Buddhist Nun Teaches Difference Between Love and Attachment

The teachings of Gautama Buddha, who lived in the sixth century BCE, resonate to this day with reasonable and helpful ways to live a calm, relaxed life.

His priests and nuns, followers and advocates routinely help us in the modern era by applying principles of Buddhism such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Within these teachings we learn what Buddha taught to help sentient beings achieve enlightenment, or nirvana. Among many valuable lessons are those that help distinguish the difference between love and attachment.

Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher Tenzin Palmo Jetsunma explains the difference between real love and attachment quite simply: real love is wanting someone else to be happy. Attachment is wanting to be happy yourself.

“Any kind of relationship which imagines that we can fulfil ourselves through another is bound to be very tricky. Ideally people would come together already feeling fulfilled within themselves and just therefore appreciating that in the other, rather than expecting the other to supply that sense of well-being.”, she describes in this article. In a culture that embraces the notion of the “Jerry Maguire” line, “You complete me,” it can be difficult to come to this conclusion. Aren’t we looking for our “other half”? Doesn’t that mean we are only half until we find the person to “complete” us or somehow make us whole?

According to Buddhist teachings, this is exactly the opposite of love.

Real love requires that we are whole, complete and satisfied beings already, content with our lives, our dreams, our hopes and our way of life. We may be putting into practice the Japanese principle of kaizen, which teaches to always be looking for ways to better ourselves, but on the whole we are content with who we are and what we are looking for in a partner. And that partner may be the most amazing person in the world, but we won’t need them to complete us, and neither will they.

Instead of weakly leaning on each other to compensate for the other’s flaws and problems, those participating in a truly loving relationship use their strengths to bolster each other and to help each other grow as people. Real love comes from a place of strength, not a place of weakness, wanting or lacking. Real love comes when we present ourselves as whole people, wanting a partner to join us in our pursuits, dreams and lives.

All the rest? It’s just attachment. The Second Noble Truth teaches us that attachment is the root of all suffering. And when we confuse attachment with love, we substitute pain and suffering for growth and enlightenment. The more we detach, the closer we grow to enlightenment and nirvana.

*Author’s note: I hope you have enjoyed this article and found it helpful. Please note that while I am a Buddhist I do not proffer to be a nun or a scholar in any way. These are the teachings I have learned from my teacher, and I try my best to share them as I am able.

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