“The yogi who knows that I and the Supersoul within all creatures are one worships Me and remains always in Me in all circumstances.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.31)
From the time of birth, love is considered the highest emotion, the most important aspect of life on earth. Though finding the right person to direct our love to is difficult enough, what sort of behavior is exhibited by those who are already in a loving relationship? Certainly harboring affection for someone or something else is not difficult, for the Vedas inform us that love is the natural propensity of the individual spirit soul, but how should that affection manifest? What is the behavior of one who has found an outlet for their undying affection? Is there a set behavior, or should we just go off of our emotions? Upon careful analysis, it is seen that all lovers share a common trait, one that, when remembered, can help us understand the real purpose in life.
The speech given by the best man in a modern day marriage ceremony is a difficult one to compose. The best man is usually the closest friend of the groom-to-be, so they are asked to give a speech in honor of the new couple. Since marriage involves romantic love, it is not uncommon to see the best man turn to reading poetry and giving various definitions of romance during the speech. Our humble self, in fact, once attended a wedding where a very nervous best man started his speech with the age old question, “What is love?” Different poets have ascribed different meanings to this most potent of emotions, but a standard definition that most can agree on is that loving someone means wanting more for them than you want for yourself.
In the human society, operating off of base animal instincts equates to selfishness. After all, the animal has no understanding of future loss and gain or the effect that a particular activity will have on the mind. If an animal is hungry, it will eat. If it is tired, it will sleep, and so on. Harboring loving affection for another is considered praiseworthy because it breaks the individual guided by animal instincts away from the mindset of self-interest. Certainly acting in one’s own interests can’t be the source for blame since we have to live with ourselves and our actions at the end of each day. But working in the interests of others not only brings pleasure to the object of service, but to the individual engaged in the unselfish behavior as well. Love in the mundane sense represents the upper limit to unselfishness, the full transfer of emotion and interest to another. When there is pure love, the person offering the love has no personal interest whatsoever.
The untainted unselfish attitude may define how love should feel, but how does one go about showing their affection? Say that we put another entity’s interests ahead of our own, how do we go about offering service? In a business scenario, the exchange of dedicated action is quite straightforward. The business owner has some objective that needs to be met, so the employees take to meeting that goal, all the while expecting remuneration. Love is a little trickier, as there is no set objective. Moreover, how should behavior be altered when the other person loves us just as much? When requited love is present, the object of our affection views our interests as superior to their own. Hence what results is a clash of sentiments, a competition of sorts.
The specific nature of the loving sentiment adds another variable to the equation. For instance, conjugal love is only one variety of pure emotion in service. We love our parents, brothers, sisters, children and friends very much, but these types of affection each has a unique nature. The service we offer to our parents and children is quite different from the service offered to our paramour. With a parent, love takes the form of caretaking and providing for basic necessities, especially when the parents are elderly. There is also filial piety, love in a reverential attitude.
Friendship, on the other hand, is completely different. Among men especially, friendship involves constant ribbing and joke making. You know that someone is your friend if you can make fun of them without feeling bad about it. Certainly such behavior wouldn’t be ideal in a relationship with parents. With brothers and sisters, love is shown through caretaking and the sharing of experiences. Brothers and sisters are also ideal companions for discussing and complaining about the behavior of parents. If you complain about your parents to your friends, they are likely to say something negative. Though we may be making fun of our parents, if someone outside the family should do so, it is taken as a great offense. This limitation of the friendly relationship is absent with brothers and sisters, for our parents are their parents as well.
With children, the caretaking can go to new levels. The mother, for example, kindly offers her breast milk to her children in their infancy. Though the child can mature and eventually learn to feed itself, the love shown by the mother never diminishes. The father is tasked with providing protection and instruction. Such behavior certainly wouldn’t apply to the relationship with parents, for it is actually inappropriate to give instruction to our elders. They took care of us when we were infants, so what knowledge could we ever provide them? Even if we feel we are advanced in terms of understanding, it is still proper etiquette to present oneself as humble and subservient in front of superiors.
Based on this review of the many types of loving relationships, we see that there are different ways to love. In this sense, there is no proper answer to the question of how to love. But there is, however, one common property found in all of these relationships. Though the nature of the interactions may vary, we see that in each case the most important ingredient, the one element that defines the relationship, is the time spent with the object of affection. The mother who loves her child will always spend time with it. Friends make sure to set aside time to hang out, be it for watching a baseball game, going out to a restaurant, or playing a sport. In conjugal love affairs, the time spent together takes on the greatest importance. If a wife has not seen her husband in a long time, she will start to worry, as will the husband. If brothers and sisters spend too much time apart, their emotional closeness can start to dwindle.
Since in a pure loving relationship both parties love each other equally, the actual activities engaged in are minimal in importance. For instance, if I put the interests of my lover ahead of my own, I’ll decide to engage in whatever activity they like. But if the object of my affection feels the same way about me, they’ll want to do whatever I want. Hence we get the classic, “What do you want to do tonight…I don’t know, whatever you want to do…No, I’ll do whatever you want to do…you pick”, exchange. At the end of the day, the time spent in each other’s company is what counts, be it with personal association or at least in thought. The human being is not wholly dedicated to any particular activity, for the greatest pleasure comes from loving service; so if the specific exhibition of love involves a conjugal relationship, going out to a movie, sitting on a couch, or eating out at a restaurant, the most important element is the presence of the object of affection.
A small child is uninhibited in their loving emotions. If they develop a particular attachment to an elder or to a friend, they will not hesitate to let their feelings be known. If travelling with a particular group or dining out at a restaurant, the child will boldly declare, “I’m sitting next to so and so. I don’t want to sit next to anyone else.” Obviously the child cannot engage in any mature relationship, be it one of friendship or direct service to a parent. But nevertheless, the key ingredient of the loving relationship is still present, that of remaining always in the association of one’s object of affection. As long as this property is observed, both parties will be pleased.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the superiority of the loving sentiment is simply a byproduct of the inherent nature of the soul. Though people come in all different shapes and sizes, many of which drastically change over time, every person is equal in their constitutional makeup. This applies even to other species such as fish, reptiles, plants and mammals. Anything that we would consider to be life has a spirit soul inside. The soul, which is both knowledgeable and eternal, is also always blissful. Though it may not seem true, the soul is meant to always be in pure happiness. As we know from our own experiences, the greatest source of pleasure is the exhibition of love, so in a similar manner, the soul’s ultimate source of blissfulness is its display of transcendental affection.
Just as in our own affairs there must be a loving counterpart to give meaning to the pure relationship, the constitutionally situated soul derives its transcendental pleasure from loving that one entity who is capable of providing pleasure to every single soul imaginable. Not surprisingly, this entity is completely spiritual and free of any defects. The supremely powerful spiritual reservoir of energy, ironically enough, resides right next to the individual soul in the hearts of every living entity.
How do we know that the two souls exist adjacent to one another? Though spirit is apparently a subtle element, evidence of its existence is seen through outward symptoms. In the simplest experiment, we can study the differences between a living body and a dead one. Both bodies have similar appearances, except that the dead body is considered lifeless. It can no longer move on its own, nor can it do anything for that matter. The presence of the soul is what causes the distinction between the two body types. The spirit soul, that invisible essence of life, serves as the impetus for all action. In a similar manner, the entire creation, which includes innumerable elements and manifestations of energy, has a driving force to its activity. The giant soul, the same spirit that resides next to the individual soul in the heart, acts as the controller of every type of nature.
“Physical nature is known to be endlessly mutable. The universe is the cosmic form of the Supreme Lord, and I am that Lord represented as the Supersoul, dwelling in the heart of every embodied being.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.4)
The giant soul is known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul. It is a direct copy, or expansion, of the original powerhouse of spiritual energy: Lord Krishna. “God” is an abstract term that can cause pain or pleasure to one depending on their angle of vision, but Krishna is one who gives pleasure to all. Krishna is the same God that others call out to, worship, or denounce, except that His features, attributes and appearance are more concretely defined. Though considered a Hindu god by those not in the know, Krishna is for everyone. While it may be common to hear questions like, “In your religion, if I’m sinful and I die, I come back as a scorpion or a rat, right?”, the logic behind such a query is flawed. Spirit soul cannot be Indian, Hindu, or Eastern. Information of the soul and its properties applies to every single person. We may or may not believe in the laws of gravity, but if we drop a television set out of a window, it will surely fall to the ground. The descent of an object due to the laws of nature will occur irrespective of a person’s belief system.
In a similar manner, the soul’s natural loving propensity is present in every form of life. The intrinsic desire to serve is exhibited in every type of behavior; any loving relationship that is seen in the visible world is a derivative of the inherent loving affection the soul has for the Supersoul, or Krishna. The difference between transcendental love and mundane love is that when one is averse to loving Krishna, they remain perpetually devoid of His company.
This fact seems to raise a contradiction, as the Supersoul, Krishna’s expansion, always resides next to the soul, regardless of the specific body type of the individual. As mentioned before, there is no difference in the constitutional makeup of an animal and a human being; the only distinctions apply to outer coverings, i.e. bodies. Depending on one’s consciousness and desires at the time of death, a specific body type is carved out for the next life. An animal has a body composed mostly of ignorance, while the human being has a combination of the material qualities of goodness, passion and ignorance.
Though the Supersoul is always present within the heart of a living being, unless the individual is conscious of God’s presence, there is no benefit derived from the seemingly insignificant distance of separation. To understand the difference in results, let’s say that we have one person who lives right next door to us and one person who lives thousands of miles away. The person who lives far away is our friend, so we talk with them regularly on the phone as well as through email. The neighbor, on the other hand, is simply an acquaintance, someone we say “hello” to periodically should we run into them. Though the neighbor is always close to us in proximity, we can’t say that we have any meaningful relationship with them. Our distant friend, however, is always with us, for our consciousness is regularly connected with their interests.
In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord, as the Supersoul residing within the heart, is always with us, but if we are not actively engaged in His service, we are essentially behaving as if He didn’t exist. Therefore the key to success in spiritual life is to love the Supersoul, the Supreme Lord’s full manifestation, to our heart’s content. As we saw with the examples of mundane love, the key ingredient to a loving relationship is the time spent with the party of interest. This means that the only way to love God and the best way to give pleasure to the soul is to always spend time with the Lord.
How do we spend time with someone or something that is seemingly invisible? We can’t even see our own soul or the souls of others, so how can we see the Supersoul? The sublime engagement of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, aims to tackle this very issue. Though the Supersoul certainly resides within us, there are different ways to go about perceiving its presence. Since Krishna is the Almighty Lord, He can take to a variety of non-different forms, each of which can accept the natural loving sentiments of the individual soul. For the people of the current age, the best way to spend time with God is to regularly chant His names found in the sacred formula known as the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. In addition, the divine lovers of the past, those who never separated from Krishna’s company for even a second, in many sacred texts documented their personal experiences with the Lord and their own observations pertaining to the effectiveness of bhakti. By regularly reading and hearing from the Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, one can always remain connected with Krishna or one of His non-different manifestations like Lord Chaitanya, Shri Rama and Narasimhadeva.
As an added bonus, we can even associate with the Lord’s closest friends, those who love Him with all heart and soul, and be equally as benefitted. Keeping the mind attached to the wonderful pastimes and teachings of exalted personalities like Prahlada Maharaja, Shri Hanuman, Shrimati Radharani, Sita Devi and so many others, the loving propensities tucked away safely in the heart will naturally come to the forefront. There is actually no difference between God and His divine lovers. Though neither party ever assumes the position of the other, the resulting relationships are always unions of potencies; hence the oneness.
Spending time with Krishna and His associates isn’t a difficult task either. One look at the Lord’s beautiful face depicted in pictures and statues carefully crafted from the authorized statements found in Vedic texts is enough to reward the observer with lifetimes’ worth of transcendental pleasure. Hearing of the ridiculously kind activities of Shri Hanuman and other notable personalities, who would ever want to separate from the Lord’s association for even a second? The spiritual teachers, the great acharyas and poets like His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Goswami Tulsidas, Valmiki Muni and a host of others, always stayed in Krishna’s association in thought, word and deed. By wrapping our arms around these celebrated figures, the most benevolent and generous of lovers, our knowledge of Krishna and His glorious nature will only increase with each passing day. By steadily keeping the association of Sublime Spirit, our time on this earth can finish well spent.