Love is a consciousness of belonging to another, of being part of a whole. To love is to be on the way toward integral wholeness, to live with an openness of mind and heart, to encounter the other—not as stranger—but as another part of oneself.
– Ilia Delio
“I believe that this wish to work for the happiness of others is the most important goal of all religious practice,” so writes the Dalai Lama. Working for the happiness of others is another way to describe what we mean by love. From the perspective of the dualistic mind—an either/or way of looking at reality—this can seem like difficult and joyless work. Certainly it is not the norm in the culture of fierce individualism, competition and consumerism that we live in.
When I read the Dalai Lama’s words there is an anxious little voice that emerges from somewhere inside me asking “but what about me?” “If I continually work for the happiness of others, what happens to my own sense of well-being?” The concept of fairness arises and it seems unfair that I should work always for the happiness of others—after all, perhaps they don’t deserve to be happy.
To clarify such a dilemma, the Buddhist teacher, Norman Fischer, describes the necessity of knowing both absolute love and relative love. They operate in tandem and one is ineffective without the other. Absolute love, says Fischer, is what Jews, Christians, and Moslems, normally call God. It is what “we live and move and have our being in.” (Acts 17:28) Fischer explains that there is nothing but this Love (God) “and there never was anything but God and there never will be anything but God, and that everything is always held and always has been held, and that we are always loved and have always been loved and so has everything and everyone always been loved.” Notice, he says nothing about this love being reserved for those who deserve it.
Relative love, Fischer says, requires work on my part. It is “when I roll up my sleeves and get on with the business of actually loving somebody.” That would be, as the Dalai Lama states, helping the other person to be happy, to be free from suffering, to have a better life in some way. There is no end to it and it is too much for me if I don’t know that absolute love is upholding me and sustaining me as I go about the task of love—working for the happiness of others. When absolute love and relative love come together, then mind and heart open to encounter the other—not as a stranger—but as another part of [myself]. This is the paradox of happiness. If you are not happy, I am not happy, because we are not separate.
The film, Nebraska, does an admirable job of showing us what this kind of love looks like. A son, against all reason, agrees to take his father on a foolhardy quest to claim a non-existent prize that the father believes he has won. The father is not an attractive person. He is old, confused, stubborn and an alcoholic. We learn that he was unfaithful to his wife and not an exemplary parent. Yet the son’s love for him mirrors the abundant love Jesus shows us in the Gospels. He makes his Father’s vain wishes come true and doesn’t count the cost. In spite of
the voices of “fairness” clamoring all around him, the son remains true to his father’s wishes.
The son is happy. He has not acted out of guilt or the sense that he should be kind and take care of his father. Rather, he has entered into the joy of the open mind and open heart. He has dropped the illusion of separateness and come into the consciousness of belonging to another, of being part of a whole. Both father and son awaken to the limitless, unconditional abundance of Love.