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Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Human Love: Delusion or Stairway to Heaven?
No subject is more fraught with complexity and variables than that of human love. Human love ranges from its misuse to describe lust all the way to the most sublime of human feelings culminating even in the willingness to give one's life for another: and, a lot in between. It knows no end of unique expression and defies any and all definition.
Lest I be forced to write a book (and, I promise you, I will never wrote a book on this subject), I am going to honor my anniversary and focus on human love in its traditional form between a man and woman in marriage. It's my right to do so and it's just easier than to make constant alternative and inclusive pronoun and noun references. So my readers who are touchy on this subject of gender and preference, well, give me some scope. All you have to do is substitute your own gender preferences and I don't think you will see any difference.
What characterizes human love above all else is that of a compelling and a specific kind of attraction between two people. This attraction is not that of creative collaborators such as at a workplace but is personal and contains a spark of polarization that might as well be simply described as sexual. I use this term, sexual, both in its obvious and traditional sense but also with the understanding that its presence does not require that its physical form of expression is uppermost or has a special emphasis between two such people. It's the "spark" that we see between two people that flames into a long-term and committed relationship and includes some element of sexuality, even if just in the beginning. Call it "chemistry." I say this so that we know we are not talking about a platonic relationship or that better described as friendship.
The question for the moment is whether this spark of attraction is, from the spiritual point of view of the soul, merely delusional or whether it can be a steppingstone to divine love. Not surprisingly the answer to this is, "It depends."
It truly surprises me how difficult it is for human beings to love each other beyond the narrow confines of their selfish needs and attachments. Ok, so you say "Why does THAT surprise you?" Well, perhaps I am, underneath my logical exterior, so to speak, a sentimentalist at heart. Or, not. It's just that I encounter so many otherwise lovable people who seem incapable of loving in return and far from happy in that fact. I may lack many needful virtues but the inability to love another person (appropriately or otherwise) is not one of them.
There are two kinds of people: those who seek love and those who don't! Ha, ha, I fooled you. You thought I was about to say something profound, huh?
I will wax personal and impersonal as the keystrokes here demand of me. Personally, my life's outer activities have been merely a canvas on which to paint the hidden themes of my life. And, human love is certainly one of those themes. In high school, I fell love with my "high school sweetheart" (how out-of-date a phrase, eh?) but it didn't last. The more intensely I felt attracted to her, the more she withdrew emotionally. She was, in my view (no longer culturally correct, I suppose) at least at the time, the quintessentially irrational female who while maddeningly attractive remains uncommunicative, moody, and beyond all understanding and reason. As my own spiritual yearnings grew, she withdrew even more. It was time to leave and so I simply left. To this day, I do not know what she wanted or why she seemed unhappy. But I vowed from that day never to be fooled by a pretty face or figure but to seek a friend and a partner with whom I could speak with reason and intellect and with whom I could share my own (gradually emerging) higher ideals. In that resolve, I am content to say Divine Mother answered my prayer "an hundredfold."
My point in disclosing the above is to illustrate, even if you don't resonate with my stereotyping description, the conundrum between the outer attraction and the inner resonance between two people. It goes without saying that superficial attraction is dangerously misleading to one's higher Self. Yet, how many marriages begin with but a merely outward basis and yet can evolve and turn into something deeply harmonious and respectful? That's the rub isn't it? You can never really be sure until, well, it becomes obvious.
For example, in old-fashioned views on marriage, a young woman might yield to the forbidden fruit of pre-marital temptations in the hope that by so yielding she would catch "her man." And, sometimes at least, I am sure she did. But how many such liaisons produced the fruit of marital harmony? Few, I would guess.
How many men, in the former times, wanted to seduce a woman only to find, having done so, having fallen in love. (Though more likely not and being, instead, left empty, angry and troubled.)
The merry-go-round goes 'round endlessly, doesn't it? Even today's modern hook-up without hang-up culture is mostly a pretense and a gateway to risk, hurt and harm. Sex never satisfies, as an end in itself. Eventually, it shows its inadequacies and falsehood in a million different ways. How many divorced couples once boasted of having great sex! Ditto for romance as romance for its own sake.
Sex and romance are simply variations on a theme: the theme being the fleeting satisfaction of intense emotions, the pleasure of indulging in mere fantasy, and sensory stimulation, none of which can last very long and both of which produce the fruit of their opposites: boredom, disgust, moodiness, lethargy, and the longer-term effects of dissipation (mental, emotional and/or physical).
(Lest you feel in these words a bludgeon of condemnation, let us admit that sex and romance have their place in the grand scheme of things and, whether they do or not, they unmistakably "make the world go 'round." It is better to deal plainly and clearly with forces that are far greater than the mental virtue of the merely conscious mind. When either sex or romance are divorced from a deeper, soul resonance between people and become ends in themselves, this is when we eventually suffer.)
Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," describes in a book of stories (collected and edited by my teacher, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda) called "Conversations with Yogananda," how American culture differs from Indian culture (at least during his lifetime). He said that in India where the parents choose a marriage partner for their child divorce is uncommon and marriages tend to be stable and generally more harmonious. In America he experienced the turmoil and tumult of rising divorce rates and marriages based on nothing more, as he wryly put it, than "a pretty shade of lipstick and a bowtie."
Yet, he concluded that in this culture we could find out more quickly the innate shortcomings of human love as a solution to our search for happiness. He didn't, in other words, slam the door in our face, decrying our western superficiality and fickleness (both of which he also acknowledged). Yet, he taught that "loyalty is the first law of God." That's a bit heavy sounding for my likes, but by this he refers to the need to stick to what one commits as the necessary prerequisite to success in all human endeavors.
In the arena of human love, we find that it is natural to "date" and "shop around" when one is young (or available) but if this phase goes on for a decade or two, one's friends will begin to wonder whether that friend is capable of "settling down." So, we intuitively know that life invites, indeed, demands, a commitment of creative energies. "Be fruitful and multiply" as the Old Testament commands. (I am not limiting to this to having children, but to getting "engaged" with life.)
So, now, which is it: delusion or doorway? I already told you: "It depends."
My marriage to Padma was born in the clear light of spiritual idealism in the shared commitment to the practice of meditation, to discipleship to Paramhansa Yogananda, to the guidance of Swami Kriyananda, and to a lifetime of community living at Ananda. That doesn't and didn't substitute for the attraction we felt to one another. It was a both-and. The one, immediate and compelling, found its directional expression in the form of the other. In this, I have to say we embodied a perfect balance and it has borne much fruit, in all and in many ways: from our wonderful children to our friendship and service to and with Swami Kriyananda, the countless friendships with fellow devotees around the world, and a gradually expansion of consciousness in wisdom, clarity, and true, impersonal love.
But a marriage with such high ideals holds aloft a bar that is ever out-of-reach and which, therefore, too often eludes one's reaching grasp. The result is too easily and too often a stumbling from that height where a fall can hurt. There's no easy path to enlightenment and we've been greatly blessed in having every spiritual advantage in this regard (with the possible exception of not having present and in the body our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda).
As I look around and view fellow devotees who are unmarried and ask myself: which is the easier path, I see that the unmarried devotee has the freedom to focus one-pointedly on meditation and service while we marrieds are constantly having to also please and relate, compromisingly, to our partner's needs and demands. But I perceive that the unmarrieds indulge readily in their likes and dislikes of others, shutting their door naturally and easily upon the world when others and life itself displeases them. Behind our doors, we must continue to live our path: there is no relaxation of intensity unless a couple agrees to do so. In the latter case, the fall can be quick and deep if one is not careful.
Swami Kriyananda was definitely not starry eyed on the subject of marital bliss. Yogananda taught that those who are compelled by desire to marry must find, over time and repeated forays and incarnations, the inadequacy of human love to satisfy the soul's memory of perfect, infinite love. Nonetheless, the great guru Lahiri Mahasaya, disciple of the peerless Babaji, was married and had at least four children. Yogananda's most advanced disciples all had been, at one time or another, married. So also, the gyanavatar, Swami Sri Yukteswar, the proxy guru of Yogananda.
In this new age of expanding awareness, Yogananda and Kriyananda have taught us that marriage is not forbidden to or necessarily a bar to those seeking enlightenment. The Divine Will and guiding hand of Spirit invites us to bring "Spirit to work and home." It is time to infuse human life with grace, harmony and wisdom. The rise of women in society is, no less, an indication of the need to achieve balance in society and in marriage.
Couples dedicated to high ideals both in their service outwardly in the world but also to the high ideals of respect for one another are needed to serve as wayshowers for a new society. Instead of men and women at war with each other, using and abusing each other in co-dependent relationships, what is needed for both individual spiritual growth and the harmony of society at large are couples who are strong in themselves, centered in themselves (not self-centered!), and respectful of each other.
The sexual attraction between two people is here to stay. It's a question, rather, of how strongly such attraction rules relationships, for how long it governs the relationship, and how far down the scale of priority and attachment it goes. The more conscious elements of society are raising children to be self-aware and self-respecting: of themselves and their bodies, and of others. This is a good though tiny trend. The Ananda Living Wisdom Schools are a part of this important trend.
To know that the compelling force of attraction can be either a gateway to hell (harmful emotions, destructive habits, disease, suffering, etc.) or a doorway to greater happiness is a function of intuition (and karma). Children raised in calm, nurturing and wholesome environments will stand a better chance of "knowing" and distinguishing truth from glamor.
Before marrying, I asked Swami Kriyananda's blessing and permission. No one wants to return to arranged marriages, but blessed marriages are those that seek and obtain the support of friends, family, and, most of all, the wise. This is the happy blend between the risk and compelling power of love-marriages and the wisdom but potential for lifelessness in arranged marriages. In the Ananda Communities (nine throughout the world), we encourage prospective couples to seek counsel, blessing, and support from like-minded and wisdom-guided gurubhais.
Life is what we make of it, no doubt. Marriage is here to stay, despite society's permission for ignoring its outer forms. No longer is one compelled to marry by sexual desire . Loyalty, too, means commitment and while one can never know where the path of life will lead, the sincere effort to walk it with harmony and with wisdom is all that one can aspire to do. Marriage embodies this principle of loyalty. A ceremony is but an affirmation seeking divine and human blessings. It is not a guarantee.
Swami Kriyananda was married for a few years. His marriage ennobled the fledgling householder community of Ananda Village in the '80's. But as he later admitted, he was not cut out for marriage and a time came when it ended. Ananda couples, as others throughout the world, sincerely strive to have a spiritual marriage without suppressing its complete, human nature. Led by conscious intention and prayerful aspiration, marriage, for all of its shortcomings and challenges, can help us grow spiritually. That a conscious marriage will tend to cure us of false notions of marital bliss should be expected but not decried. We must learn that true happiness and perfect love cannot be limited by human, or any, outer form.
Happy Anniversary with many more to come!
Swami Hrimananda! :-)
P.S. Having taken our vows in the Nayaswami Order, ours is now a celibate marriage. As the fact of our children can attest, it wasn't always so!