THE NATURE OF LOVE
If we have observed the nature of love, we might have noticed that love has a tendency, a nature, a peculiar characteristic: it wants to expand and constantly so. It does not want to stop. It needs to grow unlimitedly. We see this, for example, in relationships between people. If love becomes stagnant, issues in the relationship begin. This happens because the progress of love has been obstructed.
WHY DOES LOVE NEED TO EXPAND?
Why does love expand? Because love is all-encompassing by its very nature. If love encompasses anything short of everything, it is not exactly love. It could be called love and many call it so, but it is an incomplete love. Incomplete love is not what love really is. For this reason, love has the tendency to constantly grow and expand. The moment you limit its expansion, the love begins to leave you.
GRADATION OF LOVE
One of the points made in Symposium, a work by Plato, is that there are different types of love. For example, Plato wrote: “The vulgar love of the body, which takes wing and flies away when the bloom of youth is over, is disgraceful, and so is the interested love of power or wealth.”
Throughout history many have come to conclude that love is not one, singular thing and that to merge it all together is to be naive about the nature of love. To the extent love does not encompass the totality of existence, to that extent it is something other than love. To distinguish love from its incomplete manifestations, different traditions have used varied terms. In Christian theology, for example, the complete love is addressed as agape, a word that describes a spiritual experience, specifically distinguished from erotic love or emotional affection for example. The word agape is a Greek word that is often translated as “selfless love” or “unconditional love.”
In the bhakti-yoga tradition we can find terms such as kama and prema. Kama refers to selfish interest in something or someone and is often translated as lust. Prema, on the other hand, refers to divine love. Some symptoms of such love are:
(a) It removes all material distress.
(b) It is all-good. It makes one be good to all, not only to those who one may be attracted to or to those who he can extract something from.
(c) If it comes to it, it makes one renounce even one’s own well-being in favor of the beloved.
This type of love is said to be the most valuable achievement and a rare commodity. So, unless and until, somehow or other, our love encompasses everything, we are definitely going to fail at love.
WATERING THE ROOT
The next question is, how in the world do you include everything in your love? We can hardly be conscious of everything, let alone love everything. Loving everything is very difficult. This is the point that brings a lot of love seekers to the spiritual realm. When addressing this question, the Srimad Bhagavatam gives an example of a tree and a gardener. By watering the root of the tree, one gives nourishment to the whole tree. If one tries to water each leaf independently, one would have a hard time accomplishing the task due to the usually great number of leaves. Even if one were to somehow manage to water each leaf individually, the tree would not be nourished.
To detect the root of the whole existence, the tree of the world, and to water it is the intention of many spiritual traditions. People have throughout history used the word God to indicate different concepts. In the tradition of bhakti-yoga, God is the root of all existence. Therefore, prema or divine love can be recognized by its awesomeness, and it is a measure of spiritual advancement.
A symptom of a genuine spiritual advancement is that one’s love grows equally everywhere. Such a person would not love their boyfriend or girlfriend and roast a chicken. That kind of discrimination is obviously indicative of incomplete love.
Another symptom of genuine spiritual advancement is given in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, the topic of which is meditation. There it is stated that one who has actually found the root of all existence and is watering it, will have his or her consciousness transcend the boundaries of selfishness. Selfishness tends to manifest as concentrated or extended. When concentrated, selfishness does not allow such person’s concerns to extend beyond their own physical body. Extended selfishness will help one have concerns for beings and things beyond themselves, but it will continue to keep that person in the center of the selfish experience. Such a person may have concerns for his own family or nation, but only because that family and that nation are his family and nation. Concerns of such a person will not include other families of nations and will certainly favor his own over others’. Concentrated or extended selfishness is selfishness and it is a symptom of one who is not watering the root, but leaves.
The bhakti-yoga tradition conceives of God as the root of everything. Loving God is the way of having that love distributed everywhere equally, symptom of which is non-sectarian love and service.