Friendship and Affection — Human and Divine

Human relationships are subject to eventual disappointment in almost all cases. Friendship and affection are generally based in the ego and its gratification and at some point, the needs and goals of the individuals may diverge, they may be separated due to distance, illness or death, or there may just be changing perceptions among the parties about their own interests and willingness to participate in fulfilling the expectations of the other party to the relationship. Wherever there is human attachment, these issues arise. This brings about sadness, grief, in some cases jealousy, anger or even hatred. Human relationships are notorious for having rough endings, and one needs only explore the world literature to see all the suffering bound up in these relationships, whether it is Shakespeare ‘s many tales, or the story of Shakuntala!

Obviously humanity has determined that entering into human relationships is beneficial and rewarding despite its downsides, and it is true that such relationships may prepare the being for the deeper feelings and experiences that can arise when the focus is turned to the Divine. Once that happens, there can still be human relationships, but they take on a new significance and can share in the deeper oneness of the soul that the Divine relationship brings.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Human affection is obviously unreliable because it is so much based upon selfishness and desire; it is a flame of the ego sometimes turbid and misty, sometimes more clear and brightly coloured — sometimes tamasic based on instinct and habit, sometimes rajasic and fed by passion or the cry for vital interchange, sometimes more sattwic and trying to be or look to itself disinterested. But fundamentally it depends on a personal need or a return of some kind inward or outward and when the need is not satisfied or the return ceases or is not given, it most often diminishes or dies or exists only as a tepid or troubled remnant of habit from the past or else turns for satisfaction elsewhere. The more intense it is, the more it is apt to be troubled by tumults, clashes, quarrels, egoistic disturbances of all kinds, selfishness, exactions, lapses even to rage and hatred, ruptures. It is not that these affections cannot last — tamasic instinctive affections last because of habit in spite of everything dividing the persons, e.g. certain family affections; rajasic affections can last sometimes in spite of all disturbances and incompatibilities and furious ruptures because one has a vital need of the other and clings because of that or because both have that need and are constantly separating to return and returning to separate or proceeding from quarrel to reconciliation and from reconciliation to quarrel; sattwic affections last very often from duty to the ideal or with some other support though they may lose their keenness or intensity or brightness. But the true reliability is there only when the psychic element in human affections becomes strong enough to colour or dominate the rest. For that reason friendship is or rather can oftenest be the most durable of the human affections because there there is less interference of the vital and even though a flame of the ego it can be a quiet and pure fire giving always its warmth and light. Nevertheless reliable friendship is almost always with a very few; to have a horde of loving, unselfishly faithful friends is a phenomenon so rare that it can be safely taken as an illusion…. In any case human affection whatever its value has its place, because through it the psychic being gets the emotional experiences it needs until it is ready to prefer the true to the apparent, the perfect to the imperfect, the divine to the human. As the consciousness has to rise to the higher level so the activities of the heart also have to rise to that higher level and change their basis and character. Yoga is the founding of all life and consciousness in the Divine, so also love and affection must be rooted in the Divine and a spiritual and psychic oneness in the Divine must be their foundation — to reach the Divine first leaving other things aside or to seek the Divine alone is the straight road towards that change. That means no attachment — it need not mean turning affection into disaffection or chill indifference.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Friendship, Affection and Love, pp 323-328

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