Have you heard the saying, “Love and hate are two sides of the same coin?” Maybe some of you are getting a firsthand experience of this right now.
We always hanker to be with our loved ones, and never seem to get sufficient time because of our busy life. Now, however, by the grace of Corona, we are forced to be with our loved ones twenty-four hours a day. For some, what seemed desirable is becoming unbearable.
Long ago, I read a story that illustrates well how love and hate are two sides of the same emotion.
Once upon a time, a Muslim emperor in India fell in love with a very beautiful woman. He met her often, but one day, to his surprise, he discovered that she and his army chief were also lovers! He felt this to be an affront to his ego, and thus intolerable, and punishable.
Being an emperor, could punish people in any way he liked, but he did not want a common punishment like hanging, or torture, so he called one of his very wise ministers and asked him what would be most suitable and unique. The minister, a master of the human psyche, had a novel idea. “The best punishment,” he said, “is to tie them together, face-to-face and naked, for 24 hours.” Shocked, the emperor protested,“What? That’s not punishment! That’s what they enjoy doing!” “No no,” the minister said. “Try it, and see.”
Trusting the wisdom of the minister, the emperor called for the army chief and the woman, and had them stripped naked and tied face to face. For 24 hours they remained like that, breathing in each other’s face, unable to urinate and defecate except on each other. When they were untied after 24 hours, they ran in opposite directions and never met again, so full of disgust with each other, that they didn’t want to even see each other again.
This demonstrates that what we call “love” and “hate” are basically the same emotion at their root. When we are in love with somebody, we want to merge our self into that person. That is why embracing is a common action between lovers. People in love say things like, “We are one, we cannot live without each other,” as if they have merged into each other. On the other hand, when we hate somebody, we turn away from that person and distance ourselves. Love is attraction and causes closeness. Hate is just the opposite: aversion, which causes distance. In fact, love makes us willing to destroy ourselves, while hate makes us want to destroy others.
Everyone experiences this with the people they love. We just don’t pay attention to it, probably on purpose. Maybe we don’t want to believe the ugly truth—that the very person we love so much, we also hate. Not so often do we hate random strangers, but very often we hate people that we love, shouting at them, speaking ill of them, etc.
We feel this way because of the architecture of the human emotional mindset. Hate and love are the two extremes between which our mind always vacillates like a pendulum. It cannot stay on one side. It always swings from one extreme to the other. This is explained beautifully in Sānkhya-kārikā (12).
The sooner we can realize this and accept it, the quicker we can make spiritual progress. By accepting it, we have to take responsibility for our feelings of hatred toward our loved ones. Yes, even toward the guru. No one would like to admit this, but it is there. It comes out in subtle forms, such as possessing, controlling, advising, and doubting the guru. Owning our hatred may be a very sobering and painful process. It takes relentless introspection. But it needs to be done in order to get out of the chronic condition of the material mind—love and hate, rāga and dveṣa.
Being in lockdown grants us the opportunity to have a closer look at how our mind operates, because most likely we will become triggered and emotional, as we are forced to be together. We should be happy to be with our loved ones, but there is no everlasting happiness. We enjoy each other’s company but become begin fighting, arguing, and quarrelling over some irrelevant point or difference of opinion about something on the news. Material love functions like this. So take this chance to observe the nature of your mind more closely.
But, do not despair. It does not mean that there is no such thing as true love. True love is uni-directional. It does not oscillate like a pendulum. No matter how long the lovers are together, they never get bored of each other. This true love is rooted in Kṛṣṇa, the source of all love. Our emotion of love can find its fulfilment only in Kṛṣṇa. This does not mean that we cannot love our dear ones. We need to love them in relation to Kṛṣṇa and not independently. That is the basic difference between spiritual love and material love.
In the Bhāgavata, we find one interesting spiritual example of a “lockdown” situation imposed on society. This occurred when Indra caused a state of emergency by flooding Vraja, and all the citizens had to cluster together beneath Govardhana for seven days and nights. This was much more intense than our current lockdown. Now at least families remain in their own space, but in that lockdown, hundreds of villagers from hundreds of Vraja villages had to remain in close quarters without privacy at all. Also, now we are just with other humans, or our domesticated pets, but in that lockdown, the residents of Vraja took all their livestock with them. Now we have TV, iPads, and so on to keep us distracted and help us pass the time. The Vrajavasis were almost literally glued together for seven days and nights—and they loved it! They did not back-bite, quarrel, criticize, compete, or put each other down. This is because everyone had pure love for Kṛṣṇa.
In material relations, remain dispassionate internally and express love externally, just like in a play.
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