What is Love?
Love is an emotional feeling of attraction, closeness, intimacy, strong liking, and source of enjoyment to be together with someone or something.
Love can take different forms with different things and beings. Examples:
“I love coffee”; “I love my new dress” : “I love my native place” – these are to do with things.
“I love Ilayaraja songs; I love watching thriller movies” – these are to do with abstract things.
“I love my dog”; “I love my cat” — these are to do with living beings other than humans.
“I love my friend”; “I love the comedian Vadivelu” – these are to do with third persons
“I love my cousin brother; I love my brother in law” – These are to do with distant relatives.
“I love my mother/ sister/ son/ daughter/brother/ grandfather” – these are to do with blood relatives.
“I love that girl; I love that boy” – these are to do with a specific person of opposite sex with a marital or sexual intent in mind.
“I love my husband/ wife” – these are to do with existing intimate relations
“I love Lord Shiva; I love Lord Krishna” – this is bhakti – devotion to God.
It is quite obvious that the intensity of love, the reverberation of the joyful feeling that love generates is not same in the various categories of love that we saw above.
The love a boy develops on his girlfriend is not of the same frequency or intensity as the love the boy has on his sister. The love one has on his father is not same as the love one has on the pet dog. Strange it may seem, but the present day truth is that many people are able to love their pet dogs better than their fathers!
When it comes to love, all of us are both givers as well as receivers. All of us, with varying degrees of intensity, are capable of giving love and receiving love. No one can constantly be giving love without getting back any love in return. No one can keep on receiving love without giving something back. Think of it: If pet dogs don’t reciprocate any love, no one will ever keep them at home!
What is the source of Love?
Where from does love spring? Why at all does a person express love to another? Why does a wife love her husband? Why do parents love their children?
According to Sanatana Dharma, God is the in-dweller in all beings. God permeates the entire creation. Even though each of us seem to have different personalities, our Self – Atman is one. It is like different beads of a necklace strung together in a single thread. It is like a single sun reflecting in hundred pots of water. Atman is that thread; Atman is the sun. Atman is Sat-chit-ananda – Existence-knowledge-bliss. It is the bliss of the atman that gets expressed in the form of love.
In the Hindu scripture Brihadarayanka Upanishad, The saint Yagnyavalkya says
‘A wife loves her husband not for his sake, but for the sake of her own Self.
‘A husband loves his wife not for her sake, but for the sake of his own Self.
‘You love the sons not for the son’s sake, but for the sake of your own self
‘You love wealth not for the the sake of the wealth, but for the sake of your own self
‘You love the cattles not for their sake, but for the sake of your own self……
Is love really pure?
It is really an uneasy question to answer. At the highest ideal level, it is true, but at practical level it is not always so.
Behind every expression of love, there will always be some dose of selfishness lurking. Perhaps only in one human relationship – the relationship between a mother and her little child, the love may be closest to purity. It is so because, there is a divine dispensation behind it. This mother’s love on her little kid seems to be pre-programmed by the Higher Power for the continuation of progeny in the earth; it is the reality in animal kingdom too. Mother animals carry their intense love on their little ones through instinct. To a large extent, such an instinctive feeling of love exists in human mothers too which transcends any scientific analysis.
But, in the present times, it is a fact that even this motherly natural love is also is also getting a beating. Now a days, children are born out of mere sexual union without the sanctity or commitment of marriage; Children are born out of live-in relationships; Children are born out of deteriorating husband-wife relationships ending up in divorces; children are born out of serial monogamy (i.e. a woman bearing children of different males out of different wedlock done one divorce after another). As a consequence, the natural love that a mother has on her children has definitely deteriorated.
Even when there is a pure love existing between the mother and her young child, the purity gradually deteriorates as the child grows up to a man/ woman. Parents start expecting several things from their children – obedience, respect, help in family chores, monetary help, heeding to their advice regarding finding a partner for marriage, the monetary expectations (in receiving or in avoiding to spend) behind conducting son’s/ daughter’s marriage, obedience, respect from daughter-in-law, the need to take care of them at their old age, the need to conduct the rituals post their death – the list goes on this is how the once-pure parental love gradually changes colors towards a personal, selfish agenda.
Selfishness and love
Mostly, the selfish motive behind love gets smartly camouflaged. The giver of love may hide and underplay the selfish motive. The receiver of love too, out of love towards the giver, may overlook the play of selfishness behind the giver out of gratitude. Example: A father wants to construct a house and he wants his son to apply loans and assist him financially. He says to the son: “To possess my own house is my dream; unfortunately, I could not do it because I had to ensure getting your sister married off and to educate you decently. I have done my duty. But with my present financial status, I cannot buy my dream house with my savings alone. I want you to help”. The son, out of gratitude to his father, willingly gets into a debt trap so as to help his father realize his dream. Interestingly, the son too may hold a hidden selfish motive –‘In future, this property or a portion of it will anyway come to me’.
In the above case, the father’s selfish interest is obvious, but is hidden behind sentiments. The father does not think ‘I would not like to put my son into a debt trap at this young age just because of my selfish motive to fulfil my dream”.
Likewise, if we analyze threadbare keeping sentiments aside, we can locate some selfish motive (small or big) lurking behind every act or expression of love in most of our relationships.
That’s why, Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) says: “We love others because they give us happiness or fulfil our desires; obeying, respecting, or having high opinion about us. Otherwise, we do not love them. When somebody hates us, revenge often takes the place of love. This is the case with even with those closest to you. If you disobey or disrespect them, you may not love them. Where there is real love, there is no selfishness. We must be able to love without expecting anything from anyone”
Ego and love
“Whom do you love the most?”
If you pose this question to people, most of them will tell the name or a relation that they believe to love dearest. But it is a wrong answer. The unshakable truth of our existence in this world is that all of us love ourselves dearest first and then only any other person or thing.
This self-love as such is natural and fundamentally it is not wrong. It is natural because we are all self (Atman) in essence, but we have forgotten it.
When someone says ‘I love myself’, he does not refer to his atman which is the source of pure unadulterated love; what he means is he loves his own personality – his ego. All of us have different degrees of egoism in us, some very strong, some moderate, some subtle, but nevertheless the ego is very much there. This ego wants us to be selfish, self-centered, receive appreciation and pampering, garner importance, ensure one-upmanship and so on.
Another face of ego is sensitivity. Some people may look meek, non-assertive, soft-spoken and so on, but they may be extremely sensitive to criticism, censure, sarcastic comments and so on. They will behave like touch-me-not if they are hurt even a little. Sensitivity is nothing but subtle, but strong, hidden ego.
Love and Hate
Ordinary love is just like one side of a coin. The other side of the coin is hate. When the coin is flipped and ‘love side’ goes under, the other side – hate gets exposed.
The greatest truth about love is that it will flourish well as long as ego or sensitivity is not hurt. The moment the ego is hurt, the coin flips! The other side – hate becomes visible. When our selfish interest is not met, love reverses. When we fail to receive appreciation, pampering etc or when our self-importance or one-upmanship is denied, the love reverses.
The swing from love to hate may be slow and graduated in some people and very fast in some people. Normally, women, being essentially very emotional, swing from love to hate very quickly without any intermediate stops. It is also observed that a woman can hate a person as intensely as her erstwhile love.
Reversing the hate back to love is also possible when the hurt ego is pampered. A genuine apology, a corrective action of mistake done can pave the way for the reversal.
Amma Mata Amritanandamayi says “The difficulty is not in expressing love, but in letting go of the ego. Love is our true nature. It is already present within us, but we are held back by our individual boundaries. We have to outgrow our individuality (ego) in order to merge into universal love. The ego stands in the way of love. Once removed, it flows like a river.”
Time is also a great healer. This can be seen particularly in blood relationships. Any hurt caused in the past leading to a crack in love gets healed over time and people come back to revive relationships. That’s why it is said that the blood is thicker than water.
Love and possessiveness
Ahankaram (Ego) and mamakaram (possessiveness) are like twins. Our love is mostly available for consumption within our own limited circle — covered within the boundary ‘mine’ (possessiveness). If true love transcending limited boundaries can be called (with upper case L) “Love”, the ordinary love we see within limits is just ‘love’ with a lower case ‘l’.
Amma says: “There is ‘love’ and “Love”. You love your family: Your father, mother, sister, brother, husband, wife etc., but you do not love your neighbor. You love your son or daughter but you do not love all children. You love your religion, but do not love all religions. Likewise, you love your country, but do not love all countries. Hence this is not “Love”. It is only ‘love’. Transformation of this ‘love’ to “Love” is the goal of spirituality.”
Love in Man-woman relationship – Love-Romance-Lust
The very sustenance of life in earth depends on the factor of love between man and woman. May be as a consequence, this love is the most basic, emotion laden, complicated, joyful, painful and stressful. It has the widest scope of expression — from the meanest to the divine.
In Sanatana dharma, considerable priority and importance has been given to the man-woman relationship, clearly specifying the scope, purpose, boundaries and dharma associated with it. Man and woman leading a life of mutual love and togetherness in proper wedlock, with the aim of spiritual advancement together, begetting worthy and responsible children for continuation of progeny and contributing to the welfare of the society – that is the core purpose married life and such an ideal life is a dharma by itself – Grihasthasrama dharma – The righteous way of living a family life. Sexual energy, instead of getting uncontrollably dissipated in lustful, unbridled way of living, is channelized and streamlined. Proper control of passions, self-discipline and restraint with the twin goals of spiritual progress and social welfare – that is the hallmark of Grihastasrama dharma of Hinduism.
Triangular Theory of Love
Even from the point of view of modern Psychology, the love between man and woman is still set within the conventional scope of good marital life and bonding.
One of the most popular and widely acclaimed theory on love in man-woman relationship is Triangular Theory of Love, conceived and elaborated by Dr. Robert Sternberg (born December 8, 1949), American psychologist and a Professor of Human Development at Cornell University.
His theory is depicted in the form of a triangle in which the three faces are Romantic love, companionate love and Fatuous love. Its 3 corners are passion, intimacy and commitment. A love is consummated in full satisfaction only when all the 3 ingredients – passion, intimacy and commitment are present. See picture below:
When a man/woman gets attracted to the other with passion only (without intimacy and commitment), it is just infatuation.
If in a man-woman relationship there is intimacy but no passion (sexual attraction) or commitment (for marriage or long term togetherness), it is just liking or friendship.
If there is only commitment in relationship without passion or intimacy, it is empty love. Such a thing is possible in arranged marriages, but intimacy and passion may develop subsequently.
Only when lines exist connecting these corners, the triangle of love is complete.
A romantic love (as one side of the triangle) exists when passion and intimacy are present. In a romantic love, commitment is yet to come. For the romance to end in marriage, commitment is essential.
A companionate love (as the second side of the triangle) exists when intimacy and commitment are present. In this love, romance is yet to come. Only when romance gets added to this relationship, there is color and spice in the married life.
In fatuous love (as the third side of the triangle) passion and commitment are present. Loving at first sight and getting married quickly fits into this form of love. Here there is no romance or a prolonged courtship. If romance is also added, then the love-life is wholesomely consummated.
Ideally when all the three faces of the triangle are present, it is a successfully consummated marriage.
Love equations that end in disappointment
- Lust: When the attraction to the person of opposite sex is purely physical with the overt or covert intention of having just a sexual relationship for enjoyment, it is lust. It is fired by passion. If at all romanticism is added, it is more as a ploy to woo the opposite sex. Commitment to a long time relationship will be very elusive.
If the motive of one of the partners is just to satiate the lust whereas the other partner mistakes it for genuine love hoping it to end in a marriage, then the relationship heads towards an ugly end as and when the moment of realization of truth dawns.
- Romance: When the attraction to the person of opposite sex is based on passion (where lust is not too obvious or blatant but very much exists hidden) and one finds joy in the company of the other person even without a sexual relationship. Both attraction and intimacy are strongly present in a romantic relationship.
In a romantic relationship, both the partners will behave their best to keep the mutual attraction and the joy of company alive and vibrant. It also means any dark, unpleasant or ugly side of their personalities or behaviors will be very skillfully hidden. Even if such things get revealed now and then, the other partner may not notice it and register it but opt to ignore it or sideline it as long as the romanticism is burning.
When romanticism is all alluring, at least one of the partners may tend to delay the commitment. It is because people have an inherent inkling in them that most of the charm of the romantic love will fade away once the relationship gets committed to a marital bond!
In romantic love too, when the commitment part of the love becomes elusive, then the relationship starts drifting towards disappointment.
What is true love and where is true love in man-woman relationship?
Since love or attraction (be it infatuation, lust or romance) between man and woman is extremely emotional and has the undercurrent of sexual intent behind it, human mind creates all sorts pretences to generate an image that the love indeed it “true love”. The coining of the phrase ‘true love’ itself is an indication about the common existence of ‘untrue love’!
Swayed by emotions and sentiments, if we are developing mere attachment to someone, it is not love. Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) says: “ ‘Am I really in love or am I too attached?’ Contemplate on this question as deeply as you can. Most people are craving for attachment, not real love. In a way, we are betraying ourselves. We mistake attachment for love. Love is the centre and attachment is the periphery. Aim for the centre”.
Suggested additional reading: Reading and discussions on an additional document provided herewith (see at the bottom: What is true love, where is true love?) may be helpful for youngsters to grasp very practically how our minds caught by emotions can hoodwink us into justifying our own failings in understanding what is love.
Lack of Love
The source of all love is divine. Amma says “Love is the foundation of life, but consciously or unconsciously we forget this truth. When we do not express love in our words and actions, it is like honey trapped in a rock — it is of no use to anyone. When families are able to express love with each other, peace and harmony will prevail in the home and society”.
Every being receives its essential doze of love right from birth from the mother first. In a family where cordial love exists amidst its members, the child, as it grows, gets love from father, siblings, grandparents and other relatives. The home is the birth place of love and the fertile soil of love for growth.
Conversely, when a child born in an atmosphere where love is lacking, and is brought up in a home where exchange of love is in short supply, the child grows with lots of psychological issues. Many of the emotional problems in the adulthood where this longing of love or absence of love gets expressed in myriad ways in man-woman relationship can be traced back to lack of love in childhood. That’s why Amma says: “Only those who have received love can give love. Hearts of such people who have never received love will always be closed. They will neither be able to receive love or give love. It is very important for parents to give love to the young”.
That’s why Grihasthashrama (Family life) is a dharma in Hinduism
A child born and brought up with proper love and care in a family is a wealth for the future generation. In Hinduism, continuation of progeny and having children of worthy qualities for the welfare of future generations was considered as an essential dharma of worldly life.
If this dharma has to sustain, there are several things that need sustenance in the social fabric:
- Respect, belief and commitment to the institution of marriage
- A marital relationship is not just for releasing animal passions
- A marital relationship is a lifelong commitment. Man and woman have to essentially agree and live to a committed life of togetherness for life based on mutual love, trust, respect and companionship.
- There is nothing like live-in relationships. Divorce is an anathema.
- Women were expected to be housewifes predominantly because child rearing was considered as the prime responsibility, more than any financial or other considerations
- In order to ensure the purity of mother’s love, a woman getting remarried after an untimely death of husband was highly discouraged by the society.
Despite the onslaught of western culture in India, we are still able to see quite a lot of family bond amidst Indians. Divorces and remarriages are not still fully accepted in in Hindu culture.
Loving God – Bhakti
All said and done on love, the obvious ground reality is that love between human beings gets tainted in some way or other by egoism and selfishness. When a man longs for pure love — a love where the giver of love simply gives without any expectation in return — he understands that only the creator can give such a love. The creator has given us sunlight to see, the air to breathe, the earth to live, the trees and plants to give us food, rain for our drinking water and so on. Man feels he is indebted to the creator for giving us everything without any expectations. This indebtedness makes him love the giver. He is also sure that God being omnipresent and omnipotent can give him all that he needs by sincerely praying to Him.
Such a trust and faith becomes the basis of love on God which is called devotion — Bhakti. Love on God at the initial levels may be based on expectations from God. We want money, wealth, comforts, position and power in life and believe we will be happy if we get all these in good measure. We pray to God lovingly for blessing us with all these. We face difficulties, suffering and worries in life. We want God to remove them all. We lovingly pray to him for support.
As our love and relationship with God gets deeper, our understanding about God also get refined. Based on our experiences, we grasp that God in any case is always taking care of us irrespective of our praying him or otherwise. We also gradually understand that God is not freely giving us whatever we pray and ask for; sometimes he gives; sometimes he does not give; sometimes he gives something that we do not want. But over time, we analyse, experience and understand that whatever he has given or not given have all been for our good only. We grasp that we are limited in our own understanding of what is good for us or what is bad for us, whereas God knows only what is good for us and he arranges everything accordingly — by giving or by denying.
The more we grasp this fact, then our ‘love with agenda’ on God comes to an end. We don’t find the need to pray to him. Our love on him too starts reflecting his love on us — unconditional. We start loving God for love sake. Such a deep love on God is called “Prema Bhakti”. A devotee gripped by prema bhakti forgets everything; he has no care for his own body, its needs or comforts. He wants love of God for love sake. He wants to become love. He wants to merge in God. He melts in God and becomes ultimately God himself.
This the the story of evolution of the unadulterated pure love of the divine. We have several examples of such great personalities who demonstrated the path of pure Bhakti to attain Godhood. We have had great saints and Avatars like Bhakta Meera, Sri Gouranga, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ma Anandamayi, Papa Ramdas and Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) in this great land of Bharat.
Amma says: “There are three expressions of love that awaken us from within: love for oneself; love for god and love for the entire creation. Love for oneself does not mean the self-centered love of the ego. it means to love life, to see both the successes and failures in our human birth as God’s blessing, while loving the divine power inherent within us. This grows to become love for God. If these two components are present, then the love for the entire creation will manifest naturally.”
Sharing Pure Love
it is no wonder that Avatara Purushas and Mahatmas carry this divine love with them for unconditional distribution to others. Their source of love is unlimited because it is divine.
It is this pure, divine love that attracts people who are emotionally suffering in their loveless lives, to mahatma’s like Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi). Why a dark skinned, rustic woman from a remote and unknown fishermen’s hamlet in the faraway state of Kerala in India is so much sought after by white skinned, educated elite of the west?
Because they have lost love in their lives. A vast majority of them have been born and brought up in an atmosphere where lust is essentially mistaken for love; brazen selfishness with very poor faith in the sanctity of marriage is the norm of life; The mindset for give and take or for any sacrifice for the sake of the other person has been missing among the majority. Life in the west gradually has turned to become filled with ‘beggers of love expecting other beggars of love to feed them with love’. When they encounter a person like Amma where every nerve of her is bent upon giving, giving and more giving, caring, sharing and absorbing others’ woes and worries, they get floored! Their long and unsatiated thirst for love atlast finds a spring of love rising and flowing for everyone to come and take.
And this love elevates the receiver from evolving from the clutches of selfishness. From a beggar of love the seeker evolves to a lover of God.