Maitri, mudita, karuna, and upeksanam

The Buddhist definition of true love, which to me sounds a lot like true friendship.

  1. Maitri: Loving kindness; the ability to make someone happy. That “someone” can be:
    1. Yourself
    2. Someone you’re very fond of
    3. Someone you have sympathy for (I forgot to mention that one)
    4. A neutral person
    5. An enemy; someone you perceive as the cause of your suffering
  2. Mudita: transformation of pain
  3. Karuna: joy
  4. Upeksanam: equanimity, freedom, the opposite of imprisonment or forcing yourself on another person.

What I find interesting is what’s not on the list: passion, obsession, lust, obedience, dominance, jealousy…lots of things I’ve known people from all over the world define as true love (especially jealousy) but to me never seemed right.

And if you don’t believe it, that’s OK, because there is no dogma in Buddhism. There’s nothing that Buddha taught that you must believe or else be damned for all eternity. If it’s true for you, then it’s true.

Rich Pav

Richard has been living in Japan since 1990 with his wife and two teenage sons, Tony and Andy.

10 thoughts to “Maitri, mudita, karuna, and upeksanam”

  1. You will be happy to learn that Thich Nhat Hanh *has* returned to Viet Nam. He was there in February of this year. We were also traveling in Viet Nam at that time and it seemed we were always one day early or one day late to see him.

    He has a retreat in San Diego, where I live, so I have been able to hear him speak live. It’s a very good experience, and recommended to anyone who gets the chance.

    Finally, Thich Nhat Hanh was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by Martin Luther King, Jr.

  2. I read somewhere that the reason he was disqualified from winning the award was because Jesse Jackson publicly announced his nomination. Apparently you’re not supposed to do that.

  3. I’ve been meaning to stop in to one of the local Buddhist centers since this past summer. I’ll make it someday. In the meantime, I’m starting back in on my backlog of Zencasts – podcasts from the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California. I’m trying to learn what I can just to calm down and get control of myself, and to try and teach some of that to my son. He’s got dad’s temper, and mom’s unwillingness to back down. Bad combination when the two of us start to squabble, and it’s not going to get any better as he moves into being a teenager.

    All the things that you mention that aren’t on that list come from clinging and controlling and holding on; definitely not a Buddhist way, and not a way I’d ever want to show someone how I love them. The only clinging I do when expressing love is when I don’t want to let go of a hug 🙂

  4. I listen to Zencast but the talks tend to be too long for my short attention span. There are some talks worth listening to at One of my all time favorites is the one given by Thubten Chodron.

  5. That’s really different, hmmmm.
    I’m not Buddhist, but I think it is really wise and inspiring. I tend to take many morales and rules from it though and I appreciate it as well as live by it.

    Carl’s last blog post..Podcast

  6. Speaking of Buddhism, my interest in it is peaking especially after watching ‘Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring’. Great movie! This last podcast was nonetheless very interesting.

  7. Yeah, the Zencast talks can be a bit long, but I usually skip the question session at the end of the teachings, because they don’t mic the crowd and you can’t hear the questions. The funny thing is that Gil, one of their teachers, sounds and looks like the priest that married the wife and I. I’ll give lamrim a look – err, listen. Thanks for the tip, Rich.

  8. Hi Rich, copied this show onto my Shuffle some time ago but just heard it yesterday — nice one, well articulated. I’m sure you’ve got your plate full in terms of podcasts to listen to, but just thought I’d mention one that I’ve been listening to for a long time. Don’t take this the wrong way, but the guy in some ways reminds me of you — just maybe 25+ years older. Canadian guy, spent quite some time in Japan (early 80’s-early 90’s), married to a Japanese wife, two sons (teens) keen interest in Buddism, and a general search for meaning. I actually met him in Tokyo earlier this year with Terrance (Kobe Beef) and Chris (Finding Japan), think they’re fans too. Anyway he calls himself Scarborough Dude and the show is called Dicksn’Janes ( His most recent #131 was quite good. Anyway, hope you have a good Christmas and best of luck in 2008.

  9. Fascinating post. I’ve always thought the same thing… that people put too much of a physical aspect of on Love. In fact, when I read your post, I thought of the the definition of Love found at 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8.

    4 Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, 5 does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. 6 It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
    8 Love never fails…

    Basically, the idea of love that people have which includes lust and selfishness is not included in the definition defined here.

    Interestingly, the original word translated as love here is “agape”. It can be best described as principled love. Greek also has a few other words for love, like Philia, storge, and eros. Philia is the love you show between friends, storge is natural affection, such as shown between mother and child, eros is erotic love, or the love shown between husband and wife.

    What’s interesting, is that although you wouldn’t necessarily have philia to all people, you would still show principled love, or agape.

    In fact, agape is really the strongest form of love, as it doesn’t require love returned. Some call it “unrequited love” You’re right, it strongly resemebles strong friendship… and in fact, without agape, I don’t think you can have a close friendship with someone. As at the first sign of imbalance, it would essentially be over.

    If a friend betrays you badly, you may not have a friendship love anymore, but agape is the love that would stop revenge as you agape love them as a fellow human, and you would forgive them. It stops hatred of people, be them enemies or strangers.

    Love is long-suffering and kind. :
    This desn’t mean you MUST suffer, but it does mean that love will enable you put up with the imperfections of others and add to peace and harmony.

    Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up,

    5 does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury.

    6 It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.

    Love helps up to find joy in things that build up rather than tear down.

    7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

    This doesn’t mean gullible, but rather, gives the benefit of the doubt when warranted. Also maintaining a positive outlook while we endure.

    Gautama the Buddha taught many great things, it’s just unfortunate that the “average” follower of Buddhism is simply preoccupied with worshiping idols and relics, gods and demons, spirits and ancestors, and performing many other rituals and practices that have little to do with what Gautama the Buddha actually taught.

    That doesn’t mean that one can’t learn anything from the teachings within, of course.

  10. I some how missed this podcast, but good talk. I have never really thought about how true love and true friendship are related.


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