The Illusion of Romance

While reading the book about Tetsugen, a Japanese Obaku-Zen monk who lived in the 17th century, I found this passage, translated from Tetsugen’s main surviving work, the Dharma Lesson in Japanese (鉄眼禅師仮名法語 , tetsugen zenji kana hōgo). In it, he writes:1

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 live, 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… (pg. 69, trans. Professor Baroni)

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.

Instead, the Buddha taught the need for goodwill for all beings. A balanced, level-headed kind of goodwill.  True compassion and love is something entirely separate from passion. It’s based on the welfare of others not how they make you feel. As I get older, I appreciate this more and more.

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 Compare with the Buddha’s own words in the Vina Sutta (SN 35.205) of the Pali Canon:

“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.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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