One of the basic tenets of the Buddhist practice is to love yourself. And while most of us probably believe that we do, I am not so sure that we all have a deep understanding of this.
To begin with, to truly love ourselves fully, it must be unconditional. Which means we harbor no regrets, fears, insecurities, or disappointments. We accept ourselves physically, mentally, morally and emotionally at the very deepest level. And of course this must come from a place of self understanding, and without outside influences.
We cannot be genuine in this love of self if it is in any way contingent upon the approval of others. Not our partners, parents, friends or children. And if we can see that this approval is the source of our happiness, then we are in an extremely fragile state, and certainly one that is bound to change from moment to moment.
Far too often I think we all delude ourselves into thinking that if we do something nice for ourselves that this is loving ourselves. Buying ourselves something we want, treating ourselves to a special meal, taking a vacation, getting our hair cut or nails done. But I see these all as mere distractions from loving ourselves deeply and completely. These pleasures are all temporary distractions and can only lead to sadness, disappointment and more desire. Empty pleasure.
We must realize that the fantastic meal will be over quickly and we will be hungry again. Our hair will grow and become unmanageable and fall out. Our nails will grow long and unsightly, and that vacation will end – leaving only the bills to pay from our temporary enjoyment.
True happiness begins with that love of self that is unshakeable. Not formed by desire, distraction or pleasure. This love and acceptance is not influenced or affected by physical pain or aging, nor by looks or others approval. All conditions are removed when we truly love ourselves, and what remains is grounded in purity and peace. Not motivated by others or desire, but by the wisdom that only comes with time and practice.
I am often reminded of a story that Bhante Sujatha tells about an experience in the grocery store.
As he was standing in the produce section, an employee was staring at him in his saffron robes. Finally garnering the courage to speak to Bhante, he asked “so what, are you some kind of monk or something?”. Bhante gently replied, “Yes, I am a Buddhist monk”.
The produce worker stared at him for a moment and then said “OK, so give then me some Buddhist wisdom!”.
Bhante was shocked a little, and chuckled in his mind at such a question. Bhante paused and thought for a moment, then replied to the man… “just love yourself”.
The man seemed to be speechless, as Bhante smiled and walked away.
This simple teaching that Bhante offered is the same one that we should each offer ourselves every day. Don’t worry about learning Pali words, studying suttas or chanting. It is really that simple. Great compassion begins and ends right here and now in this present moment. We can increase our awareness of this truth with each breath we take. This is the dhamma, this is meditation, and this is the practice. And if you are not being the kindest and most loving friend to yourself right now, then I encourage you to stop for one moment and consider yourself. And understand that you are sitting with your very best, most trusted and dearest friend.