Love and Buddhism: The Parallel and Paradox by Jai Mirchandani

In common Hindi parlance, there are three words for love: ishq, pyar, and mohabbhat. Perhaps less important is the difference in each one of these terms than is the notion that there are three distinct ways to describe the feeling of love. But, is the English language so void that we must leave “love” – the feeling between two – to encompass everything from romance to lust? Or is it that the phrase ‘to love one another’ is only complete when we’ve dissected its meaning into the principal components that make such feeling endure?

Convention has it that, once we’ve set our eyes on the bird or bee, as we discover more about his or her depths, we fall more in love. But, there also exists the cliché narrative of two lovebirds falling for one another at first glance. If both hold true, can it be that love consists of two opposing forces, and transcending these polarities leads us to an optimal, long-term relationship?

The Buddhist school of the Middle Way (Madhyamika–Shunyavada) bisects Shunya – that which is “Indescribable” and ultimately the nature of all things (non-existent, existent, both, and neither) – into the phenomenal (relative) and the real (absolute). The world exists in the sense of the real or absolute, but also does not exist in the phenomenal or relative (eternalism). The world also does not non-exist, as one cannot deny the existence of one’s experience in the relative (nihilism). Just as the realm of the intellect cannot reconcile these opposing forces of Shunya, the duality of intimacy and desire can only attempt to reconcile love. Love without intimacy creates no feeling of closeness, preventing two from merging; however, love without desire suffocates the separateness that allows for individuality and independence to thrive. “When people become fused – when two people become one – connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. Thus separateness is a precondition for connection…”[1] Here, love is without neither desire nor intimacy, as Shunya is without neither the relative nor the real.

The simple paradox of love and Buddhism lies in desire, an afflictive emotion described more as “craving” in the Twelve-Fold Wheel of Dependent Origination. This keeps us in the cycle of Samsara, or suffering – the principal address of Buddha’s mission in his pursuit of enlightenment. His Four Noble Truths: suffering exists, there are conditions for suffering, there exists an end to this suffering, and there is a path to end this suffering.

But, if knowledge is to intimacy as curiosity is to desire and discovery, can we explain both our intimacy with the scriptures and our simultaneous quest to test their veracity – as the Buddha so rightly wished? If so, is love indeed Buddhist, and Buddhism indeed love?

[1] Perel, Esther. Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. New York: Harper, 2007. 25.

Image courtesy of Flickr Commons.

Jai Mirchandani is a graduate of The George Washington University, the London School of Economics, and New York University with disciplines in Finance, International Business, Economics, and Religious Studies. He is the Founder of The Dharma Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to build next-generation leaders in Dharma. Jai is most passionate about bringing Dharma into the formal and informal educational sectors in order to steer both the self and community to more ethical growth and development.


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One thought on “Love and Buddhism: The Parallel and Paradox by Jai Mirchandani

  1. We have many many many words for love in English – Don’t underestimate English for the sake of a nice entry line for your essay.

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