At any vaguely new-age or hippy gathering of yoga, tantra or meditation practitioners variations on a broad statement can be heard,
Love is the answer to the world's problems and the true religion.
Similar to the platitude, “we are all one”, I feel a sense of truth in the declaration and yet find the sentiment somewhat lacking in something real to grasp hold of.
Love, as a word, is a rather nuanced and multifaceted piece of terminology, so what kind of love are we talking about?
It surely is not romantic love, with the unbalanced, conditional grasping and attachment that brings, although maybe this is the starting point towards a glimpse of something more universal.
I recently had an experience where I found myself in an old pattern I thought I had left long behind and it left me feeling disconnected, sad and unworthy for a couple of days. I developed a crush on a friend and somehow projected my feelings onto her actions. Reading into our time together there arose a strong desire to possess in some way, this despite her freedom and unconventionality being one of the main attractions for me. Although this felt like more than just a base lust, being born for me from a deep connection, my desire was not coming from an entirely pure intention.
The rejection brought back memories of previously unbalanced relationships and this pattern which I had not experienced for over five years. Reflecting on this, it seems there are few truly balanced examples of romantic love, there is usually some sort of agenda, subconscious or otherwise.
Love of friends is a worthy aspect to countenance if it remains unshackled from the burdens of sexuality and the jealousies that arise from the stirrings of this most powerful energy. There is more of a purity to love in friendship but even here something is missing.
Filial love, the connection between the parent to their child, has an unconditional nature but is still shackled by attachment and bias.
Buddhism looks at four aspects of love.
- The first is Loving-Kindness, offering the gift of happiness by treating each other in a kind way.
- The second is Compassion or the ability to recognise and understand the other's suffering and be able to help transform it.
- The third is Joy as a reflection in each other—when I am joyful so is my partner. A ‘love’ that manifests suffering through arguments and upset or an unbalanced grasping is not a true love.
- The final aspect is Inclusiveness, recognising a partner's suffering is also yours and vice versa. With this understanding there is no separation or barrier. This Great Love can grow without boundary to include more people and everything in existence.
In essence, love born out of ego, out of attachment to what the other can offer, or even what I can offer them, if an acknowledgement to validate me is required, is not the answer and is not the true religion. The love that can really start to change the world is something that comes from deep within each and every one of us and which is universal and unconditional in its joy for the success of all others and in its compassion for the suffering of all others.
I experienced this at a recent workshop called Awakening of Love. AOL is a workshop to connect people; and the love in the title is not about a romantic match, it is about connecting to this inner reality, the higher consciousness and recognising the potential we all have within us. That this process comes about through a combination of internalised (but often very physical) meditation practices and group based sharing exercises is an interesting and powerful combination.
As we see reflected in others the same fears, patterns and trauma that seem such a solid part of the human condition they begin to break down and dissolve within ourselves.
Compassion naturally arises in these conditions and when you see others showing compassion equally for your perceived issues, a beautiful circle is formed.
The Tibetan Buddhist ideal of the Bodhisattva I think comes closest to a representation of how this true, pure love can be embodied. Driven by Bodhichitta, (a sense of deep compassion to all sentient beings arising from an acknowledgement of all as interdependent at an extremely subtle level), the Bodhisattva takes all suffering upon himself as a great service and without expecting any reward. It seems an unreachable aim but dropping away from the ‘small I’ of ego and connecting to a higher sense of being is possible and we can start, slowly, to see the world from a different perspective—one in which we are not the just centre of our universe but also the periphery and every other part amongst it.
The controversial Indian sage Osho, who was an influence on the founders of AOL and who draws from Buddhism as well as tantra, saw a repression and place of stuckness in most westerners around sex and suggested it was blocking their route towards enlightenment.
An acceptance of the body and a recognition of its ability to be a conduit for divine energy, is an important part of this work and this is why dancing, singing, and the more dramatic dynamic meditations, where the aim is just to feel back to an animal state, are so important.
Osho used the figure of ‘Zorba the Buddha’ to demonstrate the path of balance between action and inaction, meditation and existence, in the dualistic world.
The guiding principle from all of these teachings is a present moment awareness, whether feeling into the body or dissolving into emptiness.
By being fully open and unhindered by fear of rejection or self-interested motives we can connect to each other from a deep and positive space and allow the universe to flow through us.
Maybe this is the answer and the true religion. Maybe this is what we should see as love.
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—Photo Credit: Flickr/Tavis Ford