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