What It Really Means When Someone Says “I love you”: Thich Nhat Hanh on Love

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What It Really Means When Someone Says “I love you”: A Zen Master explains

Thich Nhat Hanh on Love: What does love mean, exactly? Many psychologists have formed different philosophies, formulated different theories and yet failed to define it. Anyone who has ever wholeheartedly taken this leap of faith knows that love remains a mystery — perhaps the mystery of the human experience.

The three words, I Love You when uttered in a relationship, is a huge step  and brings along a lot of responsibility and commitment. 

But how do you know if it’s the right step to take in your relationship?

I mean, how do you know if someone actually means it?

And more importantly, how do you know that they’re saying it for you, and not for them?

Well, that’s exactly what Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Han has discussed in his book, How to Love.

Below, we’ve found a passage where he explains why “I love you” might not mean what you think it does.

What “I love you” really means

At the heart of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings is the idea that “understanding is love’s other name.” In other words, to love someone is to fully understand his or her sufferings.

Thich Nhat Hanh says that when people say “I love you”, they are caught in the idea of “self” and focused on the “I”. But according to Thich Nhat Hanh, true love involves letting go of the ego and understanding that we’re in this together:

“Often, when we say, “I love you” we focus mostly on the idea of the “I” who is doing the loving and less on the quality of the love that’s being offered. This is because we are caught by the idea of self. We think we have a self. But there is no such thing as an individual separate self. A flower is made only of non-flower elements, such as chlorophyll, sunlight, and water. If we were to remove all the non-flower elements from the flower, there would be no flower left. A flower cannot be by herself alone. A flower can only inter-be with all of us… Humans are like this too. We can’t exist by ourselves alone. We can only inter-be. I am made only of non-me elements, such as the Earth, the sun, parents, and ancestors. In a relationship, if you can see the nature of interbeing between you and the other person, you can see that his suffering is your own suffering, and your happiness is his own happiness. With this way of seeing, you speak and act differently. This in itself can relieve so much suffering.”

True love is when two becomes one

Thich Nhat Hanh says that when it comes to love, there’s no “I”. Instead, true love involves realizing that you’ve become one together:

“In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one.

[…]

In true love, there’s no more separation or discrimination. His happiness is your happiness. Your suffering is his suffering. You can no longer say, “That’s your problem.”

“If you love someone but rarely make yourself available to him or her, that is not true love.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

“Many people think excitement is happiness…. But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power

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