According to Thich Nhat Hanh, love is not a feeling, an action, or something that we cannot define. It is rather the most rewarding experience or a way of being: “understanding is love’s other name.” And, according to Buddhism, all human beings need understanding.
Of course, he speaks metaphorically: “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.”
However, how can human beings dedicate their life to understanding the life and suffering of others? The irony is that understanding the suffering of other people includes contemplating your 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.”
It is worth noting that person`s ability to understand love heavily depends on their own experiences in life, and particularly of those experiences during their childhood and adolescence, “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.”
Every person may not be capable of learning to love the right way simply by relying on Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, metaphors, and insights. However, if these things are observed along each person`s personal life experiences. The chances of mankind succeeding in this quest will notably increase.
The bottom line is that learning to meet the mystery of love with our full being is the dance of life. This is exactly what Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh explores in How to Love, a collecting of his insights on the most complex human potential.