The Illusion of Romance

Tetsugen, a Japanese Obaku-Zen monk who lived in the 17th century, and frequent topic of mine recently, once wrote in his main surviving work, the Dharma Lesson in Japanese1 the following passage:2

Thinking that something is repulsive and thinking that something is attractive are both figments of your own imagination….As we gradually get to know someone, feelings of intimacy deepen toward a person we find compatible, and we create the feeling that they are attractive. It is precisely because of this circumstance that when we follow the paths of affection, however much it changes our lives, to that extent the ties of tenderness likewise increase. When you develop feelings of love in this way, loves seems inevitable, and whichever way you turn it over in your mind, it is love without a trace of hatefulness. When you love reaches an extreme, and you think that even if you were to live one hundred million kalpas [vast eons] your feelings wouldn’t change, you are mistaken.

Tetsugen elaborates here:

Though you are intimate friends, you will have some differences of opinion, and will quarrel. Then the quarrels grow into arguments. Or, as is the way of life, if your [lover’s] feelings shift to another, however deep were your feelings of love at the beginning, that is how deep your hate will now become. These feelings of hatred and bitterness are so deep that you may even think that they will eventually kill you….If the thoughts of love were not false in the first place, then you would probably not have changed your mind in a short time…

page 69, trans. by Dr Helen J Baroni in Iron Eyes: The Life and Teachings of Obaku Zen Master Tetsugen Doko

The reason why it is “false” is because your feelings of desire for that person, are a kind of projection of all your hopes and needs onto that person. When they don’t live up to that expectation, your feelings of love or friendship turn into anger. The greater the expectations, the greater the disappointment and frustration.

Speaking from personal experience when my wife and I are happy and romantic in the morning, and then furious at each other in the afternoon, I know it happens. We’ve all probably felt it at least once in our lives. One misstep, one forgotten thing, and it can change so fast. It’s a bummer, but it’s true if you think about it.

Instead, the Buddha taught the need for goodwill for all beings. A balanced, level-headed kind of goodwill.  Genuine goodwill and love is something entirely separate from passion. It’s based on the welfare of others not how they make you feel. “May they be well, and free from harm.”

But if blinded by passion, one is capable of all kinds of harm, even when they believe they are doing good. 

That’s why wisdom is so important. 😎

P.S. The Buddha’s teaching on what true friendship is. 🙂

1 In Japanese: tetsugen zenji kana hōgo (鉄眼禅師仮名法語)

2 Compare with the Buddha’s own words:

“Monks, in whatever monk or nun there arises desire, passion, aversion, delusion, or mental resistance with regard to forms cognizable via the eye, he/she should hold the mind in check. [Thinking,] ‘It’s dangerous & dubious, that path, thorny & overgrown, a miserable path, a devious path, impenetrable. It’s a path followed by people of no integrity, not a path followed by people of integrity. It’s not worthy of you,’ he/she should hold the mind in check with regard to forms cognizable via the eye.

SN 35.205, the Vina Sutta, translation by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: