What a number of totally different experiences this word “love” has to stand for. The Bible says “God is love.” It also says “We must love our neighbours as ourselves.” When two persons are seen embracing on a cinema or television screen we call it love. Love made St. Francis kiss the leper; Father Damien to live and serve in a leper colony for forty-four years. Love we are told made God send His son to die on the Cross. What a lot of burdens this word love has to bear.
Let us enquire first into human love from its crude and impure beginnings. It does not merit the word love, but we will use it for the time being.
It is said that the deepest need in all of us is the desire to overcome our sense of separation from others—our feeling of aloneness. Alcohol and drugs release people from this feeling for a few hours. It is a terrible indictment of our social culture that so many young people find a need to experiment with drugs. It is a mark of their aloneness—their fear and anxiety.
Frequently love affairs are due to this sense of aloneness and separation, rather than the sex urge. So people are attracted to each other and they fall in love. They walk hand in hand and embrace in public. A miracle seems to have taken place. They feel released from their loneliness. They feel—here is someone who understands me— to whom I can speak openly. They proceed to make an alliance against the world and they may feel very happy for the time being. But more often than not, this thing they call love does not last, They become bored with each other and these two strangers who virtually thought they were made for each other, part, even greater strangers than when they first met. Sometimes there is an active dislike as well.
Now, is love so important to us, apart from these falling-inlove experiments? We are becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that love is very necessary for the good of young children and even young animals. You may have followed the reports of the work of two research workers with young monkeys. Pictures were shown of a baby monkey with an indifferent mother. How very pathetic it appeared—not only pathetic, but utterly lost and bewildered. And yet many children are being born into the world unwanted and unloved. Can a greater tragedy happen to an infant than to start life without a friend? A mother, married or unmarried, because of economic difficulties or for other reasons, virtually says to her baby: “There is no room for you and for me. You must go.” And the child goes to a home or to a foster-mother who may give it some love or not. Is it surprising that if young animals deprived of loving care develop very abnormal behaviour, that their human counterpart should also develop aggressive behaviour, become mentally unstable and full of anxiety and fear?
After the second world war, researches were made into the history of children who were separated from their parents during the war years. Some were sent abroad. Others were evacuated in the middle of the night, after a particularly heavy bombing raid.
It was discovered that the strain of being separated from their parents was generally greater and its effects more disastrous than if they had been allowed to remain, particularly with the mother. The majority of the children recovered from the shock of an air-raid, but they did not so easily recover from the shock of separation from the parents.
What is the important point here? It is this. The enormous power of love in our lives must never be under-rated. In its purest transcendental form, love is God Himself. It is a lifegiving grace. It is the most powerful educational force for the ennoblement of humanity. Compassion, goodwill, loving kindness are all aspects of this same love.
In the first chapter of the story by Victor Hugo called Les Miserables we meet an ex-convict, bitter and resentful against the whole world. A good Bishop gives him generous and kindly hospitality. In return the man robs him. The police catch him with the goods—two silver candlesticks. He is brought back to the Bishop’s home by the police, to certify that the goods had been stolen from him. But the Bishop said that he had given them to the man. The ex-convict was dumb-founded. This statement shook him to the bottom of his heart. The shock that there was such loving kindness in the world turned this bitter man to a path of transformation.
Just a story people may say. But are we not certain of one thing? That hate begets hate—violence engenders violence— war generates war—and love creates love. Love is the answer to the whole problem of existence. Unselfish love has enormous creative and mental healing potentiality, far greater than we realise. Only love can heal our deep sense of separation.
Perhaps few of us understand that loving is far more important than being loved in our development towards maturity. And loving is neither possessive nor domineering. Most natural mothers love their children, but often as those children become older and want to branch out on their own, they find it difficult to accept. Frequently a mother may then begin to complain of all that she has sacrificed for her children. This is something they do not understand.
To be loved is easy, but to know how to love is a supreme art. How to love without wanting a reward—how to love and yet still be a person in our own right. Such love is rare, but it is love at its highest. For all human relationships are a necessary introduction to the love of God, from Whom we learn to expect nothing. Right human relationships are preparatory for this kind of loving and they are indispensible. All loving needs effort and knowledge if it is to be kept in good repair. It must be something more than mere words.
Love means to be able to give of one’s joy, ones’ interest, one’s understanding to another. It does not mean only material things. It is giving of that which is alive in us. Both are enriched by this kind of love.
People feel cheated if they do not receive in return for giving. That is a bargaining kind of love. Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose does love truly unfold. This is the way we shall have to learn to love God, without expectation of any reward.
The inability to love is now recognised as the root cause of much of the mental sickness in the world today. Psychiatric hospitals are full of people who never learned how to love, for so long as we can love, we are alive. This inability to love is not only manifest in our personal affairs, but in our international affairs and economic affairs as well.
Remember the prayer of St. Francis: “O Lord, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved, as to love.”
When St. Francis was dying, the Brothers asked him ‘‘Who is the ideal Brother?” “Who is fit to be General of the Order?” St. Francis replied: “My successor should have one single weapon—an unalterable love.”
To seek to love God is the natural outcome of all our attempts to end our sense of separation, a problem which we have been vainly trying to solve by other means.
One cannot help wondering what miracle happens in the soul when at long last we stop moving outwards in terms of sense contacts, social feelings and emotional attachments. What miracle happens in the soul to make us begin to turn the gaze inwards ? It is part of meditation. In meditation, what do we do? We choose to be alone with ourselves, no radio, no television, nothing, alone with ourselves without loneliness. It is the beginning of the maturing of the personality.
In the great spiritual classic, the Bhagavad Gita, it says that there are four bands of people who worship God.
1. First the distressed, who have come to such an impasse in their lives that they turn in desperation to God.
2.Then there are the people who are no longer content with life as it is. They seek for mental and spiritual expansion.
3.And then there are those who seek material power, as well as mental expansion.
4.Then finally there are the wise ones who ask for nothing. They live for one purpose—to love and serve God.
Dr. Shastri used to say: “The soul is constantly on its way. It is constantly on the move.”
And this is right. It should be so. The world should not be looked on as a place of rest and enjoyment. It is an onward journey, and its home is the Lord God. When the time comes, as it does to all of us, when the objects of the world appear puerile and of very little consequence, and we feel an intense dissatisfaction, we should take notice of these things. The time has come to go forward to meet the Lord Who is seated in the hearts of all. We should gladly leave those things to which we have given our attention for so long.
St. Paul says: “Neither life, nor death, nor things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of God.”
Everything that we can say about love is summed up in that wonderful verse.
Use this verse as a meditation. “Neither life, nor death, nor things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate me from the love of God.”
Are these just words ? Of course they are not. All our experiments in living come in the end to the truth contained in this verse. Whatever truly loving relationships we have made in this life or in any other lives, in which there has been no self-interest, they must culminate in the love of God.
In the West, what do we mean by the love of God ? It means, belief in God, belief in God’s existence, in the justice of God, and so on. But in Eastern religion and mysticism, the love of God is an intense experience of oneness, and mystics of all religions testify to this.
This is what Meister Eckhart, the 13th century Dominican monk says about loving God. “Some people imagine that they are going to see God as if He were standing yonder and they here, but it is not so. God and I, we are one. By loving God I take Him to myself, by loving God I penetrate Him.”
The Imitation of Christ says: “Love is a great thing, a great and thorough good. By itself it makes everything that is heavy, light. It bears evenly all that is uneven. For it carries a burden which is no burden. It makes everything that is bitter sweet and tasteful.”
In the second chapter of the Gita, Arjuna, the pupil, asks his teacher, Shri Krishna, this question:
“When a man has attained liberation, what is his practical life?”
And part of the answer is:
“He delights in the Self.” All who do loving devotion to God know some of this delight, but it comes only to those who have learned the utter hollowness and changeability of the empirical existence.
They awaken to the fact that no lasting joy can be got by walking in that direction.
The wonderful thing about Yoga is that anyone can begin to follow the path of Devotion—one can begin immediately, it does not matter whether one is rich or poor, clever or not so clever, married or unmarried. Only one simple thing is necessary —to have a fixed feeling of treating nobody as a stranger—of having no enmity to anyone, but a feeling of friendliness to all.
One can begin with one’s own relatives, one’s own friends. In deep sleep there is no hatred, there is no sense of possession, and no sense of egoity, there is no dislike for one and like for another, there is no nationalism, no sense of being English or French, or Russian. And what is the result? There is a kind of real happiness in deep sleep which we do not find in any other object when we are awake. The Kingdom of Heaven is certainly not realised in deep sleep, but our ignorance has been suspended temporarily. If we could suspend it for a long time, how happy we should be.
Should we follow a recognised path ? We should do what we can by selecting an incarnation of God to pray to, to read about, to think about lovingly.
Dedicate your heart to Him—Jesus, Krishna, Buddha. Read the Fourth Gospel, the Bhagavad Gita, the Confessions of St. Augustine.
Take just a few passages every day and immerse the mind and soul in them. Think of what you have read during the day and repeat often: “Nothing shall separate me from the love of God”, and nothing will.
“Love is the surest way to gain intensity and self-forgetfulness”, says Marjorie Waterhouse in her book Training the Mind Through Yoga. “Throughout the pupil’s training he is instructed in the art of love—love of the conditioned Lord, love of His children and love of the deep truths which will reveal the Lord to him.”