

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/n/nanda.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/aa/aananda.htm

MidPath said...

Dear Vasile

Oh...it is not as if you and your lady are parting anytime soon.
She is not even your wife yet! Why are you worrying to loose something you don't even have yet?
Isn't that thinking and worrying much too far ahead? And Andrea will be sad to see you cry.
Do you want her to be sad?

Instead, please "chin-up" and keep a positive mental attitude.
The confidence that comes can be felt by all around you, including your wife-to-be.

Vasile Andreica said...

So morning came again in Romania and the night was not without its mental and emotional wrestling. Let me share how I see all of this now.

First let me say to the last poster: the tears I was mentioning in my first reply were first and foremost tears of gratitude, as I was remembering the whole way till where we are and asking for spiritual support for us. Nothing like sadness, despair or such things.

The question I was asking all along concerns in fact the basis of all Buddhism, the drive for everything we do on the way, the ultimate goal. If we are to lose ultimately everything that defined us as human beings (or non-human, doesn't really matter), then isn't it all a way to ultimate death, as one poster so acutely asked these days? I want to know if it's worth following the way and what place has love - not merely as feeling or attachment, but as conscious choice - in all this.

Oh, if you say like Nagarjuna, that emptiness is nothing but dependent co-arising, that things exist but not on their own, the Zen story has sense. That would mean that every single act, even nailbiting for instance, not to mention thoughts or deep feelings, affects the whole of existence and therefore you need to cultivate good qualities and radiate love all around.

I'm sure - and festively so, I'd say - that our love, friendship, partnership will evolve, change and deepen. I guess I was clinging to my oh-so-little power to do good things and to help her in every quest, but then there is this little thing called freedom, and love without freedom is a sad joke at least. That much I understand.

Yes, I love her dearly and unconditionally, I wish her all the happiness and fulfillment in the world, I'm ready to share and help with whatever I can, be it warm words, a tender heart or more material deeds. But it should not turn into an ego trip, that "me, mine" attitude which ruins so many beautiful relationships and, indeed, so many lives.

Ever since we found each other we were talking about running free alongside, like two horses in the wild (we are born in the year of the Horse, 1978), a free flowing love which helps our growth together. Old habits die hard, past sufferings bite hard from inside, but eventually the stray dogs turn silent. Her good is my good, her happiness my happiness, her sorrow my sorrow, I tend to forget myself and try to enlighten her in times of trouble (enlight and lighten, that is), even if, due to past kamma I guess, my physical limitations are not small. And maybe that's the whole point of anatta, which is intended to destroy the ego-sense of myself, not to make me see others like smoke in a mirror. Others do exist, do suffer, do love, and it's my duty to work for their happiness even in spite of my illusory sense of self.

Vasile Andreica said...

As for the unconditioned bright light and all, I was inspired, since I love Andrea my spiritual quest was very much deepened, and my original question reflects that, it's a tough one, but it needs to be chewed on and understood if we are to make it right on the way or to make sure we are even on the right way.

The poem on the header of my blog reads like this:

I started
contemplating the moon
and I found
the sky

Also this love inspired me to write a long sapiential poem and Bhante received it from me, he knows what I talk about. It is called "Ars amandi" (The art of loving). Yes, love is an art, a craft, a mastery to be perfected.

Thank you, good friends. And as I was saying I and my beloved were born in the year of the horse, I want to end this loooong reply with another poem, about love and sacrifice, written by Romanian poet Spiridon Popescu and translated by yours truly. Enjoy.

O, my God, if you befriend me
Like you brag to saints with force,
May death take with written order
Not my parents, but my horse.

O, my God, if you befriend me
Don't all crazy fools endorse -
May death take with written order
Not my children, but my horse.

O, my God, if you befriend me
Don't you poison my due course -
May death take with written order
Not my lover, but my horse.

O, my God, if you befriend me
Like you always loudly said,
In good ink do soak your bolder
And, before you go to bed,

Send to death a written order
While it's sharpening the knife:
May I be, O Lord, the stabbed one
And my horse be left alive.

Ken and Visakha said...

Ah, love!

Yet what is known as love is always changing. Consider the chief queen of King Assaka. She loved him very much while she was a queen. He was so attached to her he couldn't bear to part with her dead body.

Reborn as a female dung beetle, she remembered the king but said she would be willing to bathe her new dung beetle husband's feet with blood from the king's throat!

When he heard that, the king was shaken out of his blind grief, had his queen's body disposed of, and went on with his life.

Vasile Andreica said...

but he surely kept fond memories of his human queen.. or otherwise this is just a sordid story, parable, whatever.

MidPath said...

Dear Vasile,

Your latest post reads like a synopsis of a movie. Like a romantic love story depicting a lover who loves selflessly. You must be one who admire such selflessness.

It should not be too difficult for you to understand and reconcile selflessness and love. Especially not for one who writes poems.

Vasile Andreica said...

then why do I feel selflessness is one thing (good) and not-self is another (tending to dissolve even selflessness, to empty everything of the tiniest bit of meaning)?

aah-haa said...

Should I change what I wrote earlier to: Selflessness is not the same as not-self?
I, me, myself is quite easily understood. And so is selfishness and selflessness. My difficulty is with the concept of not-self. With impermanence of existence, the physical self we see in the mirror can vanish. With rebirth, the non-physical self which we cannot see can reside in a new body. So not-self is not void or empty. What is it?

Vasile Andreica said...

like I said before, Nagarjuna says emptiness, void, shunyata refers to self-sustained existence and is just another way of asserting that all phenomena arise dependently (paticca-samuppada). I hope Bhante will have something to say on this, from the Tipitaka proper.

Angkor said...

Well, Bhante, to be frank, I consider myself deeply rooted in Buddhism, and with honesty and awareness - and because I have been close to death once (at least it seemed to be the case) - have to say that not only did Mahayana Buddhism leave a way out of this problem, it also acknowledges that we really want to live again. Dukha doesn't change that - at least not for most of us, especially because being born again means a lot of fun, too (probably). In case a suffering, cancer stricken guy wants to die, he might also project himself as a cancer-free newborn baby. And the bodhisattva idea even provides an excuse for coming back - to save all those who have not yet been enlightened (maybe including him). Actually, we like to live. A homeless guy was looking at a poster of the Dalai Lama once, and I asked him: "Do you want to be reborn?" He answered: "No, no, I don't want that shit again." For others it would be just worth it. So I never found the idea of nirwana (as opposed to samsara) attractive. The trick is to find out how to live somehow in the midst of dukha and accept it. Right then, I see no reason why living again should be worse than ending the circle of life. It seems that the Buddha was not a clever psychologist here.

Although, I personally don't believe in rebirth. I had the clear feeling that not only my body but everything would dissolve. But there is still hope. The Tathagatha-idea (of the Mahaparinirwana Sutra e.g., in the Mahayana tradition again) speaks of an eternal absolute self (as Buddha's correction of a one-sided idea of a non-self) - and as there is no chance to remember anything because there is still no individual self of phenomena, we might just say that we were actually never born and never die, our inherent Buddhadhatu doesn't do so. When love pops up here and there as some kind of illusion and we accept it as it is (impermanent), we might see it just from the here and now: Now it is strong, now it is strong, now it is gone. Roland Barthes wrote about the phenomena that people (at least guys) who love strongly might see the loved one in different persons. It happened to me. I saw the girl in a baby, I saw her in an old woman. This is no objective truth but s.th. that could happen at a certain point in a certain state of mind. It is okay. There is no need to love s.th. unchanging in a person. We can probably learn to love the dukkha in love. Actually, living and loving in the present moment, dukkha is just not existent for lovers. It is existent only when it arises, when it comes to mind. So lovers somehow strive to do the same as meditating people - they look for a way out of dukkha. And they succeed - but only, when they stay in that present moment.

aah-haa said...

Angkor's comment strike an accord with me in that while one may be rooted in Buddhism, it does not mean that every of its concepts is 'reasonable'. Perhaps, this aspect can be furhter commented in the other post "A Comment on Rebirth".
Coming to this post on "Selflessness and Love", love like other emotions are inherent in humans as well as animals, insects and maybe plants. However, it does take some form of attraction, stimulus, affinity, craving, liking when we talked about romantic love, food, book, and even the Dhamma. As for selfless love, is there such a thing? Does one make sacrifices including his life because of selfless love or just selflessness or not-self?

aah-haa said...

In preceding post, I missed out impermanence. The Buddha said that whatever is impermanent is suffering. And everything is impermanent. Therefore love is impermanent and love is suffering. With impermanence, nothing has substantial existence of its own, including the body and mind. To experience love, somehow there is a need for body or mind or both. This is a corollary to love is not permanent.
Selflessness is not the same as not-self. However, not-self generates selflessness in the sense that there is no clinging to self. On the flip side, in the concept or teaching of not-self in Buddhism, there cannot be ‘selflessness’ too because to be selfless requires a self in the first place! So, there is a self but it cannot be found in the body or the mind. In this case, the self is permanent existence?

Vasile Andreica said...

that's a good question.

and about selfless love, that painting of Leonardo has someone in the middle...

I began to understand the mystery of Christ's sacrifice yesterday. Andrea was a bit sad and I did whatever I could to light her up a bit. When leaving office, I fell down on my shoulder - one of those funny falls I suffer due to my condition sometimes. So my shoulder began to ache, sensitivity in the hand numbed... not pleasant.

As my mind was focused on Andrea and her sadness, first thought which arose was like "if only my suffering would ease hers, take some of her pain on myself"...

And then the greatness of Christ was instantly felt inside... because if I could think like that about a little shoulder damage, what can be said about his suffering on the cross and before the cross - humiliation, beatings, everything - to atone and take the burden of sin, of wrongdoing for the whole of mankind?

Love, deep love can carry man to such insights.

no said...

"aah-haa" said... "On the flip side, in the concept or teaching of not-self in Buddhism, there cannot be ‘selflessness’ too because to be selfless requires a self in the first place! So, there is a self but it cannot be found in the body or the mind. In this case, the self is permanent existence?"

Before I forget, thank you Venerable and "Soe am I" for the correction of my previous post.

Regarding aah-haa's comment, I think "selflessness" is an English word used in its conventional sense. Thus, one very good example of "selflessness in love" which I can think of is a mother's love for her child. A mother is so often willing to sacrifice her own life for the sake of her child, like dashing into a burning house to save the child. The "self" in "selflessness" is understood in its conventional sense, and what Buddhism is trying to say is that it is understood in an imperfect way, thus the need for the "not-self" concept to counter the wrong concept. Thus I said in my previous post that the "true-self" or the "original self" is the "real" or "permanent" self... but we will need to be much developed in enlightment before we can "see" this "true self", not quite yet now. So it is not wrong to say that there is a "permanent self" but our ideas about it are mostly, if not all, wrong. There is a sutta, I recall, where the Buddha went throught many attrubutes of what we call a "self" and after pointing them out, asked the bikkhus wherether they are permanent or not, and the answer was all "No". However, off-hand I have forgotten which sutta it was. Perhaps someone can help here?

MidPath said...
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MidPath said...

I am glad you found the answers to your wants. Your serious difficulties with whatever is gone! See what changes can do? Row a boat and ferry Andrea. You may find the inspiration to write another poem when you come to a meander.

Vasile Andreica said...

So let's go back a little to the title of Bhante's original post... impermanence, selflessness and love. As the Buddha said, sankharas are impermanent, dhammas are not-self. Now, what is love in its purest form, a sankhara or a dhamma? Can love be at the heart of the Unconditioned, the Dharmadhatu of Mahayana, given that it supports the existence and becoming of the various conditioned phenomena? Atisha's emptiness permeated with compassion, Hakuin's eternal quiet light, can all these be different ways to express a loving reality devoid of any conditionality, which lays the ground for all other things, however impermanent, to exist, flourish, decay and transform until they return in that state?

Vasile Andreica said...

Just a quick note - the whole process triggered by this debate and what happened during it ended in my acceptance of Christ as Saviour and Lord of my life.

However, I learned a lot of good things from the Dhamma and I would like to thank you all and Bhante Dhammika in particular for this amazing journey and wish you to find truth and rejoice in it.

Andrea is well, today is the 1st anniversary of our first discussion online. The relationship evolved into a deep affection, something beyond sex and mating, and I am sure we will share a wonderful friendship and love for a long time, hopefully for the whole life and beyond :)

Thank you, friends, and be well!