Chapter 16. Love seeking Itself

16.1. Nondualistic vs. dualistic Love

In this chapter, we shall discover that our true nature includes not only pure Awareness but also Love, both of which are aspects of the same Reality.

Christianity teaches that God is Love:

"He who does not love does not know God; for God is love" (1 John 4:8).


No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:12).

The love that was taught by Jesus, called agape (ah-gah-pay), is unconditional, altruistic love. Jesus taught his disciples to love others, with the ultimate goal being universal love.  For example, in John 15:12, he says,

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

[Note that this is quite different from Mark 12:31:

Love your neighbor as yourself,

because, what if you hate yourself?]

Agape is love that challenges the spiritual person to "love your enemies," or to "love without thought of return." It is a love that flows out to others in the form of compassion, kindness, tenderness, and charity. [Note: Charity does not always imply material giving. Giving of attention may be more meaningful than giving money or goods.]

Buddhism teaches that love consists of the "four Sublime States" (see, e.g., Walpole Rahula, What The Buddha Taught (1959) p. 75):

1. Extending unlimited, universal love and good-will to all living beings without any kind of discrimination;
2. Compassion for all living beings who are suffering, in trouble and affliction;
3. Sympathetic joy in others' success, welfare and happiness; and
4. Equanimity in all vicissitudes of life.

In Everyday Mind (1997), Buddhist meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein says,

"The expression of emptiness is love, because emptiness means "emptiness of self." When there is no self, there is no other. That duality is created by the idea of self, of I, of ego. When there's no self, there is a unity, a communion. And without the thought of "I'm loving someone," love becomes the natural expression of that oneness."

[Note: Objectively speaking, compassion for others may be associated with the action of "mirror neurons" in the brain (Empathy and the Somatotopic Auditory Mirror System in Humans, by V. Gazzola, L. Aziz-Zadeh, C. Keysers, Current Biology 16 (2006) 1824-29). Mirror neurons, known to exist in humans and in macaque monkeys, activate when an action is either observed or heard. If you either observe somebody eating an apple or hear the sound of somebody eating an apple, some of the same neurons fire as when you eat the apple yourself. It is not difficult to imagine a similar thing happening when suffering in another is observed. Similarly, brain scans have shown that the same region of the brain is activated when voluntary donations are made to charitable organizations as when the participant receives the same amount of money as a reward (Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation, J. Moll, F. Krueger, R. Zahn, M. Pardini, R. de Oliveira-Souza, J. Grafman, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  103 (2006) 15623-28)].

Hinduism has a branch of yoga, the heart-centered path of Bhakta (Section 10.3), which leads to enlightenment through an overwhelming love for God that takes the form of loving all of humanity. The Chinese religions Taoism and Confucianism see transcendent love as an essential part of true wisdom.

Sufism is the inner, mystical, psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. The essence of Sufi practice is to surrender to God, embracing at each moment one's thoughts, feelings, emotions, body sensations, and perceptions as manifestations of God. Among Sufi practices is a chant with the following words (from pdfs/10 Love lover.pdf):

Ishq Allah Mahbud Lillah (x4)
God is love, lover, and beloved
Love, lover, and beloved
I am love, lover, and beloved
Love, lover, and beloved

Since all religions and spiritualities teach the value, power, and necessity of love, we must ask, what is the role of love in Advaita? In order to answer this question, one must distinguish between what the world thinks is love, and what Love really is as seen by the sage. According to the sage, Love is a term that can be used to describe Consciousness expressing itself as the manifestation. In enlightenment, this is seen directly (see Chapter 25).  

Ramesh has said,

"The presence of separation is the absence of love, and the presence of love is the absence of separation".

In the meditation for January 13 in A Net of Jewels (1996), he paraphrases his guru Nisargadatta (cf. the second quote by Nisargadatta below):

"It is only when you arrive at the deepest conviction that the same life flows through everything, and that you ARE that life, that you can begin to love naturally and spontaneously".

In the meditation for January 18, he says,

"Love as the word is generally understood, denotes separation, whereas in true non-objective relationship we do not love others, we ARE others."

In As It Is (2000), Tony Parsons says,

"All and everything emanates from silence and unconditional love." 

In The Wisdom of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1992) by Robert Powell, Nisargadatta Maharaj is quoted as saying,

"When all the false self-identifications are thrown away, what remains is all-embracing love."

In The Ultimate Understanding (2001), p. 180, Ramesh says that Love is more accurately called "harmony" or "beatitude". In The Seeking (2004), p. 77, he said that the feeling to do something for someone without expecting something in return could be called Love.

Nondualistic love is pointed to by Francis Lucille in the following article ( in the Other Francis Lucille.pdf):

What is love? The word ‘love’ refers to a lived experience. It is a paradoxical experience because even though we have all experienced the reality of it, it appears to escape every attempt to grasp it, to describe it or to repeat it. The tender delight we had in our childhood when we looked at a beautiful colored illustration, the soft emotion when we think about a loved one, the impulse that moves us to encourage a stranger in deep sorrow and to help when in danger, the repulsion that grips us when cruelty is committed against oppressed innocence. All these circumstances among many others point to a common experience that cannot be described or defined. If we want to go deeper into the discovery of this central experience it seems that our investigation evaporates due to a lack of objective support. If we do not have the words to express it and there are no images to describe it, it is because there are no perceptions or sensations to experience it objectively. Nevertheless we do have this experience. That is the paradox: it is unmistakably present. It has the same undeniable and ethereal character as conscious presence. We know this experience in the same way we know that we are conscious.

If we try to describe the trajectory up to the very last moment where it crosses over into the inexpressible, it seems as if the ‘I’ feeling dissolves, perhaps only temporarily, into a more spacious reality, infinite, a blessed peace that brings an end to all the emotional or intellectual agitation. We are not strangers to this new dimension. It is not the discovery of a spiritual America. It is immediately recognized as absolute intimacy and tenderness. It is the center of our self and the world, simultaneously. This presence is love.

Is there some particular condition before this quality of authentic love and compassion is revealed?

The condition is the temporary or permanent disappearance of the idea of a separate ‘I’. This disappearance can never be the result of an action done by this ‘I’. Love flies on its own wings and knows no laws. It is the emergence of grace that wrests us from the hypnosis of separation. Liberation arises out of freedom itself.

But you should not conclude from this that every act and practice intended to establish us as love is useless. Such a decision would confine us to intellectual dullness. The longing for love comes from love itself, not from the separate ego. On the contrary, we have to surrender to everything that takes us to love. In this surrender we discover true life, the inner peace that we have always sought.

Can love exist without an object?

Love exists only without an object. Love is the love of the objectless by the objectless. An object puts clothes on love, and dressed veils it. What we love in a person is neither the physical body nor the thoughts. It is the conscious presence that we have in common with him or her, the self, the objectless. The veil can exercise a temporary power of attraction, but only the true self that remains in the background can bring us what we seek. We don’t love the other, we love the love in the other. This does not mean that we have to turn away from the other to turn towards God, the objectless, but rather that we see the other as an expression of love. Relations with our partner, son or daughter, a stranger, a foreigner then take on another dimension. Daily life becomes a field of experience that is forever new. If we approach the other as potential divine consciousness, we force God to remove the mask, which he does with a miracle; and the miracle is the smile of God.

The above phrases are all pointers, not descriptors, because nondualistic Love cannot be described. It is not something we do--It is an aspect of our true nature. Self-realization means to realize our true nature as Awareness/Love. We who still see ourselves as individuals are usually unaware that nondualistic love is What-We-Are. Religion sometimes points to it, but since Love is not a concept or rule of behavior, it cannot be packaged in a doctrine and taught.

[That the manifestation is an expression of Love is reflected in our felt need to communicate with each other. Communication is difficult without a commonly accepted and understood language. The universally used language of communication is the concept of objective reality. For this reason, we can think of objective reality as nothing more than a communication device. Objective reality need not exist as Reality. To believe that it is real is to believe that separation is real but, if separation is real, unconditional Love is impossible. This leads to the paradox of communication: The need to communicate is an expression of Love, but if the need to communicate fosters a belief in separation, it makes Love impossible.]

Nondual Love is the clear seeing that everything, without exception, is an expression of Itself. This includes all of the feelings and emotions that we suppress, including the suppressing itself, and all of the actions or speech that we wish we could take back, as well as the wishing itself. Nothing is excluded in the expression of nondual Love. Furthermore, what may seem to be just the opposite of Love is still just an expression of Love.
For the coming week, practice seeing that everything is an expression of Love. Remember that any failure to see this is also just an expression of Love. See if this way of looking at your life changes anything, but remember that, whether there is change or no change, it is still an expression of Love. In the end, perhaps nothing will change except your way of looking at it, but you may then realize that that is the most profound kind of change that could ever occur.

How is nondualistic love different from dualistic love? Nondualistic love is not an emotion but transcends all emotions, is always unconditional since it recognizes no change, and is impersonal since it recognizes no person. Being nondualistic, it has no opposite and it transcends all objects so it cannot be directed towards any object. 

On the other hand, since the perception of separation is the distinguishing feature of spiritual ignorance, dualistic love is based on the desire/fear polarity. It always involves attachment to the love object (e.g., the lover), which makes suffering inescapable when circumstances, such as the change or disappearance of the love object, require detaching from it. Being half of the love/hate duality, dualistic love easily switches to hate. It is highly personal and can take the form of pleasure, completeness, joy, desire, loneliness, jealousy, possession, guilt, responsibility, need, identification, subjugation, or submission. Because it is an emotion or sentiment that is felt while perceiving separation, it is in a different realm entirely from nondualistic love. However, since nondualistic love is the background of everything in manifestation, even dualistic love partakes of it while remaining largely unaware of it.  

On p. 91 of The Road Less Traveled (1978), psychiatrist M. Scott Peck says,

"To serve as effectively as it does to trap us into marriage, the experience of falling in love probably must have as one of its characteristics the illusion that the experience will last forever. This illusion is fostered in our culture by the commonly held myth of romantic love, which has its origins in our favorite childhood fairy tales, wherein the prince and princess, once united, live happily forever after. The myth of romantic love tells us, in effect, that for every young man in the world there is a young woman who was 'meant for him,' and vice versa. Moreover, the myth implies that there is only one man meant for a woman and only one woman for a man and this has been predetermined 'in the stars.' When we meet the person for whom we are intended, recognition comes through the fact that we fall in love. We have met the person for whom all the heavens intended us, and since the match is perfect, we will then be able to satisfy all of each other's needs forever and ever, and therefore live happily forever after in perfect union and harmony."

In a travesty of Love as Reality, love is often depicted in popular culture as more torment than peace. Witness, e.g., the mournful wail of lost, unrequited, or secret love in the “love” songs of popular and country music. [In fact, the suicide rate among devotees of country music is higher than that of the general public (The Effect of Country-Music on Suicide, S. Stach and J. Gundlach, Social Forces 71 (1992) 211-218).] Many singers have become professional sufferers in an effort to make their music sound authentic. And the story of love in the movies is often an agony of ecstasy, insecurity, and guilt, until the story ends at a marriage---if not the first marriage, the next ... or the next ... .

Personal love relationships have been called special relationships because they occur only between specific people in special circumstances. They are conditional and changing, but all are a form of bondage because they are always infected by power struggles (see Sections 11.4, 11.5 11.6, 11.7), and are invariably guilt-ridden (see Section 11.8).  Furthermore, because they are barter relationships, they depend on the mutual satisfaction of expectations and demands. When these are met, there is temporary gratification, gratitude, and enhanced self-esteem, but when they are ignored or refused, there is dismay, rejection, and guilt. Because barter relationships can survive only as long as each side has, and is willing to give, something the other wants, many personal love relationships end in disillusion. Others, after a long period of partly met and partly disappointed expectations, settle down to resigned acceptance (not true acceptance, see Section 19.2 and Chapter 22). Still others, after surviving their initial specialness, approach the unconditional nature of nondualistic love.

In romantic love, the much-sought "soul mate" is an illusion, being the projection of the wants and needs of one person on the other, who seems to be the missing half of a duality ("opposites attract"). Ironically, when the soul mate is finally found and possessed, the ego feels even more needy and incomplete. (Here, we shall speak as though the ego exists, while knowing that it does not.) It fears the loss of both the other and itself. Guilt and anxiety are seen as necessary parts of this "love", both for their intensity ("love hurts"), and as tools to manipulate the other ("if you really loved me you would ... "). So as not to lose the other, the ego may become neurotically dependent ("I can't live without you") or remorseful ("please forgive me"), or it make promises ("I'll never do it again"). And it may try to regain its lost self-esteem by inducing jealousy ("if you don't love me, I'll find somebody who will") or by belittling ("without me you would be nothing").

Question: Can any kind of dualistic love come without desire? Can any kind come without fear?
Question: Have you ever experienced suffering from a personal love relationship? Was the love worth the suffering?
Question: Have you ever experienced love switching to hate?

Exercise: First, please view the 16 min. video by anthropologist Helen Fisher at
Second, as best you can, describe the experience of your first romantic love. Did it seem compelling and irresistible? Did it surprise you? Was it more or less what you expected? How would you describe the relative degrees of physical, mental, and emotional content in it? Has any other love matched it or exceeded it? Are you glad, or not, that you had the experience? Would you prefer that any love you experience from now on be less personal and more impersonal? If so, why? If not, why not?

Love as a practice is necessarily dualistic because of the assumed separation between lover and beloved. The purpose of such a practice is ultimately to see what nondualistic Love is ("fake it until you make it"). Love as a practice comes as half of the love/hate dualism, so the practitioner often feels failure, frustration, guilt, and fear until is it seen that nondualistic Love is not something you can do. Love just is (see Chapter 25).

On page 213 of I Am That (1984), Nisargadatta (Ramesh's guru) says:

"Do not pretend that you love others as yourself. Unless you have realized them as one with yourself, you cannot love them. Don't pretend to be what you are not, don't refuse to be what you are. Your love of others is the result of self-knowledge, not its cause. Without self-realization, no virtue is genuine. When you know beyond all doubting that the same life flows through all that is and you are that life, you will love all naturally and spontaneously. When you realize the depth and fullness of your love of yourself, you know that every living being and the entire universe are included in your affection. But when you look at anything as separate from you, you cannot love it for you are afraid of it. Alienation causes fear, and fear deepens alienation. It is a vicious circle. Only self-realization can break it."

An exalted form of dualistic love is identification with another person. This can occur in marital and familial relationships. It can also occur in Bhakti, the practice of devotion and surrender to God or guru (see Section 10.3). Because intuition is the link between separation and wholeness, it is intuition that gives us a sense of identification with the other even within the illusion of separation.

Identification with another is perhaps as close as we can come to nondualistic Love while still retaining a belief in separation. The less separation there is, the more unconditional love there is. As separation vanishes, we begin to see each other as ourselves. Indeed, unconditional love can be described as seeing others as ourselves.

Subjectively, identification with another may be a product of nonlocal of mind, as defined in Section 12.2. Objectively, the feeling of closeness and identity that many people experience with each other might be due to the overlap of their subtle bodies, as was also suggested in Section 12.2. Those who are able to sense auras can easily sense when one person’s aura expands to include another person’s.

A common experience among spiritual seekers is the feeling of peace and serenity that prevails in an ashram or other gathering of seekers. This is especially so during a silent retreat when the ego has no chance to assert itself through conversation. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (b. ca. 1915, d. 2008), the founder of Transcendental Meditation, has elevated this effect into a guiding principle, which he calls the "Maharishi Effect" (see Section 5.2). This states that, when a group of people are meditating together, they create a harmonious, tranquil influence that is felt not only by the meditators, but also by anybody else in their vicinity. He has even formulated it into a quantitative principle---the number of people whose mental states are harmonized by a group of meditating people is equal to one hundred times the square of the number of people meditating.

The harmonious tranquility of nonlocal mind experienced in a spiritual community is extremely important for spiritual growth. Without this experience, it is easy to feel stagnation, frustration, and dryness. This is what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 18:20:

"For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."

Some spiritual teachers (e.g., Gangaji) speak of a single, profound experience of awakening that occurred while they were in the presence of their master. They call this phenomenon "transmission", and it might result from the overlap of subtle bodies discussed above (see also Section 18.4). Other teachers say it happens more gradually over time. Some teachers (e.g., Francis Lucille) at times call it the "direct path" (but this is only one form of the direct path, see another in Section 23.4). Ramesh has called it "magic", and says on p. 142 of his book, Peace and Harmony in Daily Living (2003):

". . . the average person experiences a certain kind of peace and relaxation in the sage's company and he realizes that this has rarely anything to do with what is talked about during the meeting. The very presence of the man of wisdom seems to exude peace and harmony in spite of the fact that he seems to respond to outside events with an absolutely normal reaction!" 

Many people have attested that the experience of being in the Presence of the sage is enlivening and rarely boring.

We now present a heuristic hypothesis about nonlocal mind: The more disidentified the mind, the more nonlocal it is and the larger is its subtle body (see Section 12.2). The more identified the mind, the less nonlocal it is and the smaller is its subtle body. This might mean that a disidentified mind could catalyze disidentification in an identified mind. Thus, disidentified mind might make possible both the "Maharishi Effect" among meditators, and transmission from sage to disciple.  

In The Self-Aware Universe (1993), Amit Goswami has suggested that, if the brain has a quantum part, nonlocal mind might be an effect of a Bell-Aspect type of correlation (see Section 4.3 and Section 7.4). From this we might speculate that, if two people are initially in substantial mental agreement or alignment when they are in close proximity, their quantum brains might overlap, and a correlation might be established that could persist even if they became separated by large distances. Perhaps this correlation would be experienced as love.

Following is a beautiful example of nonlocal mind and unconditional love given by Sharon Salzberg (

Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche lived in Paris when I first met him. The room was alive and vibrant with Khenpo laughing, teasing and playing with the children. The moment I saw him a constriction in my heart eased, one that I hadn’t even realized was there. He looked up at me, and as soon as our eyes met I felt I’d come home. The light I sensed coming out of him was brighter than even the most extravagant color of the walls surrounding us.

Khenpo was the most spacious person I’d ever met. It seemed as though the wind passed right through his translucent being. Many times in his company I had the strange sense that we were standing in a wide open field, great empty expanses spreading out in all directions. Yet he was entirely unself-conscious like a magician unattached to his own magic. 

He taught me that in letting go of our burdensome desires for acquisition and performance, we can just let the mind rest in ease. As he would put it, “Rest in natural great peace, this exhausted mind.”

On p. 155 of The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness (1990), the Dalai Lama says,

"True happiness comes not from a limited concern for one's own well-being, or that of those one feels close to, but from developing love and compassion for all sentient beings. Here, love means wishing that all sentient beings should find happiness, and compassion means wishing that they should all be free of suffering. The development of this attitude gives rise to a sense of openness and trust that provides the basis for peace."

Love, whether dualistic or nondualistic, always includes acceptance. Acceptance of Totality as it is in every moment is one of the characteristics of whole mind, (see Chapter 19). Even in split mind, the more acceptance there is, the less separation and the more love (see Chapter 22).  

Ardent nondualistic Love can be present even while the perception of separation still exists. An example is the all-encompassing yearning for Reality (or God) by the seeker (see Section 17.3 and Chapter 19). This is Love seeking Itself. (For a discussion of Love finding Itself, see Chapter 25).

16.2. Self-hatred and self-love

Writes Buddhist meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg on self-hatred (

"What do you think about self-hatred?" I asked when it was my turn to bring up an issue for discussion. I was eager to get directly to the suffering I had seen so often in my students, a suffering I was familiar with myself. The room went quiet as all of us awaited the answer of the Dalai Lama, revered leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Looking startled, he turned to his translator and asked pointedly in Tibetan again and again for an explanation. Finally, turning back to me, the Dalai Lama tilted his head, his eyes narrowed in confusion. "Self-hatred?" he repeated in English. "What is that?"

All of us gathered at that 1990 conference in Dharmsala, India-philosophers, psychologists, scientists, and meditators-were from Western countries, and self-hatred was something we immediately understood. That this man, whom we all recognized as having a profound psychological and spiritual grasp of the human mind, found the concept of self-hatred incomprehensible made us aware of how many of us found it all but unavoidable. During the remainder of the session, the Dalai Lama repeatedly attempted to explore the contours of self-hatred with us. At the end he said, "I thought I had a very good acquaintance with the mind, but now I feel quite ignorant. I find this very, very strange."

The fact that self-hatred was not part of his worldview pointed to the essence of my own aspirations. The need to resolve the ache of my self-hatred had sparked the fundamental spiritual questions in my life. In 1970, when I was 18, I went to India to learn meditation, wanting to weave the brokenness I felt inside into a cohesive whole, yearning to know what loving myself could possibly mean. My childhood, chaotic and painful, had not provided a matrix for learning how to do that nor really how to love others.

My father left when I was 4. My mother died when I was 9. My father returned briefly when I was 11, until a suicide attempt spun him away into the mental health system, from which he was never again free. Savage, uprooting turns and incomprehensible losses as I moved from household to household left me feeling abandoned over and over again--abandoned by life itself. Though caring people raised me, no one was able to speak openly about all that had happened. With very little stable love coming toward me, I developed the feeling that I didn't deserve much in life. I held my immense grief, anger, and confusion inside, fortifying my isolation and my innermost conviction that I was unworthy of love.

Just as I hid my suffering, I tried as hard as I could to hide my feelings of worthlessness. On many a day I'd watch the threads of my alliance with the world fray, and would silently note the disintegration of meaning in the world around me and in my actions. Yet under the bleakness, I wanted with all my heart to find a sense of belonging, to nestle deep into the comfort of a steady source of love and connection.

At 16, I entered the State University of New York at Buffalo. One of the courses I chose in my second year was Asian philosophy. I heard about Buddhism, a philosophy of life that said suffering was neither shameful nor the sign of something wrong with us. It pointed out that we are all linked to one another in our vulnerability to pain, all fragile in our exposure to the continual and unpredictable changes of life.

And I heard this quotation from the Buddha: "You could search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself." Not only did the Buddha say that love for oneself is possible; he described this capacity as something we must nurture, since it's the foundation for being able to truly love and care for others. Despite my uncertainty, the possibility of a move from self-hatred to self-love drew me like a magnet.

The emphasis on caring for ourselves is certainly not limited to Buddhism; it is found in any true spiritual understanding. It is the foundation of our ability to connect with ourselves and with others from a basis of love and respect rather than from fear and aggression. Spiritual life gives us methods to make self-love real rather than abstract.

When I went to India, I wasn't interested in dogma or in rejecting one religious identity to assume another. I also felt that merely studying a religion as opposed to practicing it was like studying someone else's experience-and I was compelled to transform my own. So when I found an introductory meditation course in Bodh Gaya--that sounded right for me, I was happy to begin the process.

I was less happy to discover that meditation wasn't as exotic as I had expected. I had anticipated a wondrous, esoteric set of instructions, delivered in a darkened chamber with a supernatural atmosphere. Instead, my first meditation instructor, in the full light of day, launched my practice with the words, "Sit comfortably, and feel your breath." Feel my breath! I thought in protest, I could have stayed in Buffalo to feel my breath. But I soon found out just how life changing it is to learn to be simple, to fully connect to my experience in a loving way, to sit comfortably and feel my breath.

In a similar vein, I have found that the daily benefits of meditation are less dramatic than I had imagined. Yes, I have undergone profound and subtle changes in how I think and how I see myself in the world. I've learned that I don't have to be limited to who I thought I was as a child or what I thought I was capable of yesterday, or even an hour ago. My meditation practice has freed me from the old, conditioned definition of myself as someone unworthy of love. But in contrast to my initial fantasies, I haven't acquired a steady state of glorious bliss. Meditation hasn't made me happy, loving, and peaceful every single moment of the day. I still have good times and bad, joy and sorrow. But I can roll with the punches more, with less sense of disappointment and personal failure, because I have seen how everything changes all the time.

Meditation has taken me under the disguises we wear in the world to touch an essential truth--we are all alike in wanting to be happy, and alike in our vulnerability to change and suffering. Once I learned how to look deep within, I found the vein of goodness that exists in everyone, the goodness that may be hidden but is never entirely destroyed by the conditions of our lives. Glimpsing this goodness, I've come to feel, to the bottom of my heart, that I deserve to be happy, as does everyone else. Now when I meet a stranger, I feel less afraid, knowing how much we share. And when I meet myself in meditation, I find I am no longer a stranger.

Dissatisfaction with oneself is endemic in Western society because of the emphasis on the individual, free-will, and sin (see Section 11.8). Western culture promotes regret, guilt, and self-condemnation and calls it "taking responsibility". It gives rise to the feverish need to achieve, as well as to perfectionism, harshness, judgment, rejection, and exclusion. It is a result of the conceptual split between the "I" and the body-mind so that the "I" thinks it is separate from the body-mind (see Section 5.12) and feels encumbered by it. Consequently, the "I" hates the body-mind for not doing its bidding, and for having sensations and emotions that the "I" views as painful or sinful (see Sections 11.4, 11.5, 11.6, 11.7, 11.8). Because of this split, true self-love is rare for most Westerners.

However, love of another without fear, guilt, or possessiveness is impossible without loving oneself. In fact, because love is our true nature, love is something we discover, not something we do. But, how do we discover what self-love is? Tara Brach, a psychotherapist and teacher of mindfulness meditation, says in her 2003 book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, that self-love begins with the awareness of the body sensations in which the emotions are rooted. All conditioning, including self-hate, is stored in the body as well as in the mind (see Section 7.10 for a possible mechanism) and is not fully accessible to us without our becoming aware of our body sensations. Vipassana meditation (see Sections 14.6, 24.2) is a practice of becoming aware of these sensations and their associated emotions. Self-love is the acceptance of all of them with kindness (see Chapter 22). These include the “negative” emotions, such as anger, hatred, guilt, fear, and desire, as well as the “positive” emotions, such as generosity, kindness, forgiveness, happiness, and joy.

The ego's way is to make war, not love. If we wish to be at peace, we need to see that Love, not the ego, is what we are. Love is a sense of openness and connectedness that can be cultivated through many different kinds of practices (see the remaining sections of this chapter, plus Chapters 22, 23, and Section 24.2). Love is not created in these practices--rather, we become aware that it is already present.

16.3. Affirmation as a self-love practice

Our conditioning of self-hatred can be deep and tenacious. Even if it temporarily disappears from consciousness in a moment, hour, or day of peace and contentedness, it can reappear unexpectedly at any time. Our self-image of victimhood is easily resurrected when we remember or return to any relationship in which anger, hatred, or confusion was present, such as with a former teacher, spouse, lover, boss, or political figure (see Sections 11.7, 11.8).

Exercise: Close your eyes and feel hatred for yourself. Where in your body do you feel it? What is the sensation?
Now feel love for yourself. Where in your body do you feel it? What is the sensation?

Because self-hatred is conditioned, it can be corrected by deconstruction and reconditioning. Deconstruction is the process of seeing the fallacy of our beliefs about ourselves. This may require the long-term help of a therapist or teacher because self-hatred usually results from years of conditioning and reinforcement. Reconditioning may likewise require years of spiritual practice, spending time with a spiritual teacher, and patience. One form of reconditioning is affirmation practice. Since each person's conditioning is specific to his/her body-mind, each person must find the affirmation practice that is most effective for him/her self. I have found the following affirmation to be especially restorative for me:

"I am infinite strength, infinite power, perfect health.
I am light, love, peace, and joy."

The first line replaces the belief that we are constricted and bounded with the possibility that we are limitless. The second line replaces our attachment to sadness, aversion, unkindness, and despair with the possibility that our true nature is lightness, generosity, and kindness.

Exercise: After introspecting your identifications with limits, construct an affirmation that expands your identity to limitlessness. Use it mindfully! How does it make you feel?

Our conditioning is constantly being updated by every new experience but all new conditioning tends to be simply layered on top of existing conditioning. Hence, although our intention in affirmation practice is to replace old conditioning with new conditioning, there is the danger that the practice will merely add to our existing conditioning rather than replacing it. Hence, affirmation practice is best used primarily to restore our functioning again when we are overwhelmed with feelings of victimhood, depression, anger, hatred, bitterness, or resentment. The real spiritual work comes later when we are feeling more capable (see Sections 16.4, 16.5).

Any self-love practice may be accompanied by feelings of resistance (see Chapter 21) because we have been conditioned from early on that self-love, and even self-acceptance, is sinful (e.g., how can we possibly love ourselves when we are so dumb, so nerdy, so ditzy, so disorganized, so lazy, so meek, so impulsive, so careless, so aggressive, so angry, and so many other "sos"). But love, happiness, and forgiveness are our true nature so to think otherwise is Self-betrayal.

If they are to be effective, self-love practices must be used mindfully, not mechanically. In addition to resistance, self-love practice may result in profound feelings of relief, lightness, and acceptance. Unconditional self-love is possible because our true nature is unconditional love. With the emergence of self-love arises freedom and childlike playfulness. We all felt these as young children before they were conditioned out of us (see Section 11.8) but they can be recovered and recognized. Indeed, the way we begin to learn that we are unconditional love is by realizing unconditional self-love.

As we become more aware of our true nature, we begin to trust in our innate goodness. This trust helps us to connect with others and to relate harmoniously to them, thereby reinforcing both our trust in ourselves and the harmony in our relationships.

16.4. Flooding ourselves and others with light

Flooding ourselves with light can lead to kindness for the self and others and thereby reduce our suffering. Identification with the separate self and its anger, resentment, fear, and anxiety is the source of all suffering (see Sections 11.4, 14.5). We can dissolve the sense of separation and darkness by flooding everything with light. It is intuitive so it is Reality based; it is imaginative but not imaginary; and it is extrasensory so it can be done no matter what the senses are sensing.

When we flood ourselves with light, we are not trying to get rid of any thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, or perceptions; we are lighting them up. For example, this Light does not suppress anger, it lights it up. In doing so, it uses the energy of anger to transmute it into Light. Light dissolves the separation between "me" and the emotions by lighting them up.

In nondual teaching, the "negative" emotions are just as much God as are the "positive" emotions. Light and darkness are both God. When Light lights up the darkness, it is God lighting up God. When we flood others with the Light from our own heart, we become aware of our own Light and the Light of others, and the artificial boundaries between "me" and "not-me" become less clear. Practicing this during meditation (see Section 24.2) makes it easier to practice it in daily activity.

Exercises: With your eyes closed, think "Love" and imagine yourself being flooded with light. How does it make you feel? Now do it with your eyes open. How does it make you feel?
Now, with your eyes first closed, then open, think "Love" and flood yourself and a friend with light. (If the friend seems so distant from you that he/she cannot be flooded simultaneously with you, bring the friend mentally closer.) Follow this with a neutral person (somebody you have neither positive nor negative feelings about), a disliked person, and a hated person (if there is one).

16.5. Tonglen practice

Connectedness is a condition of life. To deny it is to suffer. Whereas connectedness means that we feel both the pain and the joy of all living beings (the second and third sublime states in Buddhism, see Section 16.1), compassion is the willingness to feel the pain and to aspire for it to end. Compassion can be cultivated by using the Tonglen practice (taking and sending) of Tibetan Buddhism (see, e.g., p. 124-126 of Genuine Happiness: Meditation as the Path to Fulfillment (2005), by B. Alan Wallace). Tonglen is similar to the practice of flooding with light discussed in the previous section except that in Tonglen, we willingly take in our own suffering and the suffering of others, and we send out lightness and ease. The effectiveness of the practice stems from our willingness to take in the suffering of the world rather than pushing it away or denying it. As a formal practice, tonglen has four stages (as taught by Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön in Chapter 12 of The Wisdom of No Escape (2001) and at

First, we rest our mind briefly, for a second or two, in a state of openness or stillness.

Second, we breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, heavy suffering— a sense of claustrophobia--and we breathe out a feeling of cool, bright lightness— a sense of freshness. We breathe in completely through all the pores of the body and we breathe out, radiate out, completely through all the pores of the body. We do this until it feels synchronized with the in-and-out breath.

Third, we work with our personal situation— any painful situation that is real to us. Traditionally, we begin by doing tonglen for someone we care about and wish to help. However, if we are stuck, we do the practice for the pain we ourselves are feeling and simultaneously for all those just like ourselves who are feeling the same kind of suffering. For instance if we are feeling inadequate— we breathe that in for ourselves and all the others in the same boat— and we send out confidence or relief in any form that we wish.

Finally, we make the taking in and sending out larger. If we are doing tonglen for someone we love, we extend it out to everyone who is in the same situation. If we are doing tonglen for someone we see on television or on the street, we do it for all the others who are in the same boat— we make it larger than just one person. Then we do it for all those who are feeling the anger or fear that we are caught up with and extend it to all beings.

This page last updated April 21, 2010.
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