The beloved Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, answers a question about romantic love vs. True Love.  I find it a crucial distinction.

True Love, he illuminates, requires four elements:

  • Loving Kindness
  • Compassion
  • Joy
  • Inclusiveness

This teaching was shared in response to a question from an audience member that asked why Buddhism doesn’t believe in romantic love.

I love the simplicity and no-BS-ness of Buddhist perspective.  The dignity.  The reliability.  It’s not that romantic love is not to be “believed in.”  It’s that if it doesn’t contain all four elements, it just isn’t True Love.  Call it what you want. 

What the hell is “romantic” anyway?

Romance has been planted in our psyches as a model of love, and that is to be undone if we are to heal as a species.  What we consider romantic love is a breeding ground for addicted, craving, grasping feelings and behaviors that cause more pain in the world than almost anything else, second only to governmental, political, and financial control of people (which is the mother lode, for sure).

The Four Elements of True Love:

Loving Kindness – A mental and emotional state that is made of good vibes, warmth, openness and sweetness, and is extended to self and others. 

When we cultivate it in ourselves, we approach ourselves, life, situations and others with this open and sweet heartmind.

To live in and from Loving Kindness is to be continually committed to its inner cultivation, and to recommit to Loving Kindness over and over as a way of life.

When we do this, it leads to Loving Acceptance, and a spilling over into outer expression of Compassion.

Compassion – To care, to actually, in reality, care, and show it in your actions, and your open, willing attitude toward repairing a bond when actions have not been loving or kind, which will happen, because we are imperfect.

Compassion only happen genuinely from Loving Kindness.

Joy – It may seem like not much needs to be said here.  But we are very injured in our capacity for true joy.

Many people equate happiness with joy.  Happiness is an emotion we experience and is therefore fleeting.  It incites craving after it has subsided. 

Joy is an attitude we can develop.  Buddhism is big into attitudes and dispositions we can – and have a responsibility to – develop, nurture, and maintain.  That path is sustainable, and therefore offers a helluva lot more to the person doing the development, and to others in the world.

Inclusiveness – There is no individual suffering anymore.  Your suffering is my suffering.  There is no individual happiness anymore.  Your happiness is my happiness.  There is no separation.

That’s pretty big. 

It applies to the monk, the teacher, the yogi on the mountain, and the conscious partner/lover.

All four elements apply to all – any – of us who want True Love to be a real thing.

This tool assesses areas in your romantic relationship that may need some attention, care, development.  Without blame, take a look at your partnership or any other relationship through this lens.

An important distinction:  For relationships based on an agreement between both members to co-create a healthy bond, this material is a great starting point for discussion and relationship work – self-study, therapy, coaching, groups, etc.

For one-way contemplation of what you can do to feel safer in a relationship, or of your choice whether to continue in that bond, look at these elements in yourself to see if there is any adjustment you can do on your own, to get at your truth.

Creating balance in The Four Elements of True Love offers the possibility of connection that transcends commercially fabricated concepts of romance.  Depth, sweetness, trust and real love is available.  And that kicks romance’s tush.

We are endeavoring to bring more True Love into the world at large.  Love is for everyone, everywhere.  It is the healing force that we have the power to learn to use for the benefit of all beings.

In HeartMind, Yaj