Contemplating the essence of true love requires a certain level of awareness and depth: truly loving the person you are with, as well as those around you, is the result of a concerted effort, and is not something that happens by chance, and nor does it necessarily come that easily. So it’s worth asking yourself how you can nurture the sentiment, and encourage it to blossom within you so that you can express it to others. Buddhist teachings can help us with this, because they clearly define the four key elements necessary for love to be defined as true.
The first of these is maitri, which means kindness. Kindness is not only about being willing; it is also the ability to spark joy and happiness in the person you love. Maitri can be practised through understanding: only by studying the other person, their feelings and their deepest being can we really love them.
The second element of love is karuna, which means compassion. To really love someone, we must be able to alleviate their pain: once again the key is in the observation and study of the other person, in order to gain in-depth knowledge of their pain, and therefore also the desire and ability to comfort them and make them feel better.
The third element is mudita, which means joy. It is possible to love someone and not make them happy, and for someone to love another person but make them unhappy. However, if there is no joy in love, it is not true love. If you are suffering all the time, and you make the person you love suffer, this is not true love.
The fourth element is Upeshka, which means freedom. True love brings freedom to the one who gives it and the one who receives it, which is why we need to be sure that the person we love feels free. To be sure of this we can ask ourselves a question: “do we both have enough space in this relationship?”.
If these four elements - maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksha - are present, it is true love: at this point we just have to work hard to keep it that way, continuing to check that these four components are always present.