There has been a strong impulse among many spiritual or religious traditions to reject all manifestations of human love as flawed and imperfect expressions of what love is intended to be in the Divine viewpoint. It is of course evident that most of what passes for love in the world has its deformations, weaknesses and failures. Yet, it is possible to identify the kernel that represents a deeper and truer impulse. The question then arises whether the manifestations of human love should be denied, or, possibly, uplifted and purified.
We see various expressions of love in the world, from the core attraction, at a very basic level, of the entire universal creation, to the interactions of plants and their environment, to the individualised expressions of love in the animal world and within the human context. Researchers have noted that plants will naturally work to absorb toxins out of the soil in a process that helps clean and purify the earth. Some plants actually give up nutrients into a depleted soil, and farmers have harnessed this expression of ‘love’ by rotation planting of “nitrogen-fixing” crops to replenish nutrients for other crops that need to draw those nutrients later. We see an almost infinite number of what we may call symbiotic relationships in nature that show that different species actually support one another in their existence for mutual benefit.
On the animal level, we begin to see expressions of love that carry through into the human world. Mothers caring for their children and even sacrificing their lives and well-being for the sake of those children is just one such expression.
Human love encompasses a number of subsets such as romantic love, filial love, the love of parents for children (and vice versa), and as the individual grows, matures and widens, a more disinterested love that encompasses larger units of humanity, including love for others, charitable action, disinterested love as an expression of a religious or spiritual commitment, etc. We see individuals taking on suffering to free others, first responders and caregivers putting their health and lives on the line to aid other people, and martyrdom undertaken as a commitment to a concrete expression of love for a group of individuals or for humanity as a whole. Commitments such as the Bodhisattva ideal extend the concept of impersonal love to all of creation.
Each stage represents a widening and deepening of the core impulse of love, as we see a progression through stages that show both the deeper intention of the Divine manifesting love in the universe, and the value of these intermediate expressions as steps in the maturation and growth process for the individual undergoing these developments. While they may be weak, imperfect or even greatly flawed in their expression, they express a spark of the Divine Truth of Love.
Sri Aurobindo notes: “The Divine Love may not be able yet to manifest on the physical plane, humanity being what it is, as fully and freely as it would otherwise do, but that does not make it less close or intense than the human. It is there waiting to be understood and accepted and meanwhile giving all the help you can receive to raise and widen you into the consciousness in which it will be no longer possible for these difficulties and these misunderstandings to recur — the state in which there is possible the full and perfect union.”
“And let me say also that, as regards human love and divine Love, I admitted the first as that from which we have to proceed and to arrive at the other, intensifying and transforming into itself, not eliminating, human love. Divine Love, in my view of it, is again not something ethereal, cold and far, but a love absolutely intense, intimate and full of unity, closeness and rapture using all the nature for its expression. Certainly, it is without the confusions and disorders of the present lower vital nature which it will change into something entirely warm, deep and intense; but that is no reason for supposing that it will lose anything that is true and happy in the elements of love.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Divine Love, Universal Love and Psychic Love, pp. 156-158