That breakups can be horrifyingly painful isn’t a secret to people who have gone through one. The amount of suffering some people experience after a breakup is a symptom that something about this situation isn’t quite right.
From a Buddhist point of view, the breakup itself isn’t the problem, because losing the people that we meet in our lifetime is a natural thing, as it’s part of the ways of an impermanent universe. The problem lies in the way we approach the idea of love, which is mainly characterized by desire and attachment.
But true love, in the Buddhist sense, has very little to do with attachment and desire. Love shouldn’t hurt. Instead, it should be a blissful experience that benefits all people involved.
When we suffer from a breakup there’s been too much attachment involved, to a point that we began to feel dependent on the person we’re connected with, thinking that we need this person to be happy. So, to some extent, we can compare ourselves with addicts who are separated from their drugs.
But, there’s hope. We can build attachments, but we can free ourselves from them as well. Freedom from attachment, and certain desires, lies at the heart of the Buddhist path, which aims for enlightenment from the suffering of life.
This video explores Buddhist teachings that can help us cope with and prevent a painful breakup.
(1) The root of suffering
To free ourselves from suffering, we need a correct insight into the truth of existence. In Buddhism, this insight is provided by the Four Noble Truths.
The first truth is that suffering is an innate characteristic of existence. The second truth is that suffering emerges from a certain “thirst”, that can be identified as craving, clinging, attachment, and desire. The third truth is that suffering can be ended by letting go of this “thirst”. The fourth truth is the path that liberates us from suffering.
Today’s romantic relationships are deeply problematic from a Buddhist point of view, because they’re drenched in attachment and desire. We don’t just need our lovers to be present in our lives; we also expect them to do things that make us happy, and abstain from the things that make us unhappy.
This way of love, even though it’s celebrated in our culture, is a very unreliable structure to ensure our wellbeing, as we’ve put our happiness in the hands of someone else. This means that the prospect of losing that person is terrifying, and we go great lengths to prevent that from happening, insofar that we are willing to kill for it. Now, that’s a source of suffering! It’s unhealthy. And the wish to never be parted from another human being, means that we’re in denial of the fact that, eventually, everything falls apart and that separation is inevitable.
As the Buddha stated:
From attachment springs grief, from attachment springs fear. From him who is wholly free from attachment there is no grief, whence then fear?Buddha, Dhammapada, 16-214
It’s no surprise that we suffer deeply when we get separated from the person that we have designated as a primary source of happiness. It’s painful when we suddenly have to live without the thing we crave. And it’s even more painful when our source of happiness is now serving someone else.
(2) Weakening the attachments
The good news is that our cravings can lessen. The more we free ourselves from our attachment to a particular person, the less we suffer. This may be difficult to accept; especially when we’re suffering from immense grief and when the only solution to end our pain seems to be a reconciliation with the person we’ve lost.
Now, it’s important to remember that this is a temporary delusion. In reality, we can be happy without this person. Moreover, chances are that we don’t even want this person, but simply want to be free of pain.
That’s why people often try to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, or numb the pain with excessive promiscuity, or by finding a replacement as quickly as possible. Sure, these things may help for a while, but, in essence, these are nothing more than attempts to flee from pain. And to make this work, we need to keep indulging ourselves in these pleasures, and eventually need more of them to maintain the pain-reducing effect.
This behavior may not only lead to serious problems like addiction; it also prevents us from touching the root of our suffering, which means that the thing we’re running from never dissolves.
From a Buddhist point of view, we can weaken our attachments by confronting them head-on. This means that we need to sit with our pain; become aware of our thoughts and sensations associated with, in this case, the breakup, and watch them closely, don’t cling to them, and accept them. Only when we accept them, we can let them arise without resistance, so they’ll eventually dissipate like clouds in the sky.
Of course, when the attachments are deep, our thoughts and feelings will often come back and harass us. But after a while, the attachments weaken and we’ll experience them less and less, to the point that we hardly think about our exes anymore. So, our relationships are impermanent, but so are our thoughts and emotions.
(3) A different take on love
Buddhism doesn’t support romantic love, because it isn’t real love. Real love doesn’t hurt, and isn’t directed at one person in such a clingy, needy manner.
True love is about giving without wanting anything in return, about letting go, and wishing the best for others without the prospect of personal gain. Buddhists engage in what is called ‘metta’ or ‘loving kindness’ which is an unconditional love directed at all sentient beings, including our enemies, and, whether you like it or not, our exes. As the Buddha stated:
Radiate boundless love towards the entire world — above, below, and across — unhindered, without ill will, without enmity.Buddha, Metta Sutta
For many of us, wishing for our exes to be happy, especially when they’ve done something awful, is a weird thing to contemplate. But this proves how destructive the conventional pursuit of love and relationships really is; it’s conditional, and can easily turn into hate. How could it have been love, if it’s so close to hate?
The answer is simple: it’s not love. What we’ve experienced is ‘fake love’ which is based on desire and attachment. Fake love is about satisfying our own needs, ownership, control, cravings, using someone as a source of our own happiness, consuming a person for our own pleasure.
Real love is wishing for someone to be happy. Fake love is wishing for someone to make us happy.
Now, we could see a painful breakup as a blessing in disguise. It’s an opportunity to free ourselves from strong, unhealthy attachments, and also to cultivate our ability to be alone. The better we get at being content in solitude, the more we’re able to love someone without being needy; without wishing for them to become a source of happiness and pleasure to utilize.
The more we become self-sufficient in regards to our needs, and able to feel complete within ourselves, the less we need someone. This makes way for, from a Buddhist perspective, a more genuine and detached form of love. And as a bonus, breakups will hurt much less.
Thank you for watching.