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What Is Love?
Seeker: Hello, Sundari. ☺
I’ve got a question: What is love?
How can we define love? Can we ever understand love?
We are love loving our Self through us, and so is it possible to know love? Or is it like the statement we can’t know the Self, because it’s the Self who is looking?
Sundari: Love is who you are and knowing who you are. The definition of love is “full identification with the Self as your true identity.” The confusion arises in thinking that love is a “special” feeling. It is neither special nor a feeling, because everything you feel, think and desire is motivated by love – even fear and hate. When you don’t know who you are, you run away from or towards things that you think will make you feel good, safe, happy, whatever. When you know that your nature is love, you do not need to chase anything, because firstly you know that objects subtle and gross are only apparently, not actually, real and secondly, you are full, content, happy. Whether you get what you want or not is unimportant to you, because you are whole and complete, needing nothing.
Here is the longer teaching on love, an excerpt from my book:
The Connection between Love and Consciousness
For most people, whether worldly or spiritual seekers, making the connection between love as the Self, or consciousness, is not logical. Most of us feel we need someone to love or love us to feel loved and lovable. And most of us don’t feel like we are that loving or lovable, most of the time. A feeling of limitation, low self-esteem and self-judgement plagues most people. Seeing myself as inherently flawed and lacking, it certainly seems like love is something quite apart from me, looking at it from the dualistic perspective. It is something I must gain to be happy. How can it be what I am when my life seems so empty without it? I must have the special other! How can love BE what I am?
However, Vedanta stands resolute and contends that there is a logical connection between love as my nature and the Self/existence. But it will ask you to shift your perspective from duality to non-duality, which may be a big ask. I explain what duality is in the next chapter. But for the purposes of this discussion on “what is love?” here is the logic. If love exists (which we know it does) and reality is not a duality but a non-duality, therefore then there can be no difference between love and consciousness. Non-duality means just that – there is only one principle and I am it. I know that is still a stretch to believe for those of us convinced that duality is real. To convince you, I need to reveal a bridge between love and consciousness.
That bridge is attention.
Think about it. I am always paying attention to something. This fact means I am always loving something. If you love your child, you are always thinking about them, you take care of all their physical needs, cuddle and play with them. If you do not pay attention to your loved ones, they do not feel loved. You know this is true because you don’t feel loved if the ones you love do not pay attention to you.
So, what is attention? Attention is consciousness (love) directed through the Heart towards an object. This is a difficult concept to grasp, because we are conditioned to believe that love is a special feeling or state of being. But it isn’t. It is the nature of consciousness, my Self. It does not come from objects, it comes from me. Although certain objects invoke the love I am.
What About Hate?
Hate is love too. It is paying attention, only in a negative way. You could argue that there are many things that you do not love, so how does that square with the “I am love” idea? It squares because it is only true that you hate something or someone because it suits you to do so. It pleases you to love or not to love an object, because you love your dislikes even though you are always free not to dislike something. Nobody has a gun to your head regarding where you put your attention.
Therefore not loving an object because you dislike it does not negate the fact that your nature is love. It means that for the sake of your Self, which you love above all objects (this may be news to you, but it’s true), you indulge a dislike. Our likes and dislikes, fears and desires, do not come from outside of us. They bubble up from within us. They are born of consciousness, your awareness, which is love, and which is free of all likes and dislikes. But when this love gets perverted by being filtered through our likes and dislikes, it seems like consciousness has likes and dislikes.
Likes are “positive” love, and dislikes are “negative” love. They are you, but you – love – are free of them. As soon as you realize how silly and gratuitous your likes and dislikes are, you won’t feed them anymore, and they will disappear of their own accord. You may argue this point because you believe that gaining what you want or avoiding what you don’t want equals love. For instance, you say that you do not like your job but remain in it because you need the money. But what this means is that you love money more than you dislike the job.
And you love money because you love yourself; you think that the things money can buy can make you happy and you want yourself to be happy because you love yourself. Everything we do, everything we think and feel is for the sake of the Self. It is difficult to accept the fact that you do not love an object for the sake of the object, because we want to believe that we love unselfishly. But all love is Self “ish” because there is only one Self. The object that you love or don’t love is just you, appearing as the idea of an “other” in your consciousness.
Love is the natural attraction of the mind towards objects which it believes are a source of happiness. I “love” ice cream because it makes me happy. When we talk of material objects, we generally use the word “like,” whereas in the case of living beings we use the word “love,” but there is no difference. Like and love are the same thing. In fact it is hard to love something or someone we don’t like.
There is nothing “wrong” with loving objects, particularly if our love is informed with the knowledge that all objects are really me, the Self. But love of objects without Self-knowledge is defective and limiting. Firstly, because love of objects is not eternal, it decays as our attraction to the object wanes. And secondly, it is defective because it is prone to turn to its opposite, duality being what it is. We may initially love someone and marry them to get to know each other more intimately, but often this turns sour after a while. Then you say: “I loved you once, but now I would love if you went away.” In the beginning of romantic love, we are so invested in getting what we want we only notice compatibilities. But as time passes incompatibilities peek through and puncture the love bubble, whereupon my darling bundle of joy quickly becomes a darling bundle of misery, even though he/she has not actually changed.
Therefore the definition of love is “mental attraction towards an object that is a source of joy.” What I am saying in this book is that attraction to objects is relationship-love. Attraction to one’s Self is non-dual love.
Duality is the belief that the conscious subject and the object of its affections are different. To state the obvious, relationship-love is dualistic love. It is a very wonderful thing until you realize, almost immediately, that it is fraught with anxiety, when you are caught in duality. Even though the love that you are is fullness itself, you believe that you lack love. Ignorance of this fact causes you to project love onto objects. It makes you think that if you possessed a relationship with a particular object – let’s say a person – you would feel complete. The feeling of completeness is the experience of love, your Self. The knowledge of your completeness is liberation. It results in an acute appreciation of the fact that “I am love.”
If you love love, you love the Self because the Self is love. Passion for an object, particularly a person, is not love, even though desire is a form of love. But if you look into it you will discover that when you love someone or something, it is your Self – the love – in the object that you love. You do not know that when you contact the object you are only contacting yourself. The object invokes the love that you are. The joy is never in the object. Because of ignorance of this fact, you become attached to the idea that you need the object, usually a living being of some sort, to complete you. This kind of “love” is thought to be love, but it is ignorance masquerading as love.
The desire to love an object and be loved by an object is the primary cause of suffering because it generates an incessant stream of binding emotions, both positive and negative. Nonetheless, it is not a desire that can be immediately renounced, as it is hardwired from birth. So it needs to be sublimated, not by demanding and expecting love, but by giving it. Giving love is the essence of devotion. It is the simple recognition that by your very presence as consciousness you are offering yourself to the world in the form of your thoughts, words and deeds. It is awareness of the presence of “others” and their need for love. You do not lose love by loving, because love is infinite. On the contrary, your experience of yourself as love grows the more you give. Devotional yoga is also loving the “you” you think you are – the poor dear that wants love – because from the point of view of the Self, the actual lover, that “you” is an object too. It redeems the loveless past.
Because every transaction with an object is actually love, owing to the fact that the Self is love and there is nothing but the Self, how do we account for fear and pain? If the cognitive person is ignorant of her nature as love, the love will be hijacked by his or her likes and dislikes and expressed in negative, often perverted, ways. Electricity flowing through a radio manifests as sound, through a lamp as light. Consciousness/love flowing through a dislike manifests as a nasty word, and through a like as a kind word.
Inquiry aids devotion because it makes the cognitive person, the subtle body, aware of its prejudices and biases, likes and dislikes. When you are aware of your projections, they subside and the energy invested in them is converted into devotion; you love yourself more because you have freed yourself of painful emotions.
~ Much love, Sundari