Love vs. Attachment

The near enemy of love is attachment. Attachment masquerades as love. It says, “I will love this person because I need them.” Or, “I’ll love you if you’ll love me back. I’ll love you, but only if you will be the way I want.” This isn’t love at all – it is attachment – and unhealthy attachment is rigid; it is very different from love. When there is attachment, there is clinging and fear. Love allows, honors, and appreciates; attachment grasps, demands, needs, and aims to possess. If we examine our attachment with compassion, we can see how it is constricted and conditional; it offers love only to certain people in certain ways—it is exclusive. Love, in the sense of metta, used by the Buddha, is a universal, non-discriminating feeling of caring and connectedness.

We may even love those whom we may not approve of or like. We may not condone their behavior, but we cultivate forgiveness. Love is a powerful force that transforms any situation. It is not passive acquiescence. As the Buddha said,

“Hatred never ceases through hatred.
Hatred only ceases through love.”

Love embraces all beings without exception, and discards ill will.

One of the most important questions we come to in spiritual practice is how to reconcile service and responsible action with a meditative life that fosters non-attachment, letting go—one that sees the emptiness of all conditioned things. Do the values that lead us to actively give, serve, and care for one another differ from the values that lead us on a journey of liberation and awakening?

To consider this question, we must learn to distinguish between the four radiant abodes, the description of the awakened heart —love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity—and what might be called their “near enemies.” Near enemies may seem to be like these qualities and may even be mistaken for them, but they are not fundamentally alike. The near enemies depict how spirituality can be misunderstood or misused to separate us from life.

Wise spiritual life brings us to true connection. Instead of attachment, it grows with dedication and care, commitment and courage. It fosters genuine love (rather than attachment), compassion (rather than pity), joy (rather than jealousy), and equanimity (rather than indifference), and each of these beneficial qualities infuse our awareness. They enable us to open to and accept the truth of each moment, to feel our intimate connectedness with all things, and to see the wholeness of life. Whether we are sitting in meditation or sitting somewhere in protest, that is our spiritual practice in every moment.

This excerpt is taken from the book, “Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are”

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