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  • Written by  Ian Ives
  • // Thursday, 09 February 2012 14:29
Ian Ives

Meditation, Understanding and Love

Not long ago I came across this very simple statement from the Buddha in a book by the great Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh:

Love is understanding.

I find this to be such a beautiful statement and I think it reveals a lot about how the practice of meditation can change the world and make us more loving. Here are a few reflections…


I find it helpful to first think about this statement in reverse: no understanding=no love. This is so true. When we have no understanding of ourselves, others and the world around us, there can be no love, and no real happiness and joy. I think this is why the Buddha explained that the very root of suffering is ignorance and misunderstanding.


Try out the following reflections: In what way does deeply understanding someone else affect your love and care for them? What effect does misunderstanding have on your relationships?

Or think about it in another way: How does it feel when someone really understands you? How does it feel when you are misunderstood?

Think about the world as a whole. How many conflicts and problems are rooted in a lack of understanding? How many solutions come from understanding?

Along these same lines, many great spiritual teachers have expressed a simple but powerful message: Suffering, aggression, and mistrust all come from being out of touch with reality, while happiness, love and joy arise from understanding: being tuned-in to ourselves, others and the world around us.

So how can we come to understand ourselves and others deeply? This is a question really worth pondering. Here are a few thoughts:

Although we all have the natural capacity for understanding and love, there is a very stubborn obstacle in our way:


I’m not sure how it is for you, but when I’m distracted, it’s actually very hard for me to understand anything with much clarity and depth. It’s a bit like trying to focus a camera while riding on the back of a wild bull. Whether it’s hope and fear about the future, stories of the past, addictive emotional soap operas or just Facebook, when I’m distracted, I’m not really tuned-in to what’s happening here and now; I’m out of touch with reality.

Assuming that others are a bit like me (which is dangerous I know), then thanks to distraction, there is a whole lot of misunderstanding in the world, and not much understanding. Maybe this explains why there is a persistent shortage of love and care for ourselves and others?

Instead of using our natural intelligence and awareness to see things clearly, when our mind is distracted, we make snap judgments, jump to conclusions, project all kinds of ideas onto others, and in general act impulsively, recklessly and selfishly. In fact there’s a very strong case to be made that thinking only of ourselves is really just a symptom of lacking awareness and understanding. It comes from not seeing ourselves and others clearly and understanding how deeply interconnected we are.

Distraction and misunderstanding are the mother of all bad habits. The antidote to them is mindfulness and awareness, which is what we cultivate in the practice of meditation. As it is said: “meditation is making a complete break with how we normally operate.”

Without mindfulness and awareness, we are helpless victims of distraction and we are ruled by the tyrant of misunderstanding.  In such an environment, everything we do to try to bring ourselves or others happiness ends up being misguided, unskillful or even destructive. Why? Because we lack any understanding and discernment. It’s like trying to drive a car when you’re blind; it doesn’t work very well and it’s not a very good idea.

This is why I find meditation to be such a profound and revolutionary practice. And why, the more I think about it, it seems necessary for the survival of the world. We all know how meditation can make us calmer, relaxed and less stressed, but these are like its bonus side-effects; they’re not what make meditation really great. The most precious quality of meditation is that it cuts through the blur of distraction that prevents us from seeing and understanding clearly and deeply. Meditation removes the obstacles to happiness and love.

The more we can be present, mindful and aware through meditation, the more clearly we can see everything. The more clearly we can see, the more we understand ourselves, others and the world around us. The more we understand, the more appropriately we will act and the more we will naturally feel joy, love and care for others.

A great meditation teacher once remarked that if everyone in the world were to suddenly gain a complete understanding of themselves and others, all of the world’s problems—such as war, hunger, and environmental destruction—would be solved in a matter of weeks. Now that’s a sobering thought!

To put it simply, since meditation brings understanding, and understanding is what brings love and happiness, the simple act of meditation may well be the most powerful force for good that humanity has ever invented.