Why Zen and Taoist Masters Recommend Against Saying “I Love You”

Zen and Taoist Masters preach the importance of peace, love and compassion for all. So why do they recommend against saying the words “I love you” to someone?

It’s tempting to think that Zen and Taoism are missing something important, perhaps reflecting some kind of emotional constriction from the Asian cultures that they came from.

This isn’t the case. It’s based on a profound understanding of love that can benefit us all and paradoxically help love flow more freely in our lives.

And the best part:

Once this insight is embraced, you won’t be looking for love in all the wrong places ever again.

When you ask what love is, you make it into a thing

The Hsin Shin Ming (“Faith in Mind”), begins: “The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences; when love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised.”

We have our own cultural biases in how we approach love. We treat it as a feeling, and people end up becoming objects of devotion, sexual craving and psychological need.

We think of love has having some kind of core and distinguishing substance to it. One of the guiding questions in our culture is to ask: “what is love?”

The problem is this:

When you ask what love is, you make it into a thing. Zen and Taoism deal not in things but in flowing rivers. Buddhism stresses the ephemeral transience of everything. There is no essential nature to anything. Everything is constantly changing.

The love inherent to Buddhism and Taoism can’t be defined. It can’t be grasped. Instead, it is a practice.

The problem with saying “I love you”

Feelings of love lead to huge ecstasies of selflessness and moments of blissful coupling, but these are invariably short-lived and accompanied by moments of pain and yearning when disagreements occur. The grief that happens when the object of love dies can be almost unbearable.

According to Buddhism and Taoism, there is nothing “wrong” with feelings of love. It’s just that we can’t hold on to those feelings.

As Chuang Tzu says:

“When I talk about having no feelings, I mean that a man [or woman] doesn’t allow likes or dislikes to get in and do him harm….To serve your own mind so that sadness or joy do not sway or move it.”

For this reason, to say “I love you” is to make fixed the current state of feelings, and bring forth attachment and expectation. Instead, what’s needed is greater equanimity, which is a feeling of constant calm. It involves finding the empty center of being, relying on that as the basis from which to greet each moment with love.

When you let go of your current ideas of love, it becomes a continual process of giving and receiving, of ebbing and flowing. It becomes a practice of circulation, where love is the energy that connects us to each other in natural ways.

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

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