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Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
How can we best navigate the emotions of romantic relationships? In this excerpt, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda offers insight into this timeless issue.
The agonies of love are many and varied. Each person has their own character and personality; they have different backgrounds and circumstances. So there is no set rule that applies equally to everyone . . . Whom a person dates is also a matter of personal choice. No one has any right to meddle in your private affairs.
However, I would like to stress at the outset how important it is not to lose sight of pursuing your own personal development.
Love should be a force that helps you expand your life and bring forth your innate potential with fresh and dynamic vitality. That is the ideal but, as the saying “Love is blind” illustrates, people often lose all objectivity when they fall in love.
If the relationship you’re in is causing your parents to worry, or making you neglect your studies or engage in destructive behavior, then you and the person you’re seeing are only being a negative influence and hindrance to each other. Neither of you will be happy if you both just end up hurting each other.
If you are neglecting the things you should be doing, forgetting your purpose in life because of the relationship you’re in, then you’re on the wrong path. A healthy relationship is one in which two people encourage each other to reach their respective goals while sharing each other’s hopes and dreams. A relationship should be a source of inspiration, invigoration and hope.
Love is a complex matter that is a reflection of each person’s attitude and philosophy toward life. That is why I believe people shouldn’t get involved in relationships lightly.
The bottom line is that, without respect, no relationship will last for very long, nor will two people be able to bring out the best in each other.
Rather than becoming so love-struck that you create a world where only the two of you exist, it is much healthier to learn from those aspects of your partner that you respect and admire, and continue to make efforts to improve and develop yourself. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, once wrote, “Love is not two people gazing at each other, but two people looking ahead together in the same direction.” It follows then that relationships last longer when both partners share similar values and beliefs.
Furthermore, please don’t succumb to the view that love is the be-all and end-all, deluding yourself that as long as you are in love, nothing else matters. Nor, I hope, will you buy into the misguided notion that sinking ever deeper into a painful and destructive relationship is somehow cool.
related article On Practice SGI President Daisaku Ikeda on the practice of Nichiren Buddhism from Discussions on Youth—For the Protagonists of the Twenty-first Century. All too often when a relationship ends, the great passion it once inspired seems nothing more than an illusion. The things you learn through studying, on the other hand, are much more permanent. It is important, therefore, that you never extinguish the flame of your intellectual curiosity.
Far too many people nip their own brilliant promise in the bud because of their blind pursuit of love.
Much of daily life tends to be ordinary and unexciting. Making steady efforts day-to-day can be trying. It’s not always going to be fun. But, when you fall in love, life seems filled with drama and excitement; you feel like the leading character in a novel.
But if you lose yourself in love just because you’re bored, and consequently veer from the path you should be following, then love is nothing more than escapism. What you are doing is retreating into a dream world, believing that what is only an illusion is actually real.
Even if you try to use love as an escape, the fact is that the euphoria is unlikely to last for long. If anything, you may only find yourself with even more problems along with a great deal of pain and sadness. However much you may try, you can never run away from yourself. If you remain weak, suffering will only follow you wherever you go. You will never find happiness if you don’t change yourself from within. Happiness is not something that someone else, like a lover, for instance, can give to you. You have to achieve it for yourself. And the only way to do so is by developing your own character and capacity as a human being; by fully maximizing your potential. If you sacrifice your own growth and talent for love, you will absolutely not find happiness. True happiness is obtained through fully realizing your own potential.
I would also like to add that to embark on a relationship as an escape from something is extremely disrespectful to both your partner and yourself.
related article A Great Human Revolution SGI President Daisaku Ikeda discusses the concept of Human Revolution in this excerpt from Discussions on Youth—For the Protagonists of the Twenty-first Century. Each of you has a precious mission that only you can fulfill . . . To neglect one’s mission and seek only personal pleasure is a sign of selfishness. It is impossible for an egotistic, self-centered individual to truly love another person.
On the other hand, if you genuinely love someone, then through your relationship with them, you can develop into a person whose love extends to all humanity. Such a relationship serves to strengthen, elevate and enrich the inner realm of your life. Ultimately, the relationships you form are a reflection of your own state of life. The same is true of friendship. Only to the extent that you polish yourself now can you hope to develop wonderful bonds of the heart in the future.
With some people, however, once they have gotten into a relationship, they have a hard time saying “no” to the other person for fear of losing them. In that respect, love is like riding in a car with no brakes. Sometimes, even if you want to get out, you can’t; even if you regret having gotten in, the car won’t stop. In many cases, people get involved in a relationship thinking they are free and independent, but at some point find they have become captive to the relationship.
Each one of you is infinitely precious. Therefore, I hope you will treat yourself with utmost respect. Please don’t follow a path that will cause you suffering, but take the road that is best for your well-being.
The truth is, ideal love is fostered only between two sincere, mature and independent people. It is essential, therefore, that you work on polishing yourself first.
It is demeaning to be constantly seeking your partner’s approval. Such a relationship is bereft of real caring, depth or even love. If you find yourself in a relationship where you are not treated the way your heart tells you you should be, I hope you will have the courage and dignity to decide that you are better off risking being scorned by your partner than enduring an unhappy relationship.
Real love is not two people clinging to each other; it can only be fostered between two strong people secure in their individuality. A shallow person will only have shallow relationships. If you want to experience real love, it is important to first sincerely develop a strong self-identity. True love is not about doing whatever the other person wants you to do or pretending you are something you’re not. If someone genuinely loves you, they will not force you to do anything against your will nor embroil you in some dangerous activity.
Please have the confidence and fortitude to think to yourself when you face rejection: “It’s their loss if they can’t appreciate how wonderful I am!” This is the kind of resilient spirit you must strive to cultivate.
related article Discovering My Abilities by Blandina Happiness Sembu, Tanzania As a single mother who had lost her right arm in an accident, Blandina Happiness Sembu faced severe challenges. She describes how her Buddhist practice has given her the confidence and courage to tackle all her problems as well as her work as a spokesperson for women with disabilities in Tanzania. Please don’t let a broken heart discourage you. Tell yourself that you’re not so weak or fragile as to let such a minor thing bring you down. You may think there is no one who could possibly compare to that person, but how will they compare to the next hundred, the next thousand, the next ten thousand people you will meet? You cannot declare with certainty that there will not be others who far surpass them. As you yourself grow, the way you look at people will change as well.
I’m sure quite a few among you have had your hearts broken or been badly hurt, and perhaps feel unable to go on, your self-esteem in tatters. But you must never believe that you are worthless. There is no substitute for you who are more precious than all the treasures in the universe gathered together.
It is important for you to become strong. For if you are strong, even your sadness will become a source of nourishment, and the things that make you suffer will purify your life.
Only when you experience the crushing, painful depths of suffering can you begin to understand the true meaning of life. Precisely because you have experienced great suffering, it is imperative that you go on living. The important thing is to keep moving forward. If you use your sadness as a source of growth, you will become a person of greater depth and breadth—an even more wonderful you.
Excerpted from Discussions on Youth Vol. 1 (SGI-USA, 1998).