The Forms of Divine Love

There are two primary manifestations of Divine Love experienced and reported by seekers and devotees around the world, irrespective of particular religious or philosophical backgrounds. The first is a focus on the personal manifestation of the Divine, which brings the seeker to an extremely intimate and personal form of devotion and experience. This may be directed at a specific form of the Divine, or to the Virgin Mary for Christians, or Krishna to the Vaishnavas. It may also take on a wider formation that opens the heart centre, not to a specific form of the Divine, but the Divine in all. This form ls what Sri Aurobindo calls psychic love. The second form is a more universalised type of love, which focuses on the Impersonal rather than the Personal aspect of the Divine. The Bodhisattwa ideal that dedicates the seeker to the realisation of all sentient beings before achieving personal salvation is an example of this type of wide, disinterested love and dedication to the entire manifested universe. In either case, whether concentrating on the Personal or the Impersonal aspect of the Divine, there is a pure self-giving to the object of the love and devotion without expectation or demand. Eventually the integral truth of love and devotion will encompass both the Personal and the Impersonal together as two aspects of the same Truth.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The Divine’s love is that which comes from above poured down from the Divine Oneness and its Ananda on the being — psychic love is a form taken by divine love in the human being according to the need and possibilities of the human consciousness.”

“Universal love is the spiritual founded on the sense of the One and the Divine everywhere and the change of the personal into a wide universal consciousness, free from attachment and ignorance. … Cosmic love depends on the realisation of oneness of self with all. Psychic love or feeling for all can exist without this realisation.”

“The psychic love is pure and full of self-giving without egoistic demands, but it is human and can err and suffer. The Divine Love is something much vaster and deeper and full of light and Ananda. The love that belongs to the spiritual planes is of a different kind — the psychic has its own more personal love, bhakti, surrender. Love in the higher or spiritual mind is more universal and impersonal. The two must go together to make the highest divine 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

Approaching the Transition from Human Love to Divine Love

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

Human Love and Divine Love

How do we understand the term ‘love’ in the context of spiritual sadhana? We bring to the term a large number of impressions, ideas, and conceptions based on our cultural background, educational upbringing and socialization in our society. We have no direct experience, for the most part, of anything other than what we may call human love. Human love is a very mixed affair, including various needs, urges, desires, vital drives, lusts of the body and mental preconceptions about love that color our understanding. Human love is also often associated, on an individual basis, with sexual gratification, domination, and vital reactions of jealousy and various forms of abusive conduct towards those with whom we have a relationship we call ‘love’. We look at actions of charity, self-sacrifice for a higher cause or altruism as acts of love on a more disinterested scale.

It is impossible to bring all these associations into the truth of what may be termed ‘divine love”. We can assert certain things that divine love is not, but until we have an actual experience of divine love, our conceptions are obviously going to fall short.

Those who have experienced even a touch of divine love report an experience of ineffable bliss, of an overwhelming feeling of adoration, of gratitude, of self-giving in a non-demanding way with no expectations. There is a joy of surrender to the Divine that goes beyond any experience of human interactions under the term ‘love’. Even human compassion and goodwill cannot approximate the experience of those who have been graced with the experience of divine love.

All expressions of love in our lives, whether personal and individual, or whether the wider, more expansive forms we give to these acts, contain a seed of Divine Love, although in some cases there is only a very tiny seed or one that has been vastly deformed and distorted as it has been filtered through the human instruments of the body, life and mind.

It is therefore not possible to speak of bringing forth Divine Love in the world without associating it with the transformation of consciousness that brings with it an entirely new relationship and perspective between the human individual and the universal manifestation that shifts the relation from an ego-basis to one that is wide, receptive and giving at the same time.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “To bring the Divine Love and Beauty and Ananda into the world is, indeed, the whole crown and essence of our yoga. But it has always seemed to me impossible unless there comes as its support and foundation and guard the Divine Truth — what I call the supramental — and its Divine Power. Otherwise Love itself blinded by the confusions of this present consciousness may stumble in its human receptacles and, even otherwise, may find itself unrecognised, rejected or rapidly degenerating and lost in the frailty of man’s inferior nature. But when it comes in the divine truth and power, Divine Love descends first as something transcendent and universal and out of that transcendence and universality it applies itself to persons according to the Divine Truth and Will, creating a vaster, greater, purer personal love than any the human mind or heart can now imagine. It is when one has felt this descent that one can be really an instrument for the birth and action of the Divine Love in the world.”

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

The Role of Devotion and Love in the Integral Yoga

Every part of the being must be engaged if the integral yoga is to progress. The physical body, the vital being, the emotional being, and the mind all have their role. What is a chore for the physical being, and a dry intellectual endeavour for the mind, becomes a source of joy and dedication when it comes from the emotional center. The emotional center is also closest to the true soul, the psychic being, within. Thus, there is an important, even essential role for devotion in the practice of the yoga. There may be times, of course, where focus must be on some other aspect of the being, but the force of true devotion can be a powerful gateway to the psychic transformation of getting in touch with the soul and acting from there to carry the flame upward to the Divine and bring it into reality in the life.

This does not mean necessarily carrying out the specific methods or traditional practices of the devotional paths of the past, as these each have both their positive aspects and their limitations for the needs of today. Rather, it means understanding the essence of devotion and allowing it to express itself in one’s life, as one turns thoughts, feelings and the very physical being toward the divine light and force.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “It is a misunderstanding to suppose that I am against Bhakti or against emotional Bhakti — which comes to the same thing, since without emotion there can be no Bhakti. It is rather the fact that in my writings on yoga I have given Bhakti the highest place. All that I have said at any time which could account for this misunderstanding was against an unpurified emotionalism which, according to my experience, leads to want of balance, agitated and disharmonious expression or even contrary reactions and, at its extreme, nervous disorder. But the insistence on purification does not mean that I condemn true feeling and emotion any more than the insistence on a purified mind or will means that I condemn thought and will. On the contrary, the deeper the emotion, the more intense the Bhakti, the greater is the force for realisation and transformation. It is oftenest through intensity of emotion that the psychic being awakes and there is an opening of the inner doors to the Divine.”

“The traditions of the past are very great in their own place, in the past, but I do not see why we should merely repeat them and not go farther. In the spiritual development of the consciousness upon earth the great past ought to be followed by a greater future.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, The Integral Yoga and Other Systems of Yoga and Philosophy, pp. 33-35

Conclusions

We have completed our review of the third section of Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga, focused on the Yoga of Love and Devotion, having previously reviewed the Yoga of Knowledge and the Yoga of Works. Each of the three primary paths of Yoga utilizes a particular capacity of the human being as the lever for the spiritual evolutionary action. Due to the differences in the capacity relied upon in each path, there is a different core focus and a different set of criteria for each one. We cannot say that any one of the three is “better” than the other two for spiritual realisation. In fact, a particular individual may find that there are various stages in the progress that call forth the focus and capacities of one or the other of these paths to achieve a particular step along the way.

Sri Aurobindo has clearly described the practice of the Yoga of love and devotion and has shown that someone starting with this path will eventually need to incorporate both knowledge and the will in works to achieve an integral development of the entire being and achieve unification, not only with the static, unmoving Impersonal but also with the Personal manifestation of the Divine. He has also described the power of this path to achieve complete realisation. Just as Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita treats total devotion as the “supreme secret”, Sri Aurobindo concurs and elaborates on this path in terms of the intensity and intimacy it develops as the seeker works to achieve union with the Divine in all ways and aspects of his being.

The fourth and final section of The Synthesis of Yoga takes up one of Sri Aurobindo’s unique contributions to the science of Yoga when it focuses on the “Yoga of Self Perfection”. That section builds upon the capacities of each of the traditional paths of Yoga to bring about a total transformation of the individual within the framework of the universal manifestation. The world is not treated as a pure “illusion” from which one needs to escape, but is treated as “reality omnipresent” that embodies the Divine in all names, forms and forces, and treats the individual as a unique aspect of this Divine manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Conclusions

The Way of Love and the Supreme Liberation

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna declares the “supreme secret” to be total devotion to the Supreme in all ways and aspects of the being: “Become my-minded, my lover and adorer, a sacrificer to Me, bow thyself to Me, to Me thou shalt come, this is my pledge and promise to thee, for dear art thou to Me. Abandon all dharmas and take refuge in Me alone. I will deliver thee from all sin and evil, do not grieve.” (Sri Aurobindo, Bhagavad Gita and Its Message, ch. 18, v. 65-66, pg. 286)

The way of the Bhakta is able to bring about the highest forms of liberation from the bondage of action. Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “Thus universalised, personalised, raised to its intensities, made all-occupying, all-embracing, all-fulfilling, the way of love and delight gives the supreme liberation.”

“We have the absolute union of the divine with the human spirit…; in that reveals itself a content of all that depends here upon difference,–but there the difference is only a form of oneness,–Ananda too of nearness and contact and mutual presence,… Ananda of mutual reflection, the thing that we call likeness,…, and other wonderful things too for which language has as yet no name. There is nothing which is beyond the reach of the God-lover or denied to him; for he is the favourite of the divine Lover and the self of the Beloved.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pg. 579

Love As the Central Foundation of Divine Realisation

Those who practice the traditional Yoga of devotion eventually reach a stage where the passionate and intense embrace of the Divine Lover is the central focus of their life and action. This element is also true for the seeker of the integral Yoga; however, the integral practitioner will naturally incorporate the elements of knowledge and works into his development. This implies a certain less intense and exclusive nature of the relationship of love, as these other elements claim time, attention and focus as well. The central foundation of the development of knowledge and works in the seeker who starts from love and devotion remains the intensity of the personal relationship developed through the aspect of love.

Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “The growing of the love of God must carry with it in him an expansion of the knowledge of God and of the action of the divine Will in his nature and living. The divine Lover reveals himself; he takes possession of the life. But still the essential relation will be that of love from which all things flow, love passionate, complete, seeking a hundred ways of fulfilment, every means of mutual possession, a million facets of the joy of union. All the distinctions of the mind, all its barriers and “cannot be”‘s, all the cold analyses of the reason are mocked at by this love or they are only used as the tests and fields and gates of union. Love comes to us in many ways; it may come as an awakening to the beauty of the Lover, by the sight of an ideal face and image of him, by his mysterious hints to us of himself behind the thousand faces of things in the world, by a slow or sudden need of the heart, by a vague thirst in the soul, by the sense of someone near us drawing us or pursuing us with love or of someone blissful and beautiful whom we must discover.”

We may even find that “…the lover whom we think not of, may pursue us, may come upon us in the midst of the world and seize on us for his own whether at first we will or no.” All of the possible relations, including those of the enemy, may open the door for the development of love. All human emotions related to the experience of love, including stages of jealousy, confusion, misunderstanding, and feelings of abandonment or separation, may arise at one time or another in the process.

“We throw up all the passions of the heart against him, till they are purified into a sole ecstasy of bliss and oneness. … Our higher and our lower members are both flooded with it [love], the mind and life no less than the soul: even the physical body takes its share of the joy, feels the touch, is filled in all its limbs, veins, nerves with the flowing of the wine of the ecstasy, amrta. Love and Ananda are the last word of being, the secret of secrets, the mystery of mysteries.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pp. 578-579

Aspects of the Personal Relationship of the Seeker with the Divine

The relationship between the individual and the Divine is not limited to one particular form in the Yoga of love and devotion. There are a number of relations, any of which may be predominant at one time or another. They all enter into the complex and rich tapestry of love and intimacy which the human individual has with the Divine Personality. These aspects represent the deepening and widening of the Yoga of love and devotion.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “He is the friend, the adviser, helper, saviour in trouble and distress, the defender from enemies, the hero who fights our battles for us or under whose shield we fight, the charioteer, the pilot of our ways. And here we come at once to a closer intimacy; he is the comrade and eternal companion, the playmate of the game of living. But still there is so far a certain division, however pleasant, and friendship is too much limited by the appearance of beneficence. The lover can wound, abandon, be wroth with us, seem to betray, yet our love endures and even grows by these oppositions; they increase the joy of reunion and the joy of possession; through them the lover remains the friend, and all that he does, we find in the end, has been done by the lover and helper of our being for our soul’s perfection as well as for his joy in us. These contradictions lead to a greater intimacy. He is the father and mother too of our being, its source and protector and its indulgent cherisher and giver of our desires. He is the child born to our desire whom we cherish and rear. All these things the lover takes up; his love in its intimacy and oneness keeps in it the paternal and maternal care and lends itself to our demands upon it. All is unified in that deepest many-sided relation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pp. 577-578

Devotion and Works

The underlying principle of the traditional Yoga of works is obedience to the Divine Will in works. This approach may, however, be one of long-suffering carrying of a burden if it is not modified by the spirit of love and devotion. It may also emphasize a difference between the Master and the servant which accentuates the apparent separation and division between the human being as instrument of divine action and the Divine Master who appoints the practitioner to the chosen effort.

Sri Aurobindo describes the modified relationship that can eventuate when the seeker approaches the way of works from the side of devotion: “He is the Master; but in this way of approach all distance and separation, all awe and fear and mere obedience disappear, because we become too close and united with him for these things to endure and it is the lover of our being who takes it up and occupies and uses and does with it whatever he wills. Obedience is the sign of the servant, but that is the lowest stage of this relation, dasya. Afterwards we do not obey, but move to his will as the string replies to the finger of the musician. To be the instrument is this higher stage of self-surrender and submission. But this is the living and loving instrument and it ends in the whole nature of our being becoming the slave of God, rejoicing in his possession and its own blissful subjection to the divine grasp and mastery. With a passionate delight it does all he wills it to do without questioning and bears all he would have it bear, because what it bears is the burden of the beloved being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pg. 577

Devotion and Knowledge

Traditionally, the Yoga of devotion has been seen as separate from the Yoga of knowledge, and as leading to a different resolution of the spiritual quest. The integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo acknowledges that each traditional path of Yoga has its own starting point based in different aspects of the human being, but at a certain point in the process, each path can merge into a more comprehensive approach and bring forth the fruits of the other paths.

Sri Aurobindo describes the development of knowledge from a starting point of devotion: “That which in the end contains, takes up or unifies them all, is the relation of lover and beloved, because that is the most intense and blissful of all and carries up all the rest into its heights and yet exceeds them. He is the teacher and guide and leads us to knowledge; at every step of the developing inner light and vision, we feel his touch like that of the artist moulding our clay of mind, his voice revealing the truth and its word, the thought he gives us to which we respond, the flashing of his spears of lightning which chase the darkness of our ignorance. Especially, in proportion as the partial lights of our mind become transformed into lights of gnosis, in whatever slighter or greater degree that may happen, we feel it as a transformation of our mentality into his and more and more he becomes the thinker and seer in us. We cease to think and see for ourselves, but think only what he wills to think for us and see only what he sees for us. And then the teacher is fulfilled in the lover; he lays hands on all our mental being to embrace and possess, to enjoy and use it.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pp. 576-577