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The title is provocative but sums up my problem: when I am immersed in Buddhist thought, I can no longer love my wife.

Buddhism clearly contradicts romantic love. It tolerates it up to a certain point: but in the absolute, the practitioner is invited to (or naturally abandons) his wife to become a monk.

To love one's wife romantically: it is to discriminate, it is to love her more than a cat or a neighbour for example, it is therefore to judge and prioritise. It is also to become attached: not wanting to share his wife, wanting to be with her, being sad when she is not there. It is impossible to love your wife romantically without becoming attached and/or without discriminating, putting her on a pedestal.

In the end, Buddhism invites us to be indiscriminate and have only unattached love (metta). From this point on, how can one continue to be married if one is sincere in one's practice? Love your wife in this way, unattached and loving her as much as anyone else, and tell me that she is satisfied.

The Buddhist ideal love is not romantic. Even if in theory the disciple can reach the sotapanna stage by staying married, isn't it hypocritical to stay married with that in mind? To love your wife until that stage knowing that you'll have to abandon her afterwards? How can you love your wife romantically, find her attractive, desirable and endearing, when you know that sooner or later this relationship will lead to pain and dissatisfaction and come to an end?

I'm not clear, I'm mixing everything up, but I'm really frustrated and angry. If I had realized all this before I got married, I wouldn't have done it. But here's the thing, now I'm married, and I feel trapped. Either I stay with her and make a cross on the Nibbana, or I leave her to become a monk like the Buddha did and I make her suffer. How do you tell your wife that you will love her forever? How can you love her when you know it won't be forever and you directly perceive the dukkha of this relationship?

As soon as I clearly see impermanence and dukkha, I can no longer let myself be caught up in the flow of life and love unconsciously. I hope that I am clear, I expect the usual answers "it is not all black and white, a married disciple can reach sotapanna" etc., but this kind of arguments do not work with me, I live them as pure hypocrisy. I should forget the impermanence and the dukkha of our relationship, stay in the sweet reassuring illusion of our romantic love and tell her that I love her knowing that I should abandon her after sotapanna?

I love her, that's not the problem, I'm angry that my commitment contradicts the absolute truths of Buddhism and is an obstacle to my progress. I hope I am clear and that you understand me...

In short: how do you succeed in loving your wife romantically and not abandoning her when you know that you will need to abandon her after sotapanna, that you will never be able to reach Nibbana by loving her, when you see directly the dukkha of your marriage, when you know that it is touched from the start by the seal of impermanence, when you know that it is an attachment from which you will have to free yourself, and so on?

To put it plainly: how can one love one's wife romantically when this act contradicts all the truths of Buddhism? By deliberately remaining lukewarm and settling for half-truths?

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    I may have missed something but—unless you practice a very self-absorbed strain of Theravada—isn't the goal to stop loving yourself quite so much and to be open to the truth, which btw involves living virtuously and being full of love? Start with your wife. (cont.) – lly Feb 28 at 18:32
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    (cont.) Rather than wrecking your life over worry about your 'lost opportunity' to become enlightened sooner, which you can hopefully recognize as the selfish attachment it is once you look at it objectively, use the peace and truth you've found in Buddhism to bring peace and truth to your relationship. If she demands obsessive and jealous love, she may have been the wrong partner but it sounds like this is mostly from your end. Fulfill your duties with honesty & joy, let her know your love in ways large & small, help her be as open to you. Your marriage will be the very opposite of hypocrisy. – lly Feb 28 at 18:35
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    Addendum: You say you certainly love your wife but that truly loving all sentient creatures necessarily requires loving her less. Might I suggest that you could be mistaken about that? – lly Feb 28 at 18:50
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    @uhoh This page says, "It means that the search for perfection is a major fault, harmful to the goal one is pursuing. The search for the 'better' is therefore not the act of finishing the search for what's good, but rather a fatal trap in which any beneficial enterprise can get stuck and fail." – ChrisW Mar 2 at 8:56
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    @uhoh It's not untrue, and it-as-I-understand-it has many IMO obvious parallels with Buddhist doctrine -- restlessness, conceit, the Buddha's realisation just before the end of his Noble Search, the Brahmana Sutta -- but who knows whether it's applicable and relevant to the OP. – ChrisW Mar 2 at 10:15

13 Answers 13

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I don't suppose that any of us are qualified to advise you on your marriage or the optimal duration of it.

In theory, I really don't think it's fair to say that Buddhist love is non-romantic. The Nakulamata Sutta (AN 4:55) is a perfect counter-example; it is a promise the Buddha gave to a blissfully married couple to be united again in the next life. The text is certainly much sappier, I would say, than any Hallmark movie or Valentine card.

I would say that even with a complete embrace of, and transformation within, the Buddhist dharma, one still has whatever karmic obligations in this life that one had before. Nobody can say, well, I wouldn't have accumulated this credit-card debt if I were a Buddhist, so now that I am a Buddhist I won't pay the debt. And likewise a convicted felon will still have to serve a prison sentence, even after taking refuge; a recovering alcoholic will still struggle with health problems in the short term; etc. Being bound to a spouse with wedding vows is a very mild form of karma, all things considered.

I would think that if you really are a Buddhist, than upholding the reputation of the Enlightened One, the Teaching, and (more to the point) the Community should be a much higher priority than your own purity and practice. Would it cause pain, if you simply announced to your wife, "I don't need a wife anymore. I'm a Buddhist now"? Would it (somehow) make her more likely to take refuge and discover the benefits of the Way for herself?

I would advise that Buddhism, like many other non-mainstream philosophical movements or self-help doctrines, tend to attract seekers and people struggling for answers. Even in the Buddha's own time, recent converts were regarded with a healthy skepticism. If you really are growing apart from your wife, the reason is much more likely to lie within yourself than simply following the dharma to the letter. Perhaps you feel that your wife is holding you back and lacks the potential to help you live your best life; and phrasing it as an issue preventing progress in the Buddha path sounds holier and gives you permission to voice your true feelings?

Again, you still owe some amount of fealty to your spouse simply because you took a spouse; but if you no longer feel "attached" then it's okay to respectfully discuss that with her. But I would talk to a therapist first.

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She is your Buddha, your dharma, and your sangha. Love the world through your love for her. Your marriage is your refuge and your bodhimandala. It is the place where you will awaken - no less perfect or profound than any other vow you may take. Don’t let your attachment to the idea of perfection ruin this opportunity.

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    This message is beautiful although I don't understand it from a Buddhist point of view, thank you. – Kalapa Feb 28 at 2:22
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    There are at least three major koans in the Rinzai tradition that address this exactly - Nansen’s cat, Kempo’s One Road, and notably Josshu’s I Alone Am Holy. Each one of those koans asks you to put yourself aside in service to something greater than yourself. That could be the dharma - as it is for monks - but it just as easily could be your art, your children, or even your wife. The object is inconsequential. Only the sacrifice matters. To be in the great way is to give yourself fully. Generosity is the first and greatest of the paramitas. – user17214 Feb 28 at 2:37
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Eating food is impermanent. After a few minutes, the food is chewed & swallowed. After 24 hours or so, the food becomes excrement. However, we still eat food.

Similarly, your lives as husband & wife are impermanent. However, this does not mean to not remain married until life ends.

You made a spoken commitment or promise to your wife; which as a Buddhist, is honest speech you cannot transgress. You are stuck with your wife (unless she chooses to divorce you).

Since we do not know what type of marriage vows the Buddha made, we cannot use him as an example.

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    Well, that's not true. Of course we know about the Buddha's wife, to the same extent we know anything about his life through all its accumulated legends. He left her, however, before he attained enlightenment and dedicated himself to honest fulfilment of duties; he eventually welcomed her back. Needless to say, though, he probably could've handled things better if he'd started out with the knowledge he eventually found. – lly Feb 28 at 18:42
  • Your comment is nonsense. We do not know what type of marriage vows the Buddha made, we cannot use him as an example. If you could disprove my comment, you would provide evidence. The Buddha did not ever welcome his wife back. At best, his wife became a nun and rarely saw him again. – Dhammadhatu Feb 29 at 5:42
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ChrisW Feb 29 at 7:16
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Buddhism does not contradict romantic love; Buddhism contradicts romantic obsession. Granting that this is a terribly difficult discrimination for most people to make — confusing love with obsession is typical of almost everyone in almost every place — it's still an important discrimination to make.

When you go into meditation you should strive to free yourself of attachments, even attachments such as love. When you come out of meditation and head back into normal life, you should carry that meditative equanimity with you and allow it to apply itself to your normal interactions and relationships. This will help you to separate love from obsession; to rid yourself of jealousy and possessiveness while deepening your affection. There is no contradiction between loving one person particularly and loving everyone generally. That is merely an obstacle that your mind imposes because it is confused and frightened, so don't become attached to that fear and confusion.

Yes, loving anyone (specifically or generally) is a condition of risk, because love (like everything) is subject to change. It's worth considering: Does a buddha suffer when s'he sees people flounder and fail on the path and cause themselves misery? We often talk about the compassion of a buddha, but compassion is inherently a shared suffering, and a love that overcomes it. A buddha must have compassion for h'erself as much as anyone else.

Maybe it's time for you to cast off all worldly relationships and join a monastic order; that would be fine, if you are willing to commit to it. But if you are not going to cast off all worldly relationships, then it is on you to bring your practice into your worldly relationships, not use it as a shield to deny them.

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when you know that sooner or later this relationship will lead to pain and dissatisfaction and come to an end? I'm not clear, I'm mixing everything up, but I'm really frustrated and angry. If I had realized all this before I got married, I wouldn't have done it.

Yes my friend you've mixed the core of buddhism. If you've realised the first steps, you won't get frustrated or angry, when thinking about this situation. And also my friend, I should say, the marriage is one of the best place to study the core of the life. Study our feelings. Study what love is, what existence is, what's temper is, what is patience is, what is attachment is, what is expectation is, etc.. and the list goes on and on.

So what you need to do is, find the correct Dhamma, it's not what you've found yet. Because if you've found it you won't struggle like this.

And the other thing is, don't be in a hurry to become a monk. Because if you haven't realise the core of life, you will come back to the normal life from monk's life and will marry again.

"I don't need a wife anymore. I'm a Buddhist now"?

Being a buddhist doesn't mean something like this. To become a real buddhist you should be in the path to the Nirvana. And how you come to the right path, is once you realised/understand the core of the buddhism.

I'll try to give an example of this understanding. Imagine a math student who always considers only the positive number when getting a square root of a number. That's because he doesn't know the negative part. (eg: root of 4 is +2 and -2) And once he realised/learn/understand there's a negative part for every square rooted number, does he reject positive part? No right? It's an understanding. Not rejecting things. And with the maturity/realisation/wisdom (get the correct word here) the math student uses positive-number or negative-number or both-numbers accordingly in his applications. Because now he has the knowledge to use correct number (+/-) in correct places. Like wise, once you realised the core, your wife is like +2 (in maths student's example). So you won't reject her. Because it's an understanding.

As soon as I clearly see impermanence and dukkha, I can no longer let myself be caught up in the flow of life and love unconsciously.

Impermanence & dukkha is not the main/core thing in buddhism. Keep finding about this. When you realise the real truth, everything becomes so clear.

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Buddhism broke up my marriage

The four "Brahmaviharas" are said to describe the right attitudes for all social contact.

These four attitudes are said to be excellent or sublime because they are the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings (sattesu samma patipatti). They provide, in fact, the answer to all situations arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism.

The Brahma-viharas are incompatible with a hating state of mind, etc.

Each has a so-called "far enemy" (i.e. a complete opposite) and a "near enemy" (i.e. a counterfeit, which can be mistaken for the real thing).

Searching online for a detailed description of those I found this summary:

enter image description here enter image description here

The reason why I searched for it was that your description -- i.e., "To love one's wife romantically: it is to discriminate, it is to love her more than a cat or a neighbour for example, it is therefore to judge and prioritise." -- sounded like it might be making a mistake of thinking that being "indifferent" is a good.

Even if in theory the disciple can reach the sotapanna stage by staying married, isn't it hypocritical to stay married with that in mind? To love your wife until that stage knowing that you'll have to abandon her afterwards?

  • Is that a self-centred view?
  • How do you feel about her being (or becoming) a sotapanna?
  • What about the Zen story titled Is That So?
  • Does conceit remain a consistent problem?

How can you love your wife romantically, find her attractive, desirable and endearing, when you know that sooner or later this relationship will lead to pain and dissatisfaction and come to an end?

I think you can do that with compassion.

And perhaps because you love or loved her for many reasons (including mudita for example).

And not necessarily because or only when you find her endearing and agreeable, but putting oneself in the place of another.

The lyrics of an old American pop song start with,

You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn't hurt at all

But here's the thing, now I'm married, and I feel trapped.

I think an enlightened person could be imprisoned but still "liberated". That's a different case, but still, it illustrates that "liberation" isn't all about your external circumstances.

Though the suttas say it is affected by the company you keep.

Either I stay with her and make a cross on the Nibbana, or I leave her to become a monk like the Buddha did and I make her suffer.

Every time I read, "either/or" in a description of a problem then I think of, "false dichotomy", and, "middle way" (i.e. "neither of the two opposite extremes").

How do you tell your wife that you will love her forever? How can you love her when you know it won't be forever and you directly perceive the dukkha of this relationship?

The expression that my wife learned from her mother was, "I love you forever and a day."

I suppose that "a day" means "today" -- sempre oggi in Italian.

As soon as I clearly see impermanence and dukkha, I can no longer let myself be caught up in the flow of life and love unconsciously.

When you're a sottapana you have a handle on "unconscious" hatred/anger -- and see craving as a source of dukkha.

I expect the usual answers "it is not all black and white, a married disciple can reach sotapanna" etc., but this kind of arguments do not work with me, I live them as pure hypocrisy.

I recommend this topic -- Any authentic sutta from any tradition that gives guidance on what kind of partner to choose? -- its answers summarise advice for laypeople from the suttas. I hope it gives an idea of how marriage might function in Buddhist society.

I should forget the impermanence and the dukkha of our relationship, stay in the sweet reassuring illusion of our romantic love and tell her that I love her knowing that I should abandon her after sotapanna?

I'm not sure I agree with your "knowing that I should".

I'm pretty sure I agree that doing what you "should" do is important -- I am only not sure that "abandoning her" is what you "should" do or well understood (by you). That which you "should" abandon might be something else.

I'm mindful of a theory (from Western non-Buddhist society) that some couples benefit from competent counselling (e.g. to help them communicate better and to get a "good friend"'s perspective), and some benefit from a divorce lawyer or two (e.g. for the same reason).

I think Buddhists are taught that generosity and "virtuous behaviour" are fundamental, and are the condition for "no remorse" and so on -- and I think that, being fundamental, that's as true for laypeople as it is for monastics.

To put it plainly: how can one love one's wife romantically when this act contradicts all the truths of Buddhism? By deliberately remaining lukewarm and settling for half-truths?

One way is to try to remember "wisdom" and "virtue" and to behave "appropriately". Your having good-will towards your neighbourhood cats doesn't mean you "should" have exactly that same behaviour with/towards everyone. It might be appropriate to have different relationships (behaviours) with different people -- family (parents, children, partner); friends; employees; teachers; etc.

I think the "middle way" isn't all about "half truths" -- it is about bewaring of extremes.

Also I looked into the Dhamma as a raft parable yesterday, because I wanted to understand how to reconcile "the raft is to be abandoned" with the Buddha's saying that he dwells in dependence on the Dhamma, whereas others dwell in dependence on someone else "more consummate in virtue".

Anyway I guess that Buddhist ideals like unselfish generosity -- even-tempered, light-hearted, altruistic self-control -- can as easily "save" a marriage as break one up.

Also you might want to (together and alone) look for good friends and role models who are doing good.

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loving her as much as anyone else

I believe you got that precisely backwards... You are supposed to enter a state of mind wherein one's heart is able to feel for all beings (and non-beings) as much love and compassion as one would usually feel for loved ones, rather than a state of mind wherein one feels, even for loved ones, as little love and compassion as one would (sadly) usually feel for total and complete strangers... (You are neither the first nor the last to commit this particular misunderstanding; most people usually do; I believe it's what one would colloquially call a rookie mistake).

To love one's wife romantically: [...] it is to love her more than a cat or a neighbor for example

Yes... and the reason for this is because human beings are (unfortunately) not usually born within a sublimely noble state of mind, which would allow them to naturally or automatically feel any particularly great amount of compassion for either cats or neighbors...

it is to discriminate [...] it is therefore to judge and prioritize. [...] The Buddhist ideal love is not romantic.

Yes... but discriminate and imperfect love is better than no love at all, wouldn't you agree ? It serves as a stepping stone to even greater forms of compassion, until one (finally) reaches the summit.

Buddhism clearly contradicts romantic love.

Of course it does. But in what sense ? Running the marathon is a significantly different task than toddlers taking their first steps, for instance. So what would you suggest, then ? That babies not even bother walking in the first place, since they clearly can't crawl as fast as Usain Bolt is able to run ?

To love your wife until that stage knowing that you'll have to abandon her afterwards?

Why abandon her afterwards ? One does not have to be an alcoholic to share a nice bottle of wine over a romantic dinner with one's spouse. The same applies to physical intimacy as well.

How do you tell your wife that you will love her forever? How can you love her when you know it won't be forever

Your love for her will (hopefully) be forever, and, upon reaching nirvana, it will be at a maximum. At that point, your love will encompass the entire universe, and you will love each atom and each being as if each were your only child.

I leave her to become a monk like the Buddha

But you are not the Buddha ! :-) At least not yet... Nothing good can come from leaving your wife ! Allow me to unpack :

  • If you have already reached that unspeakable freedom, then, even if you were to have a hundred wives, and a thousand concubines (!), your mind will nevertheless feel no romantic, erotic, or sexual compulsion, since it has been completely liberated from all attachment.

  • If, however, you have not attained dispassion, then this means that the mind is still assailed and afflicted by romantic, erotic, and sexual desires; but, if so, then having a lawfully wedded spouse is the only morally acceptable way of (occasionally) engaging in them.

I'm really frustrated and angry.

And that's a good thing ! :-) When frustrated, let your wife caress you with her gentle touch. When angry, let her soften you with her feminine kindness. Thus, allow yourself to be taught by her how to comfort and support others in their time of need.

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Visaka was a Sotapanna and got married and had many children. (about ten) Only an Anagami person will not have sexual relations. Are you sure you have become Anagami? Before that test yourself to see whether you are a Sotapanna at last.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/into_the_stream.html

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  • Is reaching Sotapanna really possible when engaged in a committed relationship involving sexual intercouse ? As mentioned on the webpage you've inserted stream-entry seem to occur with the Noble Eightfold path which includes right action "And what is right action? Abstaining from taking life, from stealing, & from sexual intercourse: This is called right action. "SN 45.8 – Fedeverovitch Feb 28 at 7:04
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    It is sexual misconduct, not sexual intercourse. Sexual misconduct is having a relationship outside a committed (married) relationship. – SarathW Feb 28 at 9:14
  • And yet it is clearly mentioned "sexual intercourse", how come would it be only sexual misconduct ? – Fedeverovitch Feb 28 at 10:01
  • SarathwW is talking about the five precepts, @Fedeverovitch is talking about the eight -- the "third of five" is worded slightly differently than the "third of eight" -- see e.g. this answer. – ChrisW Feb 28 at 11:41
  • I agree with Chris. Lay people are expected to observe eight precepts only occasionally (Uposatha days) unless you have taken eight precepts for life. – SarathW Feb 28 at 20:23
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I can imagine what you're going through, but definitively I haven't experience anything like that in my own life. I can only contribute with a few general observations:

  • We cannot always get what we want; sometimes, we have to choose between to -apparently- incompatible things. But sometimes, that incompatibility is merely a lack of perspective.
  • We alone are responsible for what we do with "our" minds (i.e. with the inner world of subjectivity).
  • Unless we have full conviction in whatever we're putting our energies into, there'll always be tension in "our" minds between different values. The most powerful value (i.e. the one that moves our emotions with more intensity and the one that makes the most sense to us) will be the one that translates into actions.
  • Values change if we change our system of beliefs; belifs change through experience, reflection and learning. If our values change, our deeds, feelings and perceptions will change as a consequence of that.
  • Due to the lack of control in the external world (remember that 'control' is not the same as the possibility of having influence), one is constantly "jumping into the void", because, in practice, there's no certainty about the results of our deeds. In sum, you just have to trust in your deeds, take responsabity on them, and be open to accept your mistakes in case they arise.

I don't know if this useful at all. But I wish only peace for your mind.

Kind regards!

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Your wife is your personal Koan. She is your barbell. Just as strength training requires heavy weights, enlightenment requires big challenges. You can learn to love everything just as you love your wife, she is your benchmark. And you can learn to see that the feelings of sadness when she is not around are just chemicals in your brain and can be ignored/forgotten/trained-out through meditation. Part of loving something is learning what it needs from you, and working hard to fulfill those needs.

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I attained arahantship 2 years ago. I speak from a place of personal experience and pray you take what I say to heart.

There are no requirements to see Nirvana. It is present in every moment and therefore every moment is an opportunity to awaken. It is for this reason that spontaneous enlightenment is possible. You are not required to lessen your attachment. It helps, but it is not mandatory.

Part of the human experience is attachment. As long as you believe yourself to be a self, you will continue to be attached. Attempting to rid yourself of attachment before seeing Nirvana is an impossible task.

In my experience, non-attachment is a good practice in as far as it lessens your grip on the material world, and thus allows for nirvana to be seen more easily. But when taken too far, it causes behavior like this, throwing away tangibly valuable things like human relationships for the pursuit of something that you don’t even know what it is yet. When you awaken, you will still have a human life. Becoming enlightened won’t make you stop missing your wife. It will only make that missing feeling stop from hurting.

I awakened 2 years ago and all suffering has ceased. I have seen the other side and it is more beautiful than any description can give, yet it is completely unimaginable, and I guarantee it is nothing like what you imagine it to be. I normally don’t answer questions like this, but I felt compelled to for the sake of you and your family. I have a wife and son I love very much, and I can tell you without a doubt they were both instrumental to helping me awaken. Without their life struggles and loving support, I would have never been able to live the life of freedom I do now.

Nirvana provides the end of suffering. It does not provide endless happiness or bliss. If you abandon all you love in pursuit for awakening, when you get to the other side you will be content, but the story of your life will have no substance. Do not fall into the trap of thinking transcendence means you will no longer observe a human life. You will know the experience of not living as a self. You will not stop observing the life of the character you are currently embodying.

I send this message because I love you with all of my being. I know who you really are, and I know the freedom you seek. You will see clearly this lifetime if it is your desire. My advice to you is this.

Do not try to be anything other than what you are. You have all the faculties you need to awaken right now, in this moment. Everything you need is within you. All you need to do is observe your non-existence. Observing requires no action.

In this human world, true love is nirvana knocking at your door. Do not make the mistake of not answering. Simply observe and analyze your experience. Meditate. If you are on the right path, love will grow. Be weary of any belief that tells you that the rejection of love, compassion, and caring is the path to enlightenment.

I pray for nothing more than your liberation this lifetime. Please feel free to contact me any time, my email is on my profile.

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  • Hi w33t! I'm not trying to question your attainments, just trying to understand and clarify some terms, for the sake of the argument given: is your definition of 'arahantship' the same as the one given in the EBTs? Because, depending on the understanding of the concept, arahantship and romantic love might not be compatible. Kind regards! – Brian Díaz Flores Feb 29 at 2:18
  • The answer would be clearer without the first and third sentences. – ChrisW Feb 29 at 15:43
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Since I started reading the suttas, I've noticed that my wife gives me bigger hugs. And the sutta I have read that most directly pertains is MN8. MN8 describes how one can become obsessed with Buddhist practices to the detriment of progress.

MN8:5.4: But in the training of the noble one these are not called ‘self-effacement’;

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I will make a short answer but i am sure you will get my point : in life there are many things we don't like at all. That doesn't mean they aren't true.

You ask a question hoping that life isn't made in a way that will make you feel uncomfortable, yet it is.

However i thought about this on my own and i came to think the solution is to have a wife and a relationship that is not based on romance / passion / sexual desire. As long as you don't have those then basically marriage isn't a problem. But most people seek passion and sexual gratification, this leads to toxic relationships that are ultimately harmful.

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