Unconditional love doesn’t mean being a doormat

Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Buddhism | 2 Comments

I taught the metta bhavana in my meditation class at work this week. Metta bhavana means ‘cultivation of loving-kindness’ or ‘development of unconditional friendliness’. Something like that.

Cultivating unconditional love towards all beings in your place of work can be a bit of a challenge. But then let’s face it, cultivating unconditional love anywhere can be a bit of a challenge!

But what about all the assholes?

How do you cultivate a genuine feeling of positive regard towards difficult people? Towards people who wish you no good? Towards people who may even be plotting your downfall at the very moment you’re wishing them well?

How do you cultivate a genuine well wishing towards people who have hurt or abused you? And worse, towards people who continue to do so?

And more than that, should you even try? Why wish such people well? Doesn’t that just make you a doormat?

I have thought about this a lot over the years. I have some very challenging relationships in my life. And there are, let’s say, power dynamics in various areas of my life that require me to be firm, assertive, protective of my territory. Doesn’t that make a mockery of my Buddhist practice?

For me, being kind isn’t about being a doormat, or smiling sweetly while someone ransacks your life for their own benefit.

The sword of wisdom

One of the symbols of wisdom in Buddhism is a flaming sword that cuts through all delusion.

Wisdom and compassion are given equal prominence. In fact, they’re the same thing. To me, this points at a deeper, more mature approach to compassion, to love, than simply turning the other cheek.

This is just my view. But I think Buddhism needs to work in the real world if it’s to be worth anything. And the real world can be a messy and difficult place.

My approach to unconditional love

You don’t let your kids destroy the house, eat what they like, spend all your money and stay up all night. That’s not a mature kind of love.

Giving your kids rules and boundaries doesn’t mean you don’t love them.

Now expand that out to your entire life. The way I see it, if you love all beings, you have a responsibility not to let them turn into assholes.

That means they need to learn how to treat you with respect. They must learn how to take you into account when making decisions that affect you. They must learn how to be aware of things beyond their own wants and needs.

For you to be able to teach that to others, you must be able to do it yourself. You must be able to respect both others and yourself. You must know what it means to take others into account when making decisions that affect them. And you must know how to take yourself into account when making decisions that affect you.

Unconditional love includes both others and you. You must love and respect yourself too.




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  1. Rush
    June 11, 2014

    Darn right. I grew up in a Theravada Buddhist household, from a Buddhist country (now living in the US). The ONE thing I feel is common amongst all predominantly Buddhist nations is that they almost always have poor growth rates, both on a personal and public level. I.e. the people tend to be lazy (in my experience), with a ‘live and let live’ attitude, thus economies are slow and corruption tends to be rampant. They don’t have the assertiveness, drive, and self-conviction that nations of Deistic religions (i.e. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism) seem to have. I often wonder at how Buddhism has become so passive; I feel that the active element of it is almost non-existent in emphasis, because practitioners fear that assertiveness will lead to or equate to egotism.
    But It’s as if people forget that the Buddha himself was part of a warrior caste-clan (Sakhya) and was trained to be one. And to engage in the rigors of yogic practice as he had done with his early ascetic teachers, even to the point of self-emaciation, takes the utmost self-will and internal vigor, almost extreme self-exertion. We know how hard it is to fight even the most basic of our own instincts; hunger, sexual desire, greed, etc. He not only fought them, he MASTERED them. For all his gentle feminine qualities to be manifest, had to be dominant over himself -an ‘alpha-male’ in every sense. He left behind his entire home, young family and child, everything, to find a truth that was scarcely known to him- not knowing where the path would take him, but willing to endure anything. That takes a tremendous amount of courage and initiative – not a passive thing at all. Also, he was a celibate renunciate; from my own experiences on the path, I know you cannot retain the semen/vital force without having an iron will and indominable mind – the senses and bodily instincts are made to be VERY strong.
    So it saddens me when I see so many Buddhism practicioners who seem averse to be assertive. Without assertiveness, it is impossible to have the strength of character to withstand the forces of inner and outer negativity; it is also impossible to sustain the positive qualities without the active drive to do so. So that is one lesson that I feel Buddhists can learn from their fellow brothers in other religions.

    • Damien Roche
      July 7, 2014

      Great contribution to the discussion! Militant Pacifism comes to mind, as coined by Einstein.


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