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A Zen Master Explains Why ‘I Love You’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does


We all know the importance of “I love you” in a relationship. We are waiting to hear those three words from our partner because they sound so calming, and they make us so happy.

However, the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Han warns us that the meaning behind those words might not be what we think it is.

“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.”

In a real relationship, there should be no boundaries between partners. Your partner is you and you are them. Your pain is their pain. You are both suffering in the same way. Happiness and suffering should not be separate matters. Things that are happening to your partner are happening to you as well.

When there is true love, there is no separation.

What do you think? Do you agree?

Mary Wright