LOVE - A DIVINE GIFT TO ONESELF
Jesus talked of love to God and love of one's neighbor. Much before Jesus, Krishn (or 'Krishna' as some prefer) lived a life that was a demonstration of love in all forms. Of course, the tradition of love was not started by Krishn or Jesus. Love is a universal immortal emotion that has been around since times immemorial. It seems so simple that surely no one needs a discourse on love. Yet, Kabir remarked DHAI AKHAR PREM KA PADHE SO PANDIT HOYE (Loosely translated as - One who understands the basics of love becomes a pundit.)
Attempts to explain and understand love have continued from Krishn to Jesus to Kabir to modern poets and filmmakers. Authors, thinkers and saints have written on the subject for centuries. Surprisingly, in spite of the enormous effort of generations and centuries, love remains an enigma even today.
The problem of understanding love starts with a paradox. In almost everything that we do there is a strong pre-supposition of the existence of "I". Utilitarianism, and everything else that the world teaches us, tells us to maximize personal happiness. At the same time we are told, love is not for one who seeks pleasure; love is not a means to satisfy one's needs, aspirations and ambitions. Yet, love is the ultimate joy and is the highest goal that one may ever hope to attain. All this confuses many. The confusion is caused by the haze of self-centeredness that stops us from looking beyond our own self to the outside world. The paradox of love arises from our attempts to understand love in terms of our paradigm of selfishness. We confuse love with sex, care with trade, emotions with calculations and then blame it all on the enigmatic nature of love.
Love involves transcending one's own self and giving without any thought of getting something in return. Human mind is generally so engrossed with itself that any act of moving beyond seems to require a great deal of effort. But there are moments that one does it almost effortlessly. A mother breastfeeding her child loves the child. She is giving away without expecting anything in return. A mother is therefore the first image of divinity that a child experiences. A few years later, the child is now grown up and has a life of his own. The mother expects the child to care for her. This expectation leads to bitterness. The pure love of yesteryears is now replaced by a transaction that involves give and take. Mother seeks to bind the child with her so-called love little realizing that her selfishness has taken over and only a shadow of love is left in her heart.
The paradox of love is that love binds but one who seeks to bind the beloved cannot love. In fact, one can generalize and say that love can do many things but one who seeks to use love as a means for any purpose can never love. The idea of using love as a means to some end is anathema to love. Parents who project their own dreams and aspirations on to their children do not do so out of any love for their children. They love only themselves and treat their children almost like their properties. They dehumanize their own children. True parental love gives all that children need (including guidance, discipline and education), not what the children want, without demanding anything whatsoever in return.
If the selflessness of love is difficult to achieve in parental love, one can imagine the difficulty of achieving this ideal in erotic love between a man and a woman. It is very easy for one to slip and dehumanize the other. Treating the beloved as an object for one's sexual gratification has been promoted in recent times by films and other popular media images. This is not to say that sex is sin or that sex should be kept away from love. On the contrary, sexual attraction can be and is often a stepping-stone towards love. Sexual acts (including touching, caressing, kissing etc.) can be means of expressing one's love. The important point is the attitude of the person concerned. One can view the acts on one hand as a means of getting pleasure and on the other hand one may view them as a way of giving pleasure, as a way of expressing one's love. The difference between the two views is the difference between a loving intercourse and a rape. The former concentrates on giving without any consideration of getting back, while the latter tries to snatch pleasure for oneself without giving away anything. One is a manifestation of love while the other is an expression of brute power that leads to nothing but hatred. The irony is that the manifestation of love gives power and strength to both while the act of brute power erodes power and weakens both, the perpetrator and the victim.
Sex as an expression of love is in sharp contrast with loveless rape. However, one must realize that the two are extremes. Generally speaking, sex even within marriage falls somewhere between the two extremes. Most men (and women too) cannot get over their obsession with their self-centeredness even during the most intense moments of an act that must have been designed for human beings to learn to completely lose their selves in love.
One sees today an exhibitionist tendency in erotic love. It is almost a fashion to 'fall in love'. A college going boy is under pressure from his peers to 'fall in love' with a suitable girl (and vice versa). A girl-friend or a boy-friend becomes somewhat like a medal that one displays prominently. Beauty, family riches, good clothes, muscular body - everything adds to the value of the medal. The fashionable, exhibitionist display of love that one sees on Valentine Day and in posh joints across all major cities is a disgrace and cannot be called love by any standards. It is aptly called as falling in love. True love involves no fall and is an elevating experience that raises one to a divine plane.
The concept of divinity varies from religion to religion. Hinduism treats any one giving away something selflessly as divine. The word DEVATA (or DEVI) is simply defined as one who gives. DEVATA (or DEVI) is translated into English by some as Gods (or Goddess). This causes a lot of confusion and leads to allegations of polytheism. A DEVATA or DEV or DEVI is someone who is a manifestation of God but is not the Almighty. Parents are hence DEVS. Husband is called as DEV and wife is called as DEVI. Each one of us has hence a potential to become a manifestation of God and attain the divine status of DEV or DEVI by giving away selfless love.
Christianity is based on two primary commandments - Love God and Love thy neighbor. This represented a dualistic view that treated God and neighbor as two distinct entities. Protestant saints and theologians moved towards a non-dualistic view of reality. Neighbor or this world is a creation of God and is in fact a part of the total reality called God. Viewed in this way, God and neighbor become one; love for one is love for the other; two commandments merge and become one commandment; a carpenter's work acquires the same status as the work of a Bishop; service of the world becomes a service of God. At this point Hinduism and Christianity converge. One can notice the similarity between Shrimad Bhagwad Gita's call for working with a sense of selfless duty and Protestant Christian morality that preaches one to practice one's vocation as a duty towards God.
In every religion, love for God is expressed through devotional songs and rituals. The songs and rituals have meaning only if they are accompanied on one hand by a surrender of the ego or in other words by selflessness and on the other hand by the carrying out of duties assigned by God. Love for God is no different from the love of a person. Love demands absence of selfishness as well as care for the beloved. If one loves God, one must lose oneself totally to God and do all that God wants one to do. God has given me children and hence caring for children is an act of God. God has made me a member of the society and hence doing my duty towards society is necessary for me if I love God. In this way, love for God makes one live a selfless life devoted to one's family, society, country and the world.
Does it all sound too idealistic in this world full of selfishness? Is it practical? What does one gain by working selflessly? How I wish I could answer these questions with logic and facts! May be there are some who can. But as far as I know, this is the point of personal faith when logic gives way and one goes by personal experience and intuition.
The other day, I visited a friend's house. He had married two decades ago a girl whom he loved passionately. His children are now grown up and are going to college. His relationship with his wife was excellent for all these years, but now it seems strained. Ego clashes on trivial issues have become a daily affair. Both blame each other. Being a good family friend, I found myself in the unenviable position of listening to both privately whining against each other. I was pained because I had seen them in happy times when they had no money but had love. Now they had all the money that they wanted, but no love.
The situation is typical. A man-woman relationship often starts on the basis of erotic love with sexual attraction providing a strong bonding. With passing of time, sexual attraction and needs diminish. Love for children loses its innocence as children grow up and try to seek their own life-course. Simultaneously, as one grows up, there is hardening of egos, habits and attitudes. Innocence and carefree attitude of childhood is replaced by nagging questions, doubts and fears. Solution to the problem is to rediscover the joy of love. No, one does not need Viagra. One needs love and not sex. One needs to learn love that is not erotic. During the youth, a person's erotic drive provides one with an opportunity to surrender one's self. Two decades later, one has to create such an opportunity by loving non-erotically.
One may love one's work or one's society or one's country. Every form of love is a way of immersing one's identity into the infinity of the cosmos. The experience is truly divine. Jesus says that one who gives is more blessed than one who gets. Radha gave away everything she had to Krishn and never asked for anything from Krishn, not even his companionship. No wonder Radha is given an exalted status in Hindu mythology and worshipped even before Krishn. It is not possible for everyone to rise to the status of Radha or Krishn or Jesus or Kabir. But, everyone can experience the joys of love - a divine gift that one can give to oneself.
15 November 2002
The above article is a part of the trilogy on love. Please try the other two articles of the set.
LOVE WITHOUT MOH
LOVE AND OBSESSION
If you like to read about love, please download the author's trilogy of short stories about love, lust and friendship in man-woman relationship.
GLASS TOP CENTRE TABLE
A DEVOUT CHRISTIAN
AN EPILOGUE TO LOVE
LOVE FOR YOU
Download the above three articles and three short stories in printer-friendly pdf format. Beautifully illustrated, the mini-book (33 pages) is an ideal gift for someone you love.
Please write to me your comments about the above article.
ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.
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