This Thing Called Love



– By Sanjay Gautam –

“I’ve looked at love from both sides now

From give and take, and still somehow

It’s love’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know love at all”

Whether it’s Joni Mitchel’s chartbusting ditty or esoteric philosophical tomes, “What is love?” has been a question for the ages. Love has been dissected, illustrated, reviled and re-imagined. Philosophers have explored its quirks, bookies have calculated its odds, and poets have waxed lyrical, yet this four letter word remains ever-elusive.

While ancient Sanskrit reportedly had ninety-six words for love, it is the Rig Veda that tells a beautiful story about its origins.

Before time began, there was a primal being called Purusha. This celestial being was the soul of all beings and without lust, want, fear, or indeed any impulse to do anything at all. Then the creator Brahma spliced Purusha in two and the sky became separate from the earth, day from night, life from death and male from female. Since then, each of these set off passionately seeking to reunite with their severed half.

As people, we too seek unity, and love is the word we use in that incessant quest.

And the signs of our romantic quest are everywhere: from the millions that seek their soul mate on internet portals to brands that exploit our love affair with love in order to sell everything from lingerie to diamonds. And the cinematic dream merchants that play cupid with predictable fairy tale adventures.

But is it love that we seek or the ephemeral emotional high of “falling in love”? The ancient thinkers of India devoted a great deal of thought to this problem. While they recognized and celebrated the power of erotic romance in the Kamasutra, the important question perhaps always was, “Where do we go from there?” How do we harness the heady power of falling in love to create an ever rising pinnacle of love?

The answer perhaps is “Atma-Prema” or unconditional self-love.

While literally, Atma-prema (Sanskrit: Atma (Self), Prema (Love)) can mean “self-love”, this is not the usual “I, me, myself” version of the self. Atma is the essential self of every individual, the self that exists at the center of us all, the universal soul.

Kabir, the 14th century Indian mystic celebrated this self when he wrote, “the river that flows in you, also flows in me”. So essentially, what this means is that we see ourselves in others and see others in ourselves.

Despite our genetic or cultural heritage, when we love ourselves and others in this profound yet dispassionate way, our love becomes limitless and unconditional.

The universally loved Persian Sufi Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi perhaps best expressed this paradoxical experience:

“I, you, he, she, we

In the garden of mystic lovers, these are not true distinctions.”

You, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. So go ahead and have that eternal love affair with yourself.

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