Reflections on Love by Contemporary spiritual Jeaders



His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Our innate capacity for empathy is the source of that most precious of all human qualities, which in Tibetan we call nying je. Now while generally translated simply as compassion, the term nyingje has a wealth of meaning that is difficult to convey succinctly, though the ideas it contains are universally understood. It connotes love, affection, kindness, gentleness, generosity of spirit, and warmheartedness. It is also used as a term of both sympathy and of endearment.

Although it is clear from this description that nying je, or love and compassion, is understood as an emotion, it belongs to that category of emotions which have a more developed cognitive component. Some emotions, such as the revulsion we tend to feel at the sight of blood, are basically instinctual. Others, such as fear of poverty, have this more developed cognitive component. We can thus understand nying je in terms of a combination of empathy and reason. We can think of empathy as the characteristic of a very honest person; reason as that of someone who is very practical. When the two are put together, the combination is highly effective. As such, nying je is quite different from those random feelings, like anger and lust, which, far from bringing us happiness, only trouble us and destroy our peace of mind.

When we act out of concern for others, our behavior toward them is automatically positive. This is because we have no room for suspicion when our hearts are filled with love. It is as if an inner door is opened, allowing us to reach out. Having concern for others breaks down the very barriers which inhibit healthy interaction with others. And not only that. When our intentions toward others are good, we find that any feelings of shyness or insecurity we may have are greatly reduced. To the extent that we are able to open this inner door, we experience a sense of liberation from our habitual preoccupation with self. Paradoxically, we find this gives rise to strong feelings of confidence. Thus, if I may give an example from my own experience, I find that whenever I meet new people and have this positive disposition, there is no barrier between us. No matter who or what they are, whether they have blond hair or black hair, or hair dyed green, I feel that I am simply encountering a fellow human being with the same desire to be happy and to avoid suffering as myself. And I find I can speak to them as if they were old friends, even at our first meeting. By keeping in mind that ultimately we are all brothers and sisters, that there is no substantial difference between us, that just as I do, all others share my desire to be happy and to avoid suffering, I can express my feelings as readily as to someone I have known intimately for years. And not just with a few nice words or gestures but really heart to heart, no matter what the language barrier.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama conducts a Kalachakra Initiation in front of 25,000 followers (1992).

His Holiness the Dalai Lama conducts a Kalachakra Initiation in front of 25,000 followers (1992).

We also find that when we act out of concern for others, the peace this creates in our own hearts brings peace to everyone we associate with. We bring peace to the family, peace to our friends, to the workplace, to the community, and so to the world. Why, then, would anyone not wish to develop this quality? Could anything be more sublime than that which brings peace and happiness to all? For my own part, the mere ability we human beings have to sing the praises of love and compassion is a most precious gift.

The world’s major religious traditions each give the development of compassion a key role. Because it is both the source and the result of patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and all good qualities, its importance is considered to extend from the beginning to the end of spiritual practice. But even without a religious per

spective, love and compassion are clearly of fundamental importance to us all. Given our basic premise that ethical conduct consists in not harming others, it follows that we need to take others’ feelings into consideration, the basis for which is our innate capacity for empathy. And as we transform this capacity into love and compassion, through guarding against those factors which obstruct compassion and cultivating those conducive to it, so our practice of ethics improves. This, we find, leads to happiness both for ourselves and others.


Part I

The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History 5____Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved. Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness. . . . Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love—eros—able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur.

… Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex,” has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. . . . Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.

6____Love is indeed “ecstasy,” not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but

rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33), as Jesus says throughout the Gospels (cf. Mt 10:39; 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24; Jn 12:25). In these words, Jesus portrays his own path, which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection: the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in this way bears much fruit. Starting from the depths of his own sacrifice and of the love that reaches fulfillment therein, he also portrays in these words the essence of love and indeed of human life itself.

10. … God’s eros for man is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives. . . So great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.

… God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape. We can thus see how the reception of the Song of Songs in the canon of sacred Scripture was soon explained by the idea that these love songs ultimately describe God’s relation to man and man’s relation to God. Thus the Song of Songs became, both in Christian and Jewish literature, a source of mystical knowledge and experience, an expression of the essence of biblical faith: that man can indeed enter into union with God—his primordial aspiration. But this union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one. As Saint Paul says: “He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Cor 6:17).

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican (April 19, 2005).

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican (April 19, 2005).

Part II

The Practice of Love by the Church as a “Community of Love” 20. Love of neighbour, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level. . . . Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community. The awareness of this responsibility has had a constitutive relevance in the Church from the beginning: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-5). … 25. … The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.[17]

… The Church is God’s family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life. Yet at the same time caritas-agape extends beyond the frontiers of the Church. The parable of the Good Samaritan remains as a standard which imposes universal love towards the needy whom we encounter “by chance” (cf. Lk 10:31), whoever they may be. …

Justice and Charity

26. Since the nineteenth century, an objection has been raised to the Church’s charitable activity, subsequently developed with particular insistence by Marxism: the poor, it is claimed, do not need charity but justice. Works of charity— almsgiving—are in effect a way for the rich to shirk their obligation to work for justice and a means of soothing their consciences, while preserving their own status and robbing the poor of their rights. . . . There is admittedly some truth to this argument, but also much that is mistaken. … The rise of modern industry caused the old social structures to collapse, while the growth of a class of salaried workers provoked radical changes in the fabric of society. . . .

27. … Faced with new situations and issues, Catholic social teaching thus gradually developed, and has now found a comprehensive presentation in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. .. .

28. . . . a) The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. . . . Fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God (cf. Mt 22:21), in other words, the distinction between Church and State, or, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, the autonomy of the temporal sphere.[19] …

b) Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. … There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable.[20] …

29. . . . The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society . . . is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. . . .

The Church’s charitable organizations, on the other hand, constitute an opus proprium, a task agreeable to her, in which she . . . acts as a subject with direct responsibility, doing what corresponds to her nature. . . .

30____Today the means of mass communication have made our planet smaller, rapidly narrowing the distance between different peoples and cultures. This “togetherness” at times gives rise to misunderstandings and tensions, yet our ability to know almost instantly about the needs of others challenges us to share their situation and their difficulties. . . .

On the other hand—and here we see one of the challenging yet also positive sides of the process of globalization—we now have at our disposal numerous means for offering humanitarian assistance to our brothers and sisters in need____

31. … Following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc. The Church’s charitable organizations . . . ought to do everything in their power to provide the resources and above all the personnel needed for this work. . . . [W]hile professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. . . .

. . . Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends.[30] …

34. … Saint Paul, in his hymn to charity (cf. 1 Cor 13), teaches us that it is always more than activity alone: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (v. 3). This hymn must be the Magna Carta of all ecclesial service. … My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift. . . .

42. . . . In the saints one thing becomes clear: those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them. . . .

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 25 December, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, in the year 2005, the first of my Pontificate.


Sufism is a way to God through love. In Iran, the term used by the Sufis for love is ‘Ishq, a word derived from ‘Ashaqah, which is a type of vine. When this vine winds itself around a tree, the tree withers and dies. So too love of the world dries up and turns yellow the tree of the body. But spiritual love withers the root of the self. In the dictionary, ‘Ishq is defined as “excessive love and complete devotion.”

Love (‘Ishq): From the Viewpoint of Islam In the Qur’an, Allah proclaims, “Those who believe have great love for God.” This intensity of love is called ‘Ishq. The Prophet Muhammad has declared, “One who has intense love for God is virtuous in love, and keeps his lovemaking hidden from others; when he dies, he will undoubtedly die a martyr.” In a prophetic tradition (hadith), God says to Muhammad:

Whoever seeks Me, will find Me.

Whoever finds Me, will know Me.

Whoever knows Me, will have love for Me.

Whoever loves Me, will have ‘Ishq for Me.

Whoever has ‘Ishq for Me, I will love.

Whomever I love I will kill, and

Whomever I kill, his blood money will I pay:

I Myself am his blood money.

In a prayer, the Messenger of God, Muhammad, said: “I pray to see Thy Face and I long for Thy sight.” Imam Husain said: “Thou art the one who removes ‘that which is other’ from the hearts of those who love Thee, until in their hearts there is only Thy Love.”

Knowledge and Love The end result of muhabbah (loving-kindness) is ‘Ishq (love). ‘Ishq is the supreme and most fervent kind of love. ‘Ishq is more special and pure than muhabbah, since ‘Ishq is a result of muhabbah, but not all muhabbah leads to ‘Ishq. Muhabbah, however, is on a higher level than gnosis (ma’rifah), since muhabbah arises from gnosis, but not all gnosis leads to muhabbah.

Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh.

Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh.

Instinctive Love, Spiritual Love, and Divine Love In instinctive love, the lover longs for the beloved for his own sake. In spiritual love, the lover longs for the beloved for his own sake, as well as for that of the beloved. In Divine Love, however, the lover longs for the Beloved not for himself, but only for the sake of the Beloved.

As Rumi has said in the Mathnawi:

For those who love Him, He alone is their joy and sorrow.

He alone is their recompense and their reward.

If anything other than the Beloved is seen,

Then that is not Love, it is mere passion.

Love is that flame which when it blazes up,

Consumes all but the Beloved Himself.

Real Love and Temporal Love Temporal love arises from the beauty of transient forms. Like them, it is also transient—its only lasting result being the perpetuation of the species. It is the result of the sublimation and the refinement of sexual desire. Real or Divine Love, however, is a profusion and a rapture from the Absolute Beloved which descends upon the heart of the sincere lover. This lover is like a moth that flutters around the beauty of the candle that is the Absolute, burning away its relative existence in His fire. The lover turns away from himself and perishes, inclines towards Him and becomes alive. When the lover is emptied of himself and becomes nothing, he finds eternal life.

A few Sufi masters have considered Real Love to grow out of temporal love, and indeed it is possible for temporal love to create a vessel for receiving the outpouring of Real Love. In the words of Rumi, “His aim was the form, but through it he finally found God.”

Regarding the difference between Real and temporal love, Rumi says:

Hey! Drink this fine fiery wine, these needles of fire,

And fall so drunk that you will not wake on the Day of Resurrection.

In this godly wine you will find youthful spirit.

In the fire of instinct you will never find such unerring fidelity.

Love in Sufism

Generally speaking, man’s love is the result of God’s Love, Love being one of His attributes. But more precisely, Love is an attribute of the Divine Will, Will being an attribute of the Divine Essence.

When love (‘Ishq) acts on anything that exists, it is called “will,” and the creation of living beings is one of its results. When Love embraces the elect, or those whom God has chosen, it is called “mercy,” and when Love embraces the elect of the elect it is called “bounty.” This bounty is given only to humanity, and it completes the bounties of the Benefactor. As is said in the Qur’an, “I completed my bounty unto you.” This verse refers to that same bounty and favor which is called “Sainthood” (Walayah).

By virtue of this favor, by the attracting force of “He loves them,” God burns away the lover’s existence as lover and brings him to the state of fana (self-having-passed-away). Then, by the illumination which manifests the Divine Attributes of the Beloved, the lover is drawn from the state of fana to the state of baqa (permanence in the Beloved). In this state, the relative existence of the lover has gone and Absolute Existence has become manifest. Here, by the Light of God, Reality can be perceived as it is. This is the meaning of the Prophet’s saying, “O God, show me all things as they really are.”

Ruzbihan has said:

Love is a sword which cuts away the lover’s temporal existence. Love is that perfection which comes from the perfection of the Absolute. When It unites with the lover, he will cease to be a mere slave and will no longer be caught up in the temporal world. Outwardly, he will reveal the Divine Majesty; inwardly he will attain the level of Lordship. It cannot be said that he dies, for death does not hold sway over one who lives by God’s love.

Sufis believe that the foundation of the created world is Love. All motion, activity, and light throughout the entire universe as we know it derive from the rays of Love, and true perfection must be sought in and through Love. Some

Sufis have said, “Love is the totality of all the perfections that are in the essence of an individual. And this entirety can only be an attribute of the Absolute.” For the same reason, ‘Iraqi considered Love to be the Essence of Absolute Oneness.

Mir Husaini Hirawi has said:

Love (‘Ishq) is a shining star in the heaven of Reality.

It is one step above muhabbah.

Faith and unbelief are one and the same to Love.

It craves neither doubt nor certainty.

Love is a diver in the Ocean of the Absolute, its ship is the spirit.

Indeed, Love is the dissolver of all difficulties,

And the polisher of the mirror of the heart.

The Heart and Love The soul encompasses the body; the heart encompasses both the soul and the body; and Love is the ruler of the heart. Some Sufis have said, “The house of the heart must be made empty of everything other than Love so that Love can reside there.” However, this is an intellectual explanation. For Love, when it comes, burns and annihilates everything but the Beloved. Thus, by itself, Love empties the house.

Intellect and Love In discussing Intellect and Love from the point of view of Sufism, what is usually meant by the intellect is reason or the particular intellect. But, in fact, the perfection of Divine Love manifests itself as the Universal Intellect; the perfection of Love is the same as the Universal Intellect.

Reason says, “There can be no more than three dimensions, more are impossible.” Love answers, “The way beyond exists and I have been there many times.”

Rumi says:

What then is Love? The Ocean of Nonexistence;

There the foot of the Intellect is dissolved.

Intellect is always busy doing things, while Love rests, free of all these imaginary activities. Intellect has knowledge and eloquence, while Love is free from both worlds.

Intellect says, “I know the subtleties of wonderful things.” Love says, “Without the Beloved, all your words are just empty breath.”

Mir Husaini Hirawi has written:

Intellect says, “I do useful things.”

Love says, “I risk all.”

Intellect builds, saying, “This is fine here.”

Love burns, saying, “This is contaminated here.”

Intellect laughs, saying, “This is only name and fame.”

Love flies away, saying, “This is only bait and trap.”

Shaikh Najm al-Din Razi, in his topic Intellect and Love, compares Intellect to water and Love to fire. He states:

Intellect travels in the world of being and has the attributes of water. Everywhere it goes, it flows like water and the two worlds flourish. But Love has the attributes of fire, and travels in the World of Non-being. Everywhere it goes, it annihilates; everything it touches is annihilated.

In our view, under certain conditions, the particular intellect or reason, and the love of this world can be like both water and fire. When the mind makes use of positive feelings, what results is an intellect that has the attributes of water. It brings about prosperity. Its investigations and innovations serve humanity.

On the other hand, when the mind acts without regard for positive feelings and rushes into the battlefield of life, what results is a reason that has the attributes of fire, destroying mankind and causing conflict and war.

If, however, these positive feelings harness the mind, what results is a love that has the attributes of water. Wherever it flows, others flourish and the self is emptied. This love serves others selflessly, as a cloud pours life-giving rain onto the field of all creation.

If these positive feelings do not consider the mind or are not able to make use of the mind, and go tearing wildly across the battlefield alone (with only selfish desires), the result is a love that has the attributes of fire. On behalf of the self, such a love burns up everything. In order to achieve its selfish desires, it actually destroys others.

Thus, according to the different states and interactions of the mind and positive feelings, various kinds of love and reason become manifested. In the highest state, when Divine Love obtains the services of the Perfect Mind, True Love appears. The fullness that is experienced then is described in the Qur’an as, “I (God) complete the giving of my riches and blessings to you.”


If we penetrate deeply into all aspects and all areas of life, we will find that hidden behind everything is love. We will discover that love is the force, the power, and inspiration behind every word and every action. This applies to all people, irrespective of race, caste, creed, sect, religion, or of what work people do.

The common expression is “I love you.” But instead of “I love you,” it would be better to say, “I am love—I am the embodiment of pure love.” Remove the I and you, and you will find that there is only love. It is as if love is imprisoned between the I and you. Remove the I and you, for they are unreal; they are self-imposed walls that don’t exist. The gulf between I and you is the ego. When the ego is removed the distance disappears and the I and you also disappear. They merge to become one—and that is love. You lend the I and you their reality. Withdraw your support and they will disappear. Then you will realize, not that “I love you,” but that “I am that all-embracing love.”

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, widely known as Amma the Hugging Saint, spends up to twenty hours a day hugging and speaking with people all over the world.

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, widely known as Amma the Hugging Saint, spends up to twenty hours a day hugging and speaking with people all over the world.

Pure love transcends the body. It is between hearts. It has nothing to do with bodies.

Bhakti is love—loving God, loving your own Self, and loving all beings. The small heart should become bigger and bigger and, eventually, totally expansive. A spark can become a forest fire. So to have only a spark is enough, for the spark is also fire. Keep blowing on it, fanning it. Sooner or later it will burn like a forest fire, sending out long tongues of flame.

Love just happens. Nobody thinks about how to love, or when and where to love. Nobody is rational about love. Rational thought hinders love. Love is a sudden rising in the heart. Love is an unavoidable, unobstructable longing for oneness. There is no logic in this. It is beyond logic. So do not try to be rational about love. It is like trying to give reasons for the river to flow, for the breeze to be cool and gentle, for the moon to glow, for the sky to be expansive, for the ocean to be vast and deep, or for the flower to be fragrant and beautiful. Rationalization kills the beauty and charm of these things. They are to be enjoyed, experienced, loved, and felt. If you rationalize about them, you will miss the beauty and charm and the feelings they evoke. Sit by the seashore. Look at it. Feel its vastness. Feel the rising up and down of the waves. Feel and be amazed at the creation and the creator of such magnificence. What good will it do you to rationalize about the ocean?

When love becomes divine love, compassion also fills the heart. Love is the inner feeling and compassion is its expression. Compassion is expressing your heartfelt concern for someone—for a suffering human being. Therefore, love and compassion are two sides of the same coin; they coexist.

Compassion is Consciousness expressed through your actions and words. Compassion is the art of non-hurting. Compassion cannot hurt. Compassion cannot hurt anyone because compassion is Consciousness manifested. Consciousness cannot hurt anyone. Just as the sky cannot hurt anyone and space cannot hurt anyone, the manifestation of Consciousness, compassion, cannot hurt anyone. One who has compassion can only be compassionate.

Compassion does not see the faults of others. It does not see the weaknesses of people. It makes no distinction between good and bad people. Compassion cannot draw a line between two countries, two faiths, or two religions. Compassion has no ego; thus there is no fear, lust, or passion. Compassion simply forgives and forgets. Compassion is like a passage. Everything passes through it. Nothing can stay there. Compassion is love expressed in all its fullness.

Anyone who has tasted prema bhakti—devotion with supreme love—even for a second, will never waver from it. But such devotion does not arise in everyone.

Fear is completely absent only when love is present in all its fullness. This kind of love is found only in a devotee who has surrendered completely to God. Such a devotee lives in love; he has drowned in the ocean of love. Fully consumed by divine love, his individual existence is lost, for he has merged with the totality of love. He becomes love. He becomes an offering to his Lord. Like a drop of water, which falls into the sea and merges with its vast expanse, the devotee dives into the ocean of bliss as he offers himself to existence. In that state, all fear, all worries, all attachments and sorrows disappear.

The spirit of worldly love is not constant. Its rhythm fluctuates; it comes and goes. The beginning is always beautiful and enthusiastic, but slowly it gets less beautiful and less exciting until it ends up being shallow. In most cases, it ends up finally in upset, hatred, and deep sorrow. Spiritual love is different. The beginning is beautiful and peaceful. Shortly after this peaceful beginning comes the agony of longing. Through the middle period, the agony will continue to grow stronger and stronger, more and more unbearable. Excruciating pain will ensue, and this pain of love will prevail until just before it leads up to unity with the beloved. This unity is beautiful, even more inexpressibly beautiful than the beginning of love. The beauty and peace of this unity in love remains forever and ever.

In the ultimate state of oneness, even if the lover and beloved retain their bodies, that is, even if they exist as two bodies, deep in the depths of their love they are one whole. It is like two banks of the river. The banks are different; they are two as we as we see from the outside, but deep down they are one, one united in the depths. The same is the case with genuine lovers. Though they appear as two persons externally, deep within they are one, united in love.

No one loves anyone more than they love themselves. Behind everyone’s love is a selfish search for their own happiness. When we don’t get the happiness we expect from a friend, our friend becomes our enemy. This is what can be seen in the world. Only God loves us selflessly. And it is only through loving Him that we can love and serve others selflessly.

If we pour water at the root of a tree, it will reach all the branches. But if we pour water on the branches, the tree does not get the benefit, and our effort is wasted. If we love God, it is equal to loving everyone. It benefits everyone, because the same God dwells within everyone. Through loving Him, we love all. Forming bonds only with individuals, however, just leads to sorrow.

Life in the world cannot be an obstacle once God is enshrined in your heart. So bind Him with the rope of love.


According to Jain philosophy, nonviolence, sociability, compassion, and peaceful coexistence are the forms of love par excellence. In the context of worldly affairs, the meaning of the word love is the feeling of attachment to and affection for the body or material objects. A person unites himself or herself with another person only with the thread of love. Without physical love, the institution of family cannot come into existence: the mother cannot care for her child, nor can the organization become strong. There is no doubt that love imposes its sense of unity on what is otherwise perceived as duality.

Yet bodily love often becomes a cause of conflict and malice among people. This kind of love does not belong to the “pure category” but, because it is inevitable for sustenance of life, it falls under the category of mamatva (“mine-ness” or pos-sessiveness). Bhagawan Mahavir classified “possession” into three types: (1.) Love for body; (2.) Love for material objects; (3.) Possession of Karmic Sanskars (imprints of past actions on consciousness).

The first two kinds of love fall into the category of mamatva. There is a concomitance between mamatva and fear. The apprehension that “something wrong may happen to the body” or that “whatever I have may not get lost” generates tension, which continues to lurk over man knowingly or unknowingly. Therefore, in the category of mamatva, love is a mixture of both happiness and suffering.

Spiritual love necessarily implies submission and total absorption of the self into the ideal. There is a wide description about it in the Jain system of meditation and also in the Jain poems composed in the form of eulogy and devotion. The following verse from the Kalyan Mandir (which is one of the most famous eulogistic Jain poems) may be cited as a self-explanatory proof for it—”O Lord! When you are in my heart, all my bondages get shattered, all my problems get solved just as the snakes at once run away from the tree of Sandalwood with the arrival of the peacocks.” One can only feel but cannot describe how much the heart of a devotee is replete with bliss and affection.

No individual with self-consciousness would like to become a peon, slave, or a servant. In the Jain tradition, high esteem is given more importance than humility. High esteem is toward one’s ideal. Humility is an explicit form of love. High esteem is an implicit form of love. An individual with devotion surrenders himself to the ideal by dissolving his ego. There is a natural awakening of the feelings of submission in an individual who has an unshakable faith in his religion or his ideal. Love for religion and love for the ideal are sublime and spiritual. The wider the horizon of affection, the more the development of consciousness, and this ultimately leads to the path of supreme welfare and real truth—Anuragat viragah— detachment is born out of affection. This saying points to this reality. The path of affection born out of worldly attachment leads toward materialism, while pure consciousness is the destination of love that arises from the dissolution of delusion.

Affection born out of delusion creates illusion in human beings. Very often, people give utmost importance only to material objects, wealth, and sexual lust. The affection for religion takes root only when delusion wanes. Although materialistic attachment is inevitable for the sustenance of life, the affection for religion is imperative for truthful life.

One special characteristic has been mentioned for a Shravak (devotee) of Lord Mahavir: Atthiminjapemaanuraagaratta (Bhagavati 2:94), the devotees’ affection for religion penetrates their bones and marrow. For absolute love and total submission, it is imperative that bones and marrow should be saturated with affection. Genuine love becomes deeply cultivated and gets transformed into Sanskar, that is, it is deeply imprinted on the mind. Only love that becomes deeply rooted penetrates the bones and marrow. Just as love born out of worldly attachment may penetrate the bone and marrow, so may spiritual love. One may ask: If love is dominated with worldly attachment, then how can worldly attachment and renunciation be made compatible?

We can trace out the source of compatibility between worldly attachment and renunciation by keeping in view the philosophy of Anekant. Renunciation and attachment both are relative. When there is attachment toward materialism, detachment toward consciousness is created of its own accord. When attachment toward consciousness exists, detachment toward materialism becomes natural.

Love that is defined by bodily attachment generates problems. It can lead a person toward a criminal life. At present crimes of many kinds are increasing due to this lust for physical attachment. On the other hand, spiritual love solves our problems and uplifts our consciousness. Renunciation of worldly attachment and sublimation are Jain practices that help solve the intricate problems caused by attachment to physical pleasure. Sublimation has the potential to bring down the graph of social crimes and open new dimensions for spiritual development.


Man, by nature, is a selfish creature. Even in his relationships with others he tends to focus primarily on himself or, at most, on his self-colored perception of his fellow. Love is the endeavor to transcend this intrinsic selfishness and truly relate to one’s fellow, to be sensitive to and devoted to his/her needs as an individual distinct of oneself and one’s own stake in the relationship.

And yet, when the Torah speaks of the mitzvah (Divine commandment) to “Love your fellow as yourself” it does so in the context of man’s duty to influence, and even change, the behavior and nature of his fellow man. In Leviticus 19:1819), the Torah commands:

Do not hate your brother in your heart; repeatedly rebuke your fellow, and do not attribute sin to him. Do not take revenge, or harbor hatred toward your people, and love your fellow as yourself; I am G-d.

As the commentaries explain, there are two possible reactions a person can have toward a fellow who has wronged him, or whom he sees behaving in a morally deficient manner: (1) He can despise him in his heart, regarding him as a “sinner” and perhaps even persecute him for his “sins”; (2) he can rebuke him in the effort to convince him of the folly of his ways and seek to influence him to change them. The path of love, says the Torah, is not to “hate your brother in your heart” but to “repeatedly rebuke” him and seek to better him.

Obviously, the desire to influence is consistent with the idea of love. No one would stand by as a loved one suffers hunger or is threatened by violence; no less so, if one sees someone he loves suffering from spiritual malnutrition or moral blindness, he will make every effort to reach out to him, to enlighten him, to offer guidance and assistance. But this aspect of loving behavior carries an inherent paradox. On the one hand, the endeavor to influence and change implies a departure from self and concern with the well-being of the other. On the other hand, it implies a seemingly selfish view of the other: a rejection of other as he is and a desire to impose one’s own perception of what is good for him upon him.

Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson. (

Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson. (

An exploration of the history of humanity, as recounted in the Torah, reveals four figures who personified four different points of reference on the relationship between self and fellow.

Each of these individuals was considered the most righteous of his generation. Thus, their lives can be seen to reflect four stages in the spiritual development of humanity—four stages in the movement from an instinctive selfhood toward the complete abnegation of self and self-interest in relating to others.

The first of these four outstanding individuals was Enoch, a great-great-great-great-grandson of Adam. By his time, humanity had abandoned the One G-d of their fathers and had succumbed to idolatry and pagan perversity. Only Enoch still “walked with G-d.”

But Enoch’s righteousness was wholly selfish: he was preoccupied only with the refinement and perfection of his own spiritual self. Not only did Enoch fail to have a lasting impact on his society, but he was ultimately in danger of being influenced by their corrupt behavior.

Several generations later we encounter another righteous man in a corrupt generation: Noah, builder of the ark and regenerator of humanity after the Flood.

Noah is instructed to build an ark so that they may survive the Flood. Our sages relate that Noah worked on the ark’s construction a full one hundred and twenty years; all this time, he called out to his generation to mend its ways and avoid catastrophe.

However, the Zohar criticizes Noah for the fact that, despite his efforts, he did not pray for the salvation of his generation, unlike Abraham and Moses who pleaded with G-d to spare the wicked. Noah’s involvement with others was limited to his sense of what he ought to do for them, as opposed to a true concern for their well-being. His “self” had sufficiently broadened to include the imperative to act for the sake of another, recognizing that the lack of a “social conscience” is a defect in one’s own character; but he fell short of transcending the self to care for others beyond the consideration of his own righteousness.

Ten generations later was born an individual who raised the concept of man’s devotion to the welfare of his neighbor to selfless heights—Abraham, the first Jew. He, too, faced a corrupt and pagan world; indeed, his title, “the Hebrew,” is associated with the fact that “the entire world stood on one side, and he stood on the other.” The selflessness of Abraham’s concern for his fellow is demonstrated by his daring intervention on behalf of the five sinful cities of the Sodom Valley. G-d had decided to destroy these cities for their wicked ways. Abraham petitioned G-d on their behalf, using the strongest terms to demand of G-d that he spare these cities for the sake of the few righteous individuals they might contain. “It behooves You not to do such a thing,” he challenged G-d, “to slay the righteous with the wicked. . . Shall the judge of the universe not act justly?!” Abraham put his own spiritual integrity at risk for the sake of the most corrupt of sinners; he was prepared to incur G-d’s wrath upon himself, giving precedence to their physical lives over his own relationship with the Almighty.

Abraham’s virtue over Noah was that his objective in relating to others lay not in realizing the potential of his social self (as was the case with Noah), but in achieving the desired result: to transform their behavior and character, bringing to light their good and perfect essence. But therein also lies the limitations of Abraham’s love: ultimately, Abraham’s kindness had an ulterior motive. True, it was not a personal motive; true, it was a motive that spells the recipient’s ultimate good and is consistent with the recipient’s true self; but it was an ulterior motive nonetheless.

Such love and concern—for the sake of the potential good that one sees in an-other—is a love that is tainted, however minutely, with selfishness: One is relating to one’s fellow not as one’s fellow sees himself, but with an eye to one’s own vision of him. This allows for a reaction on his part (expressed, unexpressed, or even unconscious) that “You don’t care for me as I am, only for what you wish to make of me. So you don’t really care about me at all.” True, one’s only desire is to reveal the other’s essential self; but this is a deeper, still unrealized, self. One’s love fails to address the other as he now expressly is, focusing instead on one’s knowledge of what he latently is and what he can and ought to make of himself.

In contrast, Moses’ love for his people was utterly selfless. His was an unconditional love, one that is unassuming of what they ought to be or what they are on a deeper, yet unrealized level. He loved them as they were, and did everything in his power to satisfy their needs, both material and spiritual.

When Moses pleaded with G-d on behalf of the worshippers of the Golden Calf, he did not say “forgive them because they will repent” or “forgive them for they carry great potential,” only “forgive them. And if You won’t, erase me from Your Torah.” Either You accept the sinner as he is, or put together a nation and Torah without me.

The effects of Moses’ utterly selfless love are eternal: his guidance and leadership of his people yielded a nation whose endurance and unbroken continuity, to this very day, defies all laws of history.

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