What Is The Difference Between Love And Narcissism?
                            By Thich nu Minh Tâm
 

          When one of my friend angrily cried about her intimate friend that “He’s so narcissistic!” I focused right away the word “narcissistic.”
          I did this because the word “narcissistic” reflected to me an image of an ancient Greek myth “Narcissus” and it related to an important idea of Osho, a famous Indian philosopher and writer, who did emphasize in his book that “egoistic pride is the narcissistic pattern of life, narcissism.” (Osho – “Love, Freedom, and Awareness” p. 29).
          Narcissus was a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water, thinking it a nymph.  Frustrated at not being able to reach the reflection, he killed himself, and from his blood sprang the narcissus. (ed. David J. Burrows “Myths and Motifs in Literature” p.458)
           This story seems so strange, doesn’t it? But in my own opinion, the myth of Narcissus does have something discrete hidden inside.  It is a metaphor of human’s sentimental feelings, a parable of human’s suffering.
          Looking into a silent pool of water, Narcissus feel in love with his own reflection – not with himself.  The man who loves himself does not love his reflection, but here Narcissus loves his own reflection in water.  That Narcissus’ love is not true self-love.  He fell in love with the reflection, and the reflection is the other.  Narcissus had become two: he had become divided.  He was split into a kind of schizophrenia.  He had become two – the lover and the beloved.  Narcissus had become his own object of love – and that’s what happens to so many people who think they are in love. (Osho, “Love, Freedom and Awareness” p.30.)  However to me, I think that Narcissus did really enjoy being beautiful for his own sake while most of us are motivated by the beauty of another and would prefer to possess a beautiful other than to be beautiful ourselves. (Alan Bloom, “Plato’s Symposium” – 2001 p.117)  Why? Because we cannot distinguish clearly the difference between love and egoistic pride.
           Love is not egoistic pride.  Ego and Love are opposite to each other just like darkness and light, when light comes, darkness disappears.  In real love, there is no longer ego any more.  Love likes the rays of sun that melt an iceberg, whereas ego is melting and disappears into the warmth of love.  However, the majority of people always have misunderstood and confused about self-love and egoistic pride.
           As we grow into maturity, we all already have in our minds an ideal image of a woman or a man who matches with our styles, our standards, our desires.  Therefore when we meet someone who seems to embody these ideals, his/her face, his/her eyes, and his/her words, etc. look like our ideal image and we fall in love, but in reality that person only functions as a lake in which we are seeing our own reflection.  We really do not love the person as he/she is.  Rather, we love the appreciation that this person is giving to us.  We love the attention, the flattery that this person is showing to us.  No, that reflected attention is not true love.  Why?  Because we are easily deceived into thinking that we do fall in love, but in fact, we do not love him or her, we love ourselves through someone else.  That is what we call love!  No, it is narcissism - the man becomes the pool of water and reflects the woman, and the woman becomes the pool of water and reflects the man.  In fact, the pool not only reflects the truth but also decorates it, in a thousand and one ways, makes it look more and more beautiful.  This is what people call love.  This is not love; this is mutual ego –satisfaction.  Osho also writes in his book that:  “The real love knows nothing of the ego. The real love starts firstly as self-love.  Ego lives through comparison.  Love knows no comparison; there is no division in love.  So whenever there is comparison, it is egoistic pride.  It is narcissism.” (Osho, “Love, Freedom and Awareness” p. 32)
          Love is the nourishment of the soul, just as the food to the body, love is the food to the soul.  Without food, the body will be weak just as without love, the soul will be weak.  Love is the greatest experiment in life, and those who live without love will never know what life is.
          Love is the gift of God, the blessing of God to human, and those who knows love are bound to know God, but those who think about God and philosophize about  God may never know about Love – and will never know about God, either.  Be aware with our own ideas, our thoughts, our sentimental feelings, our belief.  Do not let them lure us to illusion of faith and love so finally, they will create suffering and despair to us.
          To me, the myth of Narcissus which is a symbol of “self-absorption, self-destruction, even self-love,” somehow much or less creates bad effects to man.  According to the Buddha’s Teachings, Self or Ego is the primary source of sufferings and rebirths.  Due to Ignorance, man does not realize and sees things as they really are therefore he cultivates his ego.  He thinks the ego is his only treasure.  He has been protecting it, he has been decorating it, he has been continuously polishing it.
          The symbol of Narcissus expresses that selfish ego of human.  Everyone loves himself, protects himself.  This is “me, my, mine,” that idea is ugly, untrue.  Why?  Because the nature of everything in this world from a very tiny unit to a huge mountain, stars, living beings . . . is influenced and controlled by the law of Impermanence and No-Self.  Nothing lasts long or forever in this life.  Today you breathe, tomorrow you die.  This moment you are a rich and powerful person, next minute you are in prison . . . We notice rise and fall, success and failure, loss and gain, etc.  Everything exists from moment to moment.  All is changeable, continuous transformation, ceaseless mutation, and a moving stream.  Change is the very constituent of reality.  Understanding the law of Impermanence, we arrive to accept that all living beings are merely a combination of physical and mental forces made up of body and matter, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness.  These forces are working together in a flux of momentary change and they are never the same for two consecutive moments. They are two components of the psycho-physical life, therefore there is no eternal soul called self or ego.  So, clinging on the misconception of Ego, human suffer as Narcissus did suffer because of not satisfying his desire of self-love.
          Reading the myth of Narcissus and trying to analyze its metaphor, I come to understand the deep meaning of narcissism and true love, bondage and liberation, lust and loving . . . I realize that love cannot exist when there is jealousy; love cannot exist when there is attachment; love cannot exist when there is ego.  I do not know what love is, but I see very clearly that attachment to someone means jealousy, possession, fear, anxiety, and me, I want freedom from all that, but ironically, Narcissus attached to his reflection; I have attached to the idea of freedom.  Whether it is a woman, a man, an image, a method or an idea, it is still an attachment.  I am very alert now for I have learned something that is to exchange attachment for something else that is still attachment.  I have watched attachment, what is implied in it, greed, fear, loneliness, etc. and by tracing it, observing it, not analyzing it anymore but just looking and looking, I have discovered that my ideas, my thoughts are the main causes of creating this bondage.  Thought has created the attachment.  When I realize it, attachment reduces its force and gradually ceases.  Attachment to the images in my mind has gone.  There is no effort made it all because the moment there is effort to analyze something, conflict is back again inside me.
          So, through watching my consciousness in awareness, I gradually detach from lust, bondage, self-love to a higher level of relationship.  I try to do all my best for others’ happiness and give my love to all living beings in order to help them reduce their suffering and reach the shore of salvation.

                         Namo Sakyamuni Buddha, may You protect us all!