The Many Faces of Love.

Love: we all want it, everyone talks about it all the time, poets and authors write about it, the radio blasts songs at us all the time about it, most films and TV programs revolve around it in some way or other… but:

What exactly is it? I want to know what Love is!

Let’s look at a few of definitions from the internet:

Definitions of Love: Love is a variety of feelings, emotions, and attitude. For some love is more than just being interested physically in someone, it’s an emotional attachment. Love is more of a feeling that a person feels for another person. … The basic meaning of love is to feel more than liking towards someone.

  • strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
  • attraction based on sexual desire
  • affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
  • an assurance of affection
  • unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another
  • a god or personification of love

Anything else anyone would ‘love’ to add to this list!

But does this really tell us what love is?

An Obsession with Romantic Love: Part of the problem seems to be that the word ‘Love’ encompasses a lot of feelings, emotions, commitments and aspirations all in the same word. This has become a real problem in Western society as many people are confused about what love really is, where to seek it, how to experience it, and how to express it.

This is particularly so today where most people, according to some surveys at least 94% of young people, are obsessed with the idea of romantic love as being the highest ideal in their lives.

Problems with the Word ‘Love’: This means that when someone says: ‘I love you’, they really don’t know exactly what that means!

For example, when you say to your mother, ‘I love you Mum’, and then in the next breath you say, ‘I love Pizza’, your Mum is very likely to get upset!

This confusion about the exact meaning of the word ‘love’ in any particular context can lead to a lot of:

  • heartbreak when the image of the ideal lover doesn’t measure up to reality,
  • marriage breakup when romantic love fades,
  • teenage heartache and even unwanted pregnancy when girls mistake sexual desire for enduring love,
  • an obsession with perfection in our partners and even in our religious life,
  • a rejection with the routine which inevitably becomes part of marriage or with the demands of childrearing,
  • cynicism about the possibility of ever experiencing an enduring love.

What Kind of Coffee do you Love? Yes, the problem does seem to be that the word ‘Love’ in the English language encompasses a lot of often conflicting emotions and qualities.

We have lots of word to describe the coffee we want: Do you want a Cappuccino, an Espresso, a Skinny Latte, or maybe an Iced Caramel Macchiato? But we have only one word to describe the sort of ‘Love’ we want!

This is not the case in other languages where there are different words to describe these different types or qualities of Love!

Lots of Words for Love in Many Languages: Japanese has dozens of ways to say “I love you”. There are polite forms, very polite forms, impolite forms and downright rude forms.

Arabic has at least eleven different words for love.

Tamil has literally dozens of words for love.

Spanish really only has one noun for love (amor), when it comes to the verb “to love”, there are three different Spanish words to choose from.

Sanskrit is the classical Indian language that has influenced modern South and Southeast Asian languages at least as much as Greek and Latin have influenced modern European languages. This language has an astounding 96 words for love!

Words for ‘Love’ from Ancient Greece: The ancient Greeks were just as sophisticated in the way they talked about love, recognizing six different varieties.

They would have been shocked by our crudeness in using a single word both to whisper “I love you” over a candlelit meal and to casually sign an email “lots of love.”

  • Eros: or sexual passion.
  • Philia: or deep friendship.
  • Ludus: or playful love. 
  • Agape: or spiritual love/love for everyone.
  • Pragma: or longstanding love.
  • Philautia: or love of the self.

Let’s look at all of them in greater detail…

Eros: Passionate Love: The first kind of love was Eros, named after the Greek god of fertility, and it represented the idea of sexual passion and desire, whence our English word, Erotic. But the Greeks didn’t always think of it as something positive, as we tend to do today.

In fact, Eros was viewed as a dangerous, fiery, and irrational form of love that could take hold of you and possess you—an attitude shared by many later spiritual thinkers.

Eros involved a loss of control that frightened the Greeks. Which is odd, because losing control is precisely what many people now seek in a relationship.

Don’t we all hope to fall “madly” in love?

Philia: Friendship: Philia or friendship, which the Greeks valued far more than the base sexuality of Eros. Philia concerned the deep comradely friendship that developed between brothers in arms who had fought side by side on the battlefield. It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them.

Another kind of philia, sometimes called Storge, embodied the love between parents and their children.

We can all ask ourselves how much of this comradely Philia we have in our lives. It’s an important question in an age when we attempt to amass “friends” on Facebook or “followers” on Twitter—achievements that would have hardly impressed the Greeks.

Ludus: Playful Love: While Philia could be a matter of great seriousness, there was a third type of love valued by the ancient Greeks, which was playful love.

The Latin word Ludus to describes this form of love, which concerns the playful affection between children or casual lovers. We’ve all had a taste of it in the flirting and teasing in the early stages of a relationship. But we also live out our Ludus when we sit around bantering and laughing with friends, or when we go out dancing.

Dancing with strangers may be the ultimate ludic activity, almost a playful substitute for a more intimate relationship. Social norms may frown on this kind of adult frivolity, but a little more Ludus might be just what we need to spice up our lives!

Pragma: Long-Lasting Love: Pragma is a mature, realistic love that is commonly found amongst long-established couples.

Pragma is about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance – hence our English word, ‘Pragmatic’. There is in fact little evidence that the Greeks commonly used this precise term themselves, so it is best thought of as a modern update on the ancient Greek loves.

The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that we expend too much energy on “falling in love” and need to learn more how to “stand in love.” 

Pragma is precisely about standing in love—making an effort to give love rather than just receive it. With about 40% of first marriages, and 60% of second marriages in Australia ending in divorce or separation in the first 10 years, we should surely think about bringing a serious dose of Pragma into our relationships.

Agape: Selfless Love: Perhaps the most radical type of love is Agape or Selfless Love/Spiritual Love. This was a love that you extend to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape was later translated into Latin as Caritas, which is the origin of our English word “Charity.”

Christian writers such as, C.S. Lewis, referred to it as “gift love,” the highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of Mettā or “universal loving kindness” in Theravāda Buddhism.

There is growing evidence that Agape is in a dangerous decline in many countries. Empathy levels in the U.S. have declined sharply over the past 40 years, with the steepest fall occurring in the past decade. (Scientific American: Mind 21:6 Jan.2011) We urgently need to revive our capacity to care about strangers – our capacity for Agape.

In our discussions of the Ancient Wisdom we are primarily concerned with Agape, so let’s explore this type of Love in detail…

Jesus on Love: Agape is most probably what Jesus meant by ‘Love’ when he said:

Do to others what you would want them to do to you – Luke 6:31

Love God and Love your neighbour as yourself Mark:12:31

Where did Jesus’s concept of Love come from?

Hebrew: Love = Ahavah

Jesus taught in Aramaic: Love = Rakhmah

Jesus followers wrote in Greek translating the Hebrew and Aramaic into the Greek, Agape.

Writers of the New Testament looked to imitate Jesus’s own example in his ministry for their definition of Agape, Spiritual Love.

Jesus quoted the Torah, or Old Testament, when he replied:

Love the Lord your God with all of your heart – Deuteronomy 6:5

Love your neighbour as yourself – Leviticus 19:18

Which one is most important? They are two sides of the same coin:

Agape means spiritual love put into practice in daily life;

  • without seeking anything in return from the needy and especially from your enemies or people you can’t stand (Luke 6:35).
  • Jesus provides many examples of this type of selfless Love in his actions as recorded in the New Testament.

Buddha also said the same thing in his own way:

 “It is necessary to Live the Life to understand the Doctrine.”

St Paul on Love: St Paul gave a magnificent definition of Selfless Love, Agape, outlining the importance of love over intellect in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, in which he called love ‘Charity’ or, the Latin word, ‘Caritas’ – Self Sacrificing Love:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (or love), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling symbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.

Love suffereth long, and is kind ; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, it is not puffed up…doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil…rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth … beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Love never faileth, but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail, whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three, but the greatest of these is Charity (or Selfless Love)”.

Selfless Love: the Basis of All the Great Religions:

  • Baha’i: “Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.” — Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 71
  • Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” — Udana-Varga, 5:18
  • Christianity: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” — Matthew 7:12
  • Confucianism: “Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” — Analects 15:23
  • Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” — Mahabharata 5:1517
  • Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” — Sunnab
  • Jainism: “In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.” — Lord Mahavir 24th Tirthankara
  • Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the law: all the rest is commentary.” — Talmud, Shabbat 31a
  • Native American: “Respect for all life is the foundation.” — The Great Law of Peace
  • Sikhism: “Don’t create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone.” — Guru Arjan Devji 259. Guru Granth Sahib
  • Zoroastrianism: “That nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.” — Dadistan-i-Dinik, 94:5

Love is the Cement of the Universe: Theosophical teacher, G. D. Purucker, said that “Love ye one another” is a saying which appeals to the divine inner core in all, your essential light and celestial splendour.”

He wrote, “Love is the cement of the universe” This type of love is the Attractive, Positive Force that holds Creation together, a bit like physical Gravity,  in Newtonian Physics, or Electricity, in the new theory of the Electrical Universe.

“Love is the cement of the universe; it holds all things in place and in eternal keeping; its very nature is celestial Peace; its very characteristic is cosmic Harmony, permeating all things, boundless, deathless, infinite, eternal. It is everywhere, and is the very heart of the heart of all that is.”

“Love is the most beauteous, the holiest, thing known to human beings. It gives to man hope; it holds his heart in aspiration; it stimulates the noblest qualities of the human being, such as the sacrifice of self for others, it brings about self-forgetfulness; it brings also peace and joy that knows no bounds. It is the noblest thing in the Universe.”

Impersonal love is almighty. It overcomes all barriers, and dissolves and undermines even the stoniest heart and the most set and crystallised mind. When one’s heart is full of love there is no need for fear; love casts out fear and it cannot enter in, and no malevolent entity can touch one whose atmosphere is permeated with irresistible love.

Love is a magical thing, and can steal silently even into the nature of one whose heart is like a den of serpents – love cleanses and purifies all that it touches. No bad influence can ever oppose love’s path.

Love is majestic and sublime, and I tell you that it is the very cement of the universe, and he who loves impersonally helps Nature and works with her, and Nature recognises her co-worker and makes obeisance.”

What About Loving People You Hate: Love is allegiance to the inner self, the soul which is universal, and therefore selfless actions promote this universal, higher aspect. So expressing Love is growing closer to the One consciousness.

But what about here on the planet Earth of daily experience where we run into people who don’t do the right thing by us, are actively trying to exploit us, people we potentially hate?

Sometimes we need personal space from such people and so we need to keep away from them, don’t communicate with them, maintain ‘a wise reserve’ if arguments arise.

What about when this is not possible?

  • We need to maintain a defensive posture if attacked whilst respecting their inner potential for future development into a better person. This may mean having to remonstrate with them sometimes trying to avoid an actual physical confrontation. Better to keep communicating and sorting out differences than go to war!
  • Respecting a persons inner potential doesn’t mean that you have to like everything about them! There will be times when aspects of personality, rather than their higher potential, will be very difficult to love.  We have to work out how to deal with these aspects of individual and social behaviour as they occur according to the dictates of the moment.
  • What about ‘turning the other cheek’ as recommended by Christianity? This is often not possible in this ‘Kali Yuga’ world where ‘turning the other cheek’ will be seen as weakness to be exploited. The Masters of Wisdom instruct us that we should always seek justice and to defend the rights of others when unjustifiably attacked. Ideally in the far future (Satya Yuga) when the majority of people are behaving in a more enlightened way we will not need police forces, courts, and armies to defend us from such people.

Pathways to Love: Members of the Hierarchy of Light are taught that to follow the pathway of self forgetful love, love for others and for all that is, because this love’s sustaining power keeps us on the Path with all its difficulties.

  • Acts of kindness in everyday life are a protection to the person to whom they are directed. When thoughts of hate arise, (therefore) think the opposite – thoughts of love. Open the heart of the spiritual sun rising within it, by being calm, still, quiet, at peace, and harmonious – “Love will guide the wings of your soul to your spiritual sun.”
  • Perfect love casts out all fear. This can be done by visualising to yourself thoughts of high and noble courage. A man/woman in whom love is strong, not one who hates, his whole nature shines with the beauty within him, expands with the inner fire which flames itself forth in beautiful and symmetrical thoughts, and therefore in beautiful and kindly acts. Love softens his/her very features and he/she becomes kindly, being neither feared nor hated.
  • When we are able, requite hate with compassion and justice, returning injustice with justice, (and) thereby allying yourself with Nature’s own spiritual processes so that you become a child of the Cosmic life, which thereafter will beat in your own heart with its undying pulses.
  • By forgiveness, refusing to bear a grudge or harbour hatred, we will put our foot on the sacred way of impersonal love and compassion, seeking to overcome the World’s pain. As it says in Proverbs 12:12, “hatred stirs up strife, but love conquers all offences.” Therefore by having a loving heart, we reinforce the cement of the Universe.

Some Other Practical Suggestions:

  • Recognize the spark of divinity in all and our responsibility to others arising from that recognition.
  • Give a little time each day for spiritual insight/practice. Chanting mantrams can be good, eg. Gayatri, Moola, Om, Om Namaya Shivaya. Or meaningful prayers from any tradition such as The Lord’s Prayer from Christianity.
  • Reflect insights from the practice of the above two techniques in your daily life. Other lives around you are influenced by your example.
  • Remember the importance of fulfilling one’s Dharma, or life Duty, no matter how humble it might be in the eyes of society.

The main thing is to make a start and TRY!

Pathways of Love to the Future: Follow the pathways of selfless love, and thus hearken to the keynote preparing the way to be a suitable student of the Mysteries in the future.

Therefore be awake, alert, ernest, devoted, loyal, steady, compassionate, forgiving, and loving, in order to be good material for the Masters of Wisdom to work with at that time.

This message holds true not only for our new century, but also for the millennium which it brings in its train. Remain pure in the face of institutionalised selfishness, chaos/anarchy , and, where possible, enact the law of selfless love for others.

Further Reading:

  • G de Purucker: Golden Precepts of Esotericism. 4th ed. Theosophical University press, 2010.
  • Roman Krznaric: How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life. Bluebridge, 2015.