To remove the word love from today’s Buddhist parlance, so often repeated by the most vocal Buddhist teachers of the late 20th-21rst century, will prove to be extremely difficult. In fact, we may say that in this respect Buddhism has already be colonized by the Greco-European culture that spread and grew especially among the population of North-America.
Yet “love” does not appear in Buddhist canonical texts although here too well-wishing early translators applied the word to cover the cargo they were to convey.
The Buddhist canon speaks of mettā. Mettā is popularly translated with “benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness”, and/or “amity”.
In the 19th century Pastor Samuel Beal, residing in China and far removed from Buddhist scholars has nevertheless spent a large part of his time in self-study and translating Buddhist texts, thereby amply using the word “love”. His translations were greedily adopted by Buddhists less well versed in their own culture and enamoured by Beal’s lovely books. Beal even gave a certain gatha (verse) the title “On love and Mercifullness [mettā]”.
We find Beal’s use of love and mercy in his “Texts from the Buddhist Canon: Commonly Known as Dhammapāda“, printed in 1878 by Trübner & Co Ltd, reprinted in 2007 by Routledge in London.
What could have inspired translators to employ the word love when coming accross mettā: universal friendliness or the below aññamaññan patibaddha citta? We don’t know; it’s a cultural thing; perhaps they wished to convey the loveliness of the texts and embellished these texts with lovely concepts belonging to their European culture.
There is this story about the mythical bird the Garudā (or Garulā) [Jātaka iii.188] where the text says: dve pi aññamaññan patibaddha citta ahesun. It is in a PTS-publication translated as “in love with each other”.
The voluminous PTS set of Jātaka were translated by R. Chalmers, W.H.D. Rouse, H.T. Francis, and E.B. Cowell (1895).
Aññamaññan (añña + [m]aññan) is not merely given as “reciprocal”, but in connection with the following patibaddha-citta (fettered in the bonds of) it becomes, according to translator, speaking from his own northern European background, “being in love”. Nevertheless, this is neither the literal translation nor the intention of the text, or rather, openly using a “being in love” is not in sync with the culture to which the text belongs; one remains discrete.
The text says: “fettered in the bonds of (patibaddha-citta) one another (aññamaññan)“, i.e. obsessed with one another — it can be love, it can be lust, it can be “politics”, etc.
A striking example of what in German is called “hineininterpretieren” is verse 5 of the Pāli Dhammapāda:
Na hi verena verani | sammantidha kudacanam | averena ca sammanti | esa dhammo sanantano.
Translation as literally as possible: “Truly, in this world hatred does not disappear through hatred. It weathers away in contact with non-hatred (averaná). This is the eternal truth (dhammo sanatano).”
In contact with the western world where the concept of love has very deep roots the sentence “… in contact with non-hatred” is mostly translated with something like “under influence of love”. But that is not what it says or what it means. Buddhism does not advise its followers to force themselves into a state of semi-love in order to establish friendliness and peace. It simply states that being your normal non-violent and well-intended self suffices to get along with all you meet.
Is love wrong? Of course love is not wrong. There is this lovely story about the father and mother of monk Nākula. They clung together like bird and feather as the saying goes. After we die, Nākulapita (Nākula’s father) asks, will the two of us be together again? Of course, replies Buddha, since you are so close in this life you will be close in the next.
Some would say that this is a romanticised late sutta, not a saying that really can be attributed to the historical Buddha. Well, prove it!
What we should remember though, is that even in this teaching about the old couple, the word love does not occur. Being close, being caring towards each other, having a strong reciprocity is what we will find reading the original text, not the romantic love as it came to be portrayed as of the 18th century in Europe.