Love and Renunciation

Swami Atmananda Saraswati

Many marriages are founded on nothing more substantial than a dream. Many people find affection or passion, but love is something that grows in hearts that are deep and minds that are strong. Let us forget the modern idea of love, the drawing-room idea, and return to the epic love, the ancient, forgotten notions of devotion, respect and loyalty. All the rest is a game. Love is not only based on the emotions. It involves an integration of the whole psyche - emotional, intellectual and spiritual. It is a dynamic force which can move armies and stir the powers into action. If Anthony had not loved Cleopatra the whole course of history would have been different.

Let us not underrate, as is the fashion nowadays, the love between husband and wife. In epic India, marriage is for the whole life, stemming from past lives and leading to future lives. Paramahamsa Ramakrishna worshipped his wife Sarada Devi as the Holy Mother, while she revered him as the embodiment of God. Sometimes, however, the wives of these great saints don't realise the greatness of their husbands, like Lahiri Mahasaya's wife, who thought she was married to an ordinary man and used to become unhappy when he neglected her and the children. But one day he materialised himself before her. Then she begged for forgiveness, and in a second he raised her consciousness to his own level. Love entails acceptance of the other person's nature and sacrifice of your own. It means that you forget that part which divides you and concentrate on what brings you together. Whatever differences between you are forgotten, just as the Pandava brothers and their wife Draupadi, in exile, were united against the whole world. They forgot everyone else and found joy in their own company.

Love means understanding of the other person, consideration for his mental framework, acceptance of his entirety. It is not necessary to be together for hours during the day. There might be half the world between, but distance cannot change the awareness on the subconscious level which is constant. When wives are separated from their husbands in times of war, their devotion increases, if they are true. What may, in one sense, be the sorrow of separation, brings a strange sort of fulfilment on the spiritual plane. Princess Mira loved Krishna and married him when she was a little girl. What did she marry? His statue. With her earthly eyes all she could see was a painted statue, but with her divine sight she used to play with him, talk to him and dance with him. She renounced her earthly husband, ran away from him. The physical presence is insignificant compared to the spiritual reality.

Love means deepening the awareness, expanding the consciousness through another. Love exists not only between a man and a woman, but also between guru and disciple, mother and son, friend and friend. The love of a pupil for teacher is an old tradition in India. The giving of knowledge is not merely passing on of formulae from a text book, it is the transmission of a life's experience. That wisdom is a pure gift for which the pupil is indebted lifelong to the master. This is why he cannot bear to hurt the teacher or hear abuse from others about him. These great teachers do not impart their wisdom glibly, but only to the right person at the right time, when there is mutual love and respect. The pupil receives the knowledge of the teacher directly, not only through his intellect but through his whole heart and soul.

Krishna and Arjuna were great friends. Krishna hid his divinity from Arjuna, and Arjuna used to think of him as his companion, his equal. But before the battle of Kurukshetra, when Arjuna appealed to him in his distress, Krishna showed him his cosmic form. Arjuna was bewildered, for he saw in Krishna's body many universes, the play of time and destruction which he could hardly bear. He cried:

"Whatever I have rashly said from carelessness or love, looking on you merely as my friend, ignorant of your greatness... that I implore you, immeasurable one, to forgive... I rejoice that I have seen what was never seen before, but my mind is confounded with fear. I desire to see you as before, crowned, bearing a mace and discus in the hand, in your former form only..." (Bhagavad Gita 11:41-46)

The amazing thing about love is that the more you sacrifice, the more you get. Suppose your favourite meal is being served. You see it, you smell it, and just then a little boy with big round eyes and a hunger even greater than yours sits down beside you, so you put your portion onto his plate instead. Your desire is not fulfilled, but you have a satisfaction inside that no amount of food can fill.

When worldly longings, ambitions and desires are strong, when you love life, when you enjoy all the pleasures the world has to offer, then is the time to transfer all that love and energy to God. Only then will you succeed, when the drive in you is strong. What is the use of renouncing food when you have no appetite? What is the point in giving your life to God when you are old and all the energies have been exhausted? The test is, to give up the world when your appetite for it is in full bloom. In renouncing all those things that you love, you will get more, much more, than if you indulged yourself. A bloated stomach is such an unpleasant feeling. When you become thin through eating little and by suffering more, the mind becomes sharp. A new sort of understanding starts to dawn. There comes a wisdom which transcends day to day understanding. You understand problems of which even you have no experience. A wise inner eye slowly opens, which sees everything. There may be sadness inside, a sadness which makes the heart want to break, and which makes other people's burdens seem light and trivial. But if you want to make something of your life, you have to be worthy of it, and God's rewards will far exceed our small sacrifices.

Now the whole western world is rebelling. Why, they say, should I be loyal to any man or woman? Why should I stay with my wife? Why should I respect my parents? I am free; I am my own master. But it is not that we are morally bound to be faithful. If we want constancy in meditation, there must be constancy in our daily life. If we want to be one pointed on the spiritual path, we must be steadfast in our emotions. The mind is inconstant. It is like an unfaithful wife. It will support us one day and betray us the next. It has to be trained, like the guru trains the disciple. You are the husband and the mind is the wife. Savitri chose Satyavan as her husband, although she knew that he had only one year to live. At the appointed time, when Yama came and took away his soul, she followed him through jungles and deserts to the Kingdom of Death. She would not go back, she went on and on until Yama softened and gave back her husband's soul. Like that, to succeed in spiritual life we have to be fearless and constant. If we want to return to the source and regain our lost soul, we have to be prepared to die for that.