Selfless Love - Introduction
“In my opinion, love is the common element that all of humanity strives for. Ellen's exposition of selfless love shows how we can attain this. A wonderful book. I heartily recommend it.”
— Bernie Glassman, cofounder of the Zen Peacemaker Order and author of The Dude and the Zen Master
The word love, like the word god, is dangerous—yet I hold on to it. Love is not something you have or don’t have; it’s what you are. You are love. You are God’s love. Nothing can separate you from this love because it is what you are.
There is no separate self that is apart from love, apart from the world, apart from the absolute, but we have grown up with the worldview that we are independent, individual selves. Along with the illusion of a separate self come fear, anxiety, defensiveness, and the loneliness of a self-centered life. We find ourselves longing for love to quench the deprivation caused by the sense of a separate self. The longing for love will only be satisfied when we see through the construct of self and experience selfless love, the only true love there is. My hope is that as you read this book, you will fall deeply in love. This of course takes trust—in love, in God—and self-surrender.
Throughout this book the word god is used in addition to alternatives such as being, presence, ultimate reality, great mystery, godhead, absolute, or infinite, in order to renew and reclaim the word. Often god is avoided because it has been so widely used in concrete and overly anthropomorphic ways. However, the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey tells us that 92 percent of the people in the United States believe in God or a universal spirit. This same poll reveals that 75 percent of Buddhists, frequently thought not to believe in God, replied “Yes” to the question “Do you believe in God or a universal spirit?”
Shodo Harada Roshi, a well-respected Zen Master, is an example of a Buddhist who uses the word god and says that people who are able to believe in God, and not just science and technology, are blessed. In the documentary The Man on Cloud Mountain he discusses care for the dying at Enso House, the hospice he founded in Washington State, and suggests that caregivers have an attitude of prayer, saying, “Without prayer, life is little more than eating, sleeping, and making a living; with prayer, life is illuminated by the light of God. At Enso House we are trying to provide a place where hospice workers and residents alike can face death with a sense of the sacred.” With a sense of the sacred, compassionate action is illuminated by God’s love and by your loving actions, which are one reality.
In this book the word god is being used in a nondualistic way. It connotes that our discussion is not limited to the material or secular world but rather includes the spiritual or sacred. It acknowledges God’s presence in marvelous, ordinary, everyday life. I chose to use the word god, risking that some will be turned away by it. However, when I considered other words, I found that God remained the elephant in the room. At the same time, it is important to emphasize that the God we are talking about here is not a person or thing. God is ineffable, unknowable, and way beyond words, concepts, and images. Indeed, this not knowing is essential for the intimate experience of God’s functioning in the world. Words cannot explain God, but they can be helpful to evoke and expand our human capacity to be more sensitive to God’s presence in our lives.
The word love is equally elusive. Volumes have been written by philosophers, theologians, and psychologists about different kinds of love, how to find it, and how to sustain it. Rather than categorizing types of love, the focus of this book is on seeing through the separate self and thereby opening to unbounded love. But insight into selflessness is not enough; it is just a beginning. Ongoing moment-by-moment practice is needed to remain attentive to the habitual patterns and conditioning that continuously arise and block selfless love.
This is why, at the outset, instructions for wordless meditation are provided, and the daily practice of meditation is encouraged, so you can see beyond words (even wonderful words like god and love), beyond thoughts, and beyond self, to directly experience the life and love that you are. Meditation helps you be alert and aware of conditioned patterns, and allows those patterns to dissipate, opening the way to selfless love. Wordless meditation helps you see through your self-image and through images of God that you have inherited or created. In the light of awareness, images dissolve, and the direct perception of what is becomes unobstructed and clear. New possibilities for living and loving arise.
Selfless compassionate action
Not separate realities
One sacred act
Healing yourself and others
Now and forever