“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
Buddhism is based upon the teachings of Gautama Buddha who taught in eastern India over twenty-five centuries ago. His philosophy sought a middle way between unbridled sensuality and severe self discipline that would deny oneself any sensual pleasure. His teachings were handed down by oral tradition until put into writing four centuries later.
I must admit, I read this quote twice to make sure I got it right the first time. My immediate reaction was, really? I don’t know much about Buddhism, but my experience has taught me that this ancient thinker had better things to do with his time and energy than to simply entertain others. I then read his words a third time and the light of understanding began to glimmer. As I began to see his meaning, I realized that it is my own life experience that allows me not only to understand, but to admire his wisdom. I’m afraid that as a young man, this lesson would have flown right over my head!
We are social beings and we search for love because it is one of our basic needs. Yet most, if not all of us, look outside of ourselves to find those worthy of our love. At this point, I’m not differentiating between familial, platonic, and romantic love relationships, because I don’t think this teaching is about any one of them. In my mind, this statement is about all of them. We look outside of ourselves for our best friends and our intimate romantic partners. What we don’t do is look to ourselves first.
Buddha is not only teaching us that we must love ourselves first, but he goes further by saying that no one is more worthy of our love than ourself. That means that I am at least as worthy of my love as any other person I might choose! As that realization hit home, my mind reeled… I’m not used to thinking along these lines! Was he kidding?
I was raised in a culture that taught self-denial to make me worthy of God’s love. I equated self-love with selfishness – another negative characteristic that one would do well to eliminate. Christianity taught me to focus my love and good deeds outside of myself… do unto others… look after the needs of others first… are just a couple of lessons that come to mind from my early religious instruction.
How many of us grew to adulthood with a jaded view of themselves? I was taught to control my urges – all of them – lest they lead me into sin! I’m sure this is why Buddha’s words seemed so alien to me at first; it was culture shock! When I take the time to digest this idea, it makes perfect sense… charity or caritas begins at home!
I’m sure we’ve all met people who suffer from self-loathing. Such persons are not happy and they do not love others. How can they? It stands to reason that if I do not believe myself worthy of my own love, then how could I trust another to be worthy of my love? On the other hand, if I accept myself, not as a perfect being, but as a worthy being, I can love myself. In loving myself, I can make choices that are good for me! I’m not talking about being self-indulgent, constantly seeking to satisfy every desire, no matter the consequence. I mean that I must look after my own best interests by doing the hard work that is necessary to make me into the kind of person I wish to become! But I can’t do that unless I start by recognizing my own worthiness.
In recognizing my own worthiness to be loved by myself, I am not denying that I am a flawed being! This does not negate the fact that I get impatient easily, or that I lose my temper and hurt those around me. But I am sure that by being wise enough to love myself, I will find it easier to deal with my shortcomings more successfully. My best friend has been trying to teach me this lesson for quite some time, and now, I think I understand.
In loving myself in this way, I am eminently qualified to take a lover and cherish that person in a way that testifies to their worthiness to be loved. In the same way, I am free to love another person as my best friend. Because I acknowledge my own worthiness to be loved, I can extend that caring to my best friend who will be inclined to reciprocate in kind. You reap what you sow. Because of this teaching, taken to heart and internalized, I am more open to the lessons of love – no matter what their origin!