“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.” Thich Nhat Hanh on mastering the art of “interbeing”

In Mind & Body
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We’ve all asked the question, “what is love?”

Is it a feeling? An action? Or is it something we simply can’t define?

Well, according to Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, it’s simply a way of being.

In fact, in a simply worded but profound passage, Thich Nhat Hanh says that the way of love is one of the most complex and rewarding human experiences.

At the heart of Nhat Hanh’s teachings is the idea that “understanding is love’s other name”.

In other words, to love another is to fully understand his or her suffering. After all, according to Buddhist thought, understanding is what everyone needs.

Yet, this is difficult for us to fully understand as we are caught in day-to-day life. Thich Nhat Hanh explains it brilliantly with an apt metaphor:

“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”

The question we need to ask is: how can we commit to understanding each other’s suffering? Thich Nhat Hanh says it all starts with our own happiness:

“When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness.

Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”

Yet, Thich Nhat Hanh says the dynamic interaction of love must also be learned:

“If our parents didn’t love and understand each other, how are we to know what love looks like? … The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness. Our parents may be able to leave us money, houses, and land, but they may not be happy people. If we have happy parents, we have received the richest inheritance of all.”