The most fundamental need of a living being is love. We need food, clothing and shelter for our existence and survival, but that is not sufficient to bring fulfillment in our life. Even when our bellies are full and we are dressed properly, we still feel a sense of emptiness within. Our soul is hungry for love. Therefore, we have an innate drive for loving exchanges. Whereas our hunger for food is at least temporarily satisfied after a good meal, our hunger for love is never quelled. Love is the most pleasant of all sensations. It rejuvenates our whole body, mind and intellect. It is the fountainhead of creativity and mental health. We all sorely need it, and yet hardly anyone is successful in achieving it.
Even though “love” is one of the most popular and commonly used terms, very few people know what it really means, and there are so many vague ideas and misconceptions about it. Often “love” is simply used as a synonym for sexual union, as in “making love.” The biggest misconception about love is that we think we know what it really is, and thus do not make any effort to study its deep mystery, as we study other subjects. Further, we think love is easy to attain and that we need not make any specific endeavor for it, and we generally assume we are qualified to experience it. Qualification is an issue even for the simplest undertaking, so why do we imagine that we do not need significant qualification to achieve the highest goal of human life: true love? Certainly purity of heart and character are some of the preliminary qualifications for true love.
Conditional Selfish Love
Love can basically be classified as selfish and unselfish, or conditional and unconditional. Naturally, there are many gradations in between. In its pure form, love is always unselfish, but due to ignorance of our true identity we identify with a material body, and thereby pollute love with selfishness. The main pollutants plaguing pure love are egoistic pride and possessiveness.
What may appear to be real love and devotion to a beloved partner might in reality be the egotistic desire for one’s own happiness. In a romantic relationship between a young boy and a girl, if suddenly another girl starts pleasing and serving that girl’s beloved, even though such attention and loving treatment may make him very happy, his girlfriend will most likely not be pleased at all. Rather, she will feel threatened by her rival and will try her best to keep the other girl away from her boyfriend. So her real intention, even though she may not even be aware of it, is ultimately not the happiness of her beloved, but her own satisfaction.
Vanity is the cause of jealousy and possessiveness, traits which, in the case of the above example, manifest in wanting to be the sole giver of happiness. Whenever there is vanity, there is selfishness. The latter is an attribute of the former. There is a saying, “blessed is the one who gives cheerfully.” It would be even better to say, “Blessed is the one who cheerfully allows others to give.”
The love of this world is usually tinged with selfish feelings. Even other noble and praiseworthy qualities, such as our capacity to do good, will be limited by our material desires as long as we are materially conditioned and we have not attained pure love as a permanent state of consciousness. For example, we wish for the happiness of those we love, even if it is at the expense of those we don’t love, because the central focus of all the so-called “love” is actually “I,” the conditioned self. A mother may allow other children to die in some catastrophe so long as she can save her own child.
Most often, neither lover nor beloved have any knowledge about pure, selfless love. People too easily get fooled by the pre-fabricated love-language flowing from the mouths of their lovers, and are happy to gullibly accept such lip service as the real thing. Yet it is not uncommon that a man who assures a young woman several times a day that he is ready to die for her and cannot live without her, may very likely tell that same women a few months later that he cannot live with her.
Unconditional Pure love
Conditional love will inevitably vanish as quickly as it appeared due to its self-centered nature. It is not sustainable. According to modern neuro-biology, it is just a play of hormones. In pure love, the center is the other person, while in conditional love it is oneself, although one may not be aware of this inherent selfishness. Pure love flows towards the beloved unconditionally. It has no demands except to be with, serve, and please the beloved. It is the most powerful energy that can manifest in us, and it shines in its pristine glory if not tinged by selfishness. There is nothing which can obstruct it. It is not bogged down by any material consideration. It is the zenith of self-sacrifice. Pure love is unrestricted and without anxiety of exploitation because it is based on faith and trust. Between pure lover and pure beloved, harmony and unity exists not only at the level of the heart and mind, it even manifests on the physical level. For example, if the beloved experiences bodily happiness, the lover also feels it. Conversely if the beloved experiences bodily harm, the lover also feels the pain.
Love is a mystery. Logical understanding of it cannot produce it, yet even theoretical understanding of pure love powerfully elevates one’s consciousness. The more one understands, the more one becomes elevated. People practice meditation, pranayama and asanas to purify their heart and consciousness, but love can elevate our consciousness faster than any sort of meditation. It helps us transcend our ego boundaries so that our true spiritual ego can unfold. Nothing is as powerful as unconditional love, which in its highest and purest form is attained in our relationship with God, the Supreme Lover. Therefore, love is ultimately meant for God and finds its highest and ultimate fulfillment only in our relationship with Him. Our pure love for God is unconditional, as is God’s pure love for us. It is eternal, no one would ever want to give it up once he or she has achieved it. If a person loves God, their whole vision changes completely. Through love of God, we can truly love our family members, relatives and the rest of the world. However, when we try to love others in a setting divorced from a relationship to God, that love is neither sustainable nor all-inclusive.
Love of God is the goal and subject of many scriptures throughout the world. In Bhagavata Purana, the most important scripture for Vaishnavas, it has been analyzed in great detail. It describes how a few hundred years after Sri Krishna had left the planet, there was a big gathering in Naimisharanya, a forest in Uttara Pradesh. Thousands of scholars and spiritual practitioners were present. One pertinent question was raised: “What will really make us happy?” The conclusion of a seven day discourse that followed was that only pure, unconditional love for God can completely satisfy the self.
Love of God is causeless and submits to no obstacle. It will eternally liberate us from material bondage and promote us to the realm of eternal loving exchanges with the Supreme Lord, the source of all bliss.
Everyone is Looking for God
Although we are pure spiritual beings who have the propensity to love, we are encased in this physical, material body. Unaware of our eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord, we feel attraction to human beings because we get a glimpse of divinity in them. There is a ray of God in all of us, but in the conditioned stage of material existence we are not able to recognize the source of it. Once we have that realization, we become united with God, which is the real purpose of life. Nothing else can give us everlasting happiness. All other happiness is an illusion.
We are all attracted by qualities such as beauty, purity, strength, wisdom, freedom, etc. But the complete satisfaction of complete attraction will occur only when we find a person who has all these attractive qualities to an unlimited extent. That person can only be God. For that reason the Sanskrit name for God is Krsna, which means “one who attracts”. In the Bible also, there is a statement that God is love and love is God. So although we are generally not aware of it, all of us search only for God. From that point of view, there are no atheists. We are all believers in God in the sense that we all believe in His qualities, but we are searching without proper knowledge.
We are all attracted to God because we are His eternal parts. Sri Krishna says in Bhagavad Gīta (15.7), mamaivāṁśa jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ, “all living beings are My parts eternally”. It is a natural characteristic of a part to be attracted to the whole. Therefore, being part of God, we are naturally attracted to God’s qualities. Unfortunately, in modern society we neither receive knowledge about God nor about ourselves. We identify with our body-mind complex as our self, and are only taught about the needs and desires which are created by this physical body and the mind. Thus we forget the real purpose for which we have attained this human life.
It is said that by praising oneself one destroys one’s good quality and karma, and by criticizing others, one acquires the bad karma and quality of the person criticized. We create wrong samskaras in our heart which will continue to trouble us. Therefore, Krishna advises against it.
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