Any love that is dependent on something, when that something vanishes, the love also ceases; but when it is not dependent on anything, then it will never cease. Which love was dependent on something? The love of Amnon and Tamar. And which love was not dependent on anything? The love of David and Jonathan.Ethics of the Fathers, 5:16. Translated by Dovid Sears. Breslov Research Institute.
There is a fascinating short story by the late Japanese author Kan Kikuchi (d. 1948) in Modern Japanese Short Stories, edited by Ivan Morris, Tuttle Publishing, 2019. The story, “On the Conduct of Lord Tadanao,” is an imaginative retelling of incidents in the life of a Daimyo (feudal lord) of Echizen in seventeenth-century Japan, Lord Tadanao. Tadanao is a very proud young man. He glories in all of his accomplishments, especially in those involving his military prowess. But then, one day, he accidentally overhears two of his warrior retainers talking. They are telling each other how they had allowed him to defeat them in that day’s tournament.
Lord Tadanao is shocked by what he hears, shaken. It causes him to question his fighting abilities, not only with these two men but also with all of the men he’s ever fought. Has he been deceived all along? Have all his combatants allowed him to win? Is he not as good as he thinks he is? What can he do?
He decides to fight the two men again by holding another tournament. But in the new contest, the weapons used when fighting these men will not be sheathed as they had been before. For surely, he reasons, the men will fight for their lives when the danger is real. He defeats each man in turn, wounding them, though not mortally. Soon, however, he realizes that their loyalty to him was so strong, cut so deep, that they allowed him to win even when their lives were at risk. Subsequently, both men commit ritual suicide.
It’s not long before the sickness of doubt and confidence spreads to other areas of his life. He finds himself in a downward physical, emotional, and mental spiral. He begins to question all of the advice he receives from his counselors and trusts none of them. Instead of following their recommendations, he does the opposite, believing that they told him what he wanted to hear, not the truth. He becomes increasingly depressed and irrational, He sees every word and action of those around him as the result of what he is, their lord, and what they are, his retainers, his subjects, his servants. He descends into moral and physical decadence.
His sickness infects his understanding of his relationships with women, with those he has always believed cared for him, desired him, loved and admired him. Do they, he wonders, genuinely have feelings for him? He has always had any woman he wanted. Did any of them love him, know him, understand him, see him as an attractive young man, not only as their master? One night, surrounded by a host of beautiful women, he looks into the face of one he is especially fond of, a woman named Kinuno. She was his amorous preoccupation. But, would she care for him if he were not her lord?
As he gazed intently into her face Lord Tadanao was seized by yet a new anxiety. He thought he saw there, clearly revealed in that unguarded weariness of expression, all the sadness of a woman at the beck and call of a great lord whose power is absolute, a woman unable for one moment of the day to exercise her own will, moving only to her master’s wishes, like a puppet.Kikuchi, Kan. On the Conduct of Lord Tadanao. Trans. by Ivan Morris.
The excerpt from Pirkei Avot would have resonated with Lord Tadanao. But his position as Daimyo of Echizen precluded his ever knowing the truth concerning the feelings of others for him. I should think it a terrible thing to be so wealthy or powerful that one is never quite confident whether they are loved for who they are or for what they are.
One side of a flawed relationship coin is the one just described, one in which the lover interacts with the beloved not as who they are but what they are. The other side is one in which the lover persistently engages the beloved not as who they are but rather as who they want them to be. Something in the person they love needs fixing, fine-tuning, sanding, honing. What both relationship types have in common is that the lover never interacts with the person they “love” as the person they are.
In my opinion, no one describes the solution to the second type of relationship problem better than William Shakespeare. In Sonnet 116, he captures perfectly what happens when you love someone simply because of who they are.
Let me not to the marriage of true mindsWilliam Shakespeare. Sonnet 116.
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
Here is an excellent reading of it by Juliet Stevenson.
May all of us be loved for who we are, not what we are; and may we love others in the same way.
All the best,