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spiritual essayEssay 10/2011

Love

 

Love and the path of knowledge do not seem to have a lot in common, except at the highest level - the love of all. But love is part of life, not only the love of the divine, of humanity, of nature, of people in need, of friends and family. What we usually understand by love is the love between two human beings in a love relationship. What about that? What value does it have for the seeker of truth?

Many spiritual traditions simply disregard it or treat it as if it is a sort of adolescent phenomenon which, for Gods sake, should not be given too much attention – a sort of pedeatric disease to which one hopefully becomes immune in the course of life. Those who have completely grown out of it take up the highest places in the spiritual hierarchy – be it in Christianity or in Eastern religions. 

Is it really necessary to transcend love relationships in order to become enlightened? Do they really pose a threat in the search for truth? Are they necessarily an obstacle on the spiritual journey?

No, I do not think they are. Yet it is a fact that love relationships place perhaps the biggest conceivable challenge possible on this journey. It is not for nothing that personal ties for monks and nuns, Swamis and Swaminis, Sadhus and Sadvis h

Love and the path of knowledge do not seem to have a lot in common, except at the highest level, absolute love – a love of all. But love is part of life, not only the love of the divine, of humanity, of nature, of people in need, of friends and family. What we in the West usually understand by love is the love between two human beings in a love relationship that usually involves sex. What about that? What value does such a relationship have for the seeker of truth?

Almost all spiritual traditions either disregard it or treat it as a sort of adolescent phenomenon which, by all means, should not be given too much attention – a sort of pedeatric disease to which one hopefully becomes immune in the course of life. Those who have completely grown out of it take up the highest rungs in the spiritual hierarchy – be it in Christianity or in Eastern religions. 

 

Is it really necessary to transcend love relationships in order to become enlightened? Do they really pose a threat to the search for truth? Are they necessarily an obstacle on the spiritual journey? 

No, I do not think they are necessarily a threat, even though it is a fact that love relationships mean perhaps the biggest conceivable challenge possible on this journey. It is not for nothing that personal ties for monks and nuns, Swamis and Swaminis, Sadhus and Sadvis have always been prohibited. It has been assumed that bonds of any kind would dissuade the seeker from his quest – apart from the bond between mother and child a love relationship probably epitomizes the summit of all bonds. And actually it is very likely to do so. The feeling of love is exceptionally powerful, particularly if hormones are involved. As it is so powerful, we develop such strong bonds to the object of our feelings that everything connected with it gains top priority. Spirituality becomes secondary. 

This admittedly means a danger for the seeker of truth; but if one can meet the challenge, love offers a unique opportunity. Since it is not love itself that is a danger, not even the bond or desires that arise – the danger is identification. Identification with what? It is not the identification with love, but the identification with the emotional reactions that usually come along with the feeling of love.

Bonding in general brings up primal issues that are accounted for by deficiencies in love and care – from the perspective of the infant and child. As children are dependent on others for their survival, the feeling of lack of care is bound to arise. This lack might be a fact or not, the point is that the feeling of lack is undeniable and often will remain in the psychological structure of the person, no matter how old he/she is. Later, when that person falls in love, he tends to transfer these old feelings of “not enough”, “lost”, “at the mercy of” etc. onto the new situation – which is what causes the emotional drama that takes up so much energy and is so difficult to overcome.

 

Basically there are three options about love:

1. To helplessly submit oneself to the rollercoaster of emotions, which in the course of time will wear you out to such an extent that one tends to become numb to one’s own emotions (and those of the partner). Either one ends up in a more or less dead-end arrangement between two once healthy and loving human beings. Or, one starts to look out for someone else in the – usually vain – hope that those ancient hurts have miraculously evaporated in the course of years. 

2. To avoid that form of love altogether which would be able to stir up old painful emotions. As of feeling unable or unwilling to handle the emotional turmoil connected with such a relationship, one stays out of the whole issue, either from the very beginning or after a while. This can result in isolation but may also result in a friendly arrangement between two partners, which is affectionate, yet differs from the third option.

3. To face up to love including everything it may mean and to seize the chance to be transformed by it. Most people are unable to cope with this third one because it takes immense courage, immense maturity and immense decisiveness.

 

The first option has been ruled out right from the beginning in most spiritual traditions. The second option is how the issue has ordinarily been handled, down to the present day. The third option is definitely the most valuable and – at the same time – it is the most difficult one: Love is treated as a sadhana (spiritual discipline). Actually this option is only suitable for very mature and very advanced seekers. Since to expose oneself to the transformative power of love,

1. One must face one’s thoughts and feelings with complete honesty and not act them out,

2. One should already have certain tools which enable to look at thoughts and feelings from the perspective of the highest truth.

3. One should have a spiritual guide who is able to support the transformative process set in motion by this sadhana – needless to say that this spiritual guide also must be able to appreciate the spiritual potential of such a love relationship for the seeker of truth, and not judge and condemn it because of the above mentioned reasons.

 

Love is a very special phenomenon. It is the gate to heaven, yet the identification with the emotional agitation triggered by it, is the gate to hell. But how do I prevent this identification? We move into the direction of hell whenever we focus on the object of our love instead of on love itself. The object of the beloved person will entice us almost automatically to focus entirely on it – and to forget the most important: love itself. I must be able to make a distinction between my emotions and love. Most people are not able to make that distinction and thereby end up unfailingly in an emotional turmoil, which, eventually is going to suffocate love. If, however, we are aware of our emotional reactions for what they are and surrender unconditionally to love, identification with these emotional reactions will dissolve  – which, by the way does not mean that the emotional reactions disappear at once. It will happen over time but cannot be expected to happen straight away.

 

Love and Knowledge

 

A love relationship dealt with in such a way is immensely valuable. Even so: for enlightenment it is not enough. Since even if I, utterly surrendered, become one with the beloved, a God, nature, existence etc. it will remain a state caused by love – a wonderful experience to which I can become virtually addicted. But states and experiences are transient, no matter how non-dual they may feel; they are not the eternal that I am.

The non-duality that I am is not a feeling, not an experience and not a state. If it was, there would be me as the one who feels and the feeling, me as the one who experiences and the experience, me who is in a state and the state – there would be duality. The non-duality that I am cannot be separated from me, the subject – it is pure knowledge, pure being: non-duality is without object. Luckily there is one function of the mind capable of knowing this. But I do not gain knowledge through love. I gain knowledge through a process of understanding, which enables me to recognize bit by bit all that is not-me, until the one Self that I am, shines in all its glory. So the sadhana of love that one passes through in one’s relationship has to go hand in hand with the usual process of shravana (study of scriptures) and manana (reflection and clearing of doubts), all three supported by a teacher. 

No matter which spiritual path one chooses to walk, the decisive factor for enlightenment is the understanding gained. This means, knowledge by itself can lead to enlightenment. Love cannot. But to ignore, avoid, fear, condemn love, means to reject an extremely effective instrument to the process of understanding. The final understanding consists in the crystal clear distinction between the Truth, that is Love, that is Self, and the false which is everything else.

 

Whoever, while on a spiritual journey, is sought out by love, no matter in what form, can take the challenge and continue his journey with it. Instead of running away from love, it is worth paying deep respect to it. Love in its essence is the eternal that we are. And the feeling of love, which blossoms in the meeting with the other can act as a very strong pointer to the eternal – if - and only if  – we dedicate ourselves to love and release it from the identification with its secondary effects.

 

First, for the joy of it, the whole poem in one piece:

 

And with a great voice he said:

 

When love beckons to you follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

 

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.

Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

 

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.

He grinds you to whiteness.

He kneads you until you are pliant;

And then he assigns you to his sacred fire,

that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

 

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart,

and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

 

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,

Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,

 

Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,

 and weep, but not all of your tears.

 

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love.

 

When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, „I am in the heart of God."

 

And think not you can direct the course of love,

as love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

 

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

But if you love and must need have desires, let these be your desires:

 

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

 

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;

And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

 

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;

To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude;

And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart

and a song of praise upon your lips.

 

From: The Prophet, Khalil Gibran

 

Khalil Gibran’s Poem has to be read carefully in order to avoid misunderstandings. As I read it, it starts with the description of the sadhana of love:

 

And with a great voice he said:

 

When love beckons to you follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

 

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.

Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

 

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.

He grinds you to whiteness.

He kneads you until you are pliant;

And then he assigns you to his sacred fire,

that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

 

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart,

and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

 

Here follows an appeal to make up your mind: if you cannot handle the challenge of going through the above sadhana, then you will have to forget about it; it is not for you.

 

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,

Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,

 

Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,

 and weep, but not all of your tears.

 

The poet further elaborates on what attitude is needed for this sadhana:

 

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love.

 

When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, „I am in the heart of God."

 

And think not you can direct the course of love,

as love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

 

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

 

The following is a device for the beginners, for those who start to walk this path. Usually in the beginning there is a lot of struggle with vasanas (identification with raga-dvesha) followed by emotional turmoil:

 

But if you love and must need have desires, let these be your desires:

 

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

 

When the understanding surfaces that your wounds are caused by your own mis-understandings, i.e. by your own belief in separation,  you will start to take responsibility for the self-caused pain. Yet you won’t try to make the wounded feeling go away but you allow it to “bleed” until it stops bleeding by itself.

If you are able to allow the pain, neither nuturing nor fighting it, it will start to dissolve because it is based on an idea: in reality there is no wound and no bleeding. But this will reveal itself only if you surrender to it:

 

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;

And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

 

The following is another piece of advice for those on this path. It does not refer to those who are on the height of their romantic love affair, revelling in it day and night. It speaks of and to those who, in spite of the (self-caused) pain are passing through the sadana of love, feeling deeply thankful for the opportunity to face up to the illusory idea of separation they harbour and the possibility of leaving it behind.

 

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;

To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude;

And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart

and a song of praise upon your lips.

 

From: The Prophet, Khalil Gibran

 

This sadhana of love, being a practise, will be immensely helpful because it purifies the mind. But a practise does not bring about understanding. Only using one’s mental faculties can do that. That’s why study, self inquiry and a guide are vital.

 

 




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