How do we tell true love from possessive attachment? Altruistic love might be compared to the pure tone of a crystal glass, and attachment to the finger on the rim of the glass that stifles the sound.

It must be said that the idea of love without attachment is relatively foreign to the Western sensibility.

Not being connected suggests that not that we love the person less, but that we are not primarily focused on self-love through the love we claim to have for the other.

Altruistic love is the joy of sharing life with those around us — our friends, our lovers and companions, our wife or husband — and of contributing to their happiness. We love them for who they are and not through the distorting lens of self-centeredness.

We are involved for the other’s happiness, and rather than desirous to possess him, we feel chargeable for his well-being.

Instead of anxiously awaiting some gratification from him, we can receive his reciprocal love joyfully.And then gradually we try to extend that love even further.

Genuinely altruistic love is the desire for that wish to be granted. If the love we offer depends exclusively on how we are treated, we won’t be able to love our enemy. However, it is otherwise certainly possible to hope that he will stop suffering and be happy!

We must be capable of loving all people, unconditionally. Is it asking too much to love an enemy? It may seem like an impossible undertaking, but it is based on a very simple observation: all beings without exception wish to avoid suffering and to know happiness.

How do we reconcile this unconditional and impartial love with the fact that we have preferential relationships with certain people in our lives? Look at the sun. It shines over all people impartially even though it may be hotter and brighter to those who are nearer to it.

Despite the limitations inherent in any metaphor, we get the idea that it is possible to develop within ourselves the kind of goodness that embraces all living beings.

In Nepal, for example, all women older than oneself are addressed as “big sister” and those younger as “little sister.” Such open, altruistic, and caring kindness, far from diminishing the love we bear for our nearest and dearest, only increases and ornaments it.

We have to be realistic, of course — we can’t very well overtly express our affection and love in the same way to everyone. It is normal that the effects of our love should involve some people more than others.

Nonetheless, there is no reason why a special relationship with a friend or lover should limit the love and compassion we may feel for all people. When it arises, that limitation is called attachment.

It is harmful to the extent that it pointlessly restricts selfless love’s field of play. The sun ceases to shine in all directions; it is reduced to a narrow beam of light. Such attachment is a source of suffering, because selfish love constantly butts up against the barriers it has itself erected.

The truth is, possessive and exclusive desire, obsession, and jealousy have meaning only in the closed universe of attachment. Selfless love is the highest expression of human nature that has not been obscured and distorted by the manipulations of the ego.

Selfless love opens an inner door that renders self-importance, and hence fear, inoperative. It allows us to give joyfully and to receive gratefully.

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