Monday, February 27, 2012
Last week at each (separate) session of the Raja Yoga Intensive that I teach, I was asked “What does it mean to love another person ‘without attachment’?”
A very good question, indeed. For the record, we’ve been studying the first two stages on the 8-Fold Path toward enlightenment (as described in the famous Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali). The first two stages outline something often described in short-hand form with the phrase, the “do’s and the don’t’s.”
The question cited above was not specific to any of the yamas or niyamas (the names of the first two stages: each has five aspects of what to avoid and what to do). But the combination of discussing the need for self-control and moderation in sexual matters with the goal of seeing all as the divine, and striving for transcendence through devotion and non-attachment: all of these aspects conjoined in a kind of “OMG!” (“O my God!”)
Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the classic Autobiography of a Yogi and the guru whose teachings I am privileged to share, stated in his own life story that he was, as a young boy, disconsolate at the unexpected and premature death of his (very holy) mother. Later in life, it was known that he had to absent himself from the presence of those close to him who were dying (in order that they might be “allowed to go”).
Was he, therefore, “attached” even though his disciples, such as myself, consider him to be the avatar (God-realized master) of this “new” age? Was he just faking it so we could relate to him as a human being, like ourselves?
To plumb of the depths of understanding of the human and divine nature of an avatar has puzzled devotees down through the ages. Did not Jesus Christ cry out from the cross, “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” And, knowing of his fate that night in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me?”
We will return to the avatars in a minute. Let us, however, return to the ground zero of our own, everyday lives.
I’ve frequently thought to myself that the only perfect marriage on earth is one between two people who don’t need to be married at all! (Ok, so that’s partly a joke!) But my point, I think, you see clearly: marriage plays upon and preys upon the strengths and weaknesses, and the attraction and repulsion inherent between, two different individuals. An unhealthy relationship is a co-dependent one. I’m no therapist and I wouldn’t want to pretend to define co-dependency, but from where I sit (on the sidelines), an unhealthy relationship is one where the boundaries are more than fuzzy between two people and where two people are consistently projecting their issues, their insecurities, and their needs onto one another. Put another way, we are speaking of two people who are not yet quite mature and not yet centered in their own self (Self).
Returning then to the question of non-attachment vs. love I think of what my own spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, has said from time to time: (I paraphrase) “Impersonal love is impersonal with respect to my own desires; it is not cold or insensitive to the needs and well-being of others.”
So what this means is that I “love” another person not for what I get from him/her but for what I find in that person to be admirable, inspiring, worth emulating and worthy of consideration and practical service (without thought or expectation of personal return, acknowledgement or another other “quid pro quo”).
Is this TOO perfect? To, to…..as it were? Well, sure it is. Most love and family relationships are contractual: you do this; I do that. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We are merchants, in other words. And, society calls this “love?” Well society calls unabashed and uninhibited lust love too. So there!
Helicopter parents are generally considered to be loving and doting parents. But are they not perhaps simply projecting their own desires and insecurities onto their hapless children?
Would a parent not be a better parent by trying to objectively “tune-into” the child’s own nature, tendencies, and life directions without regard to his/her own? A highly educated and articulate parent might end up with an autistic child. Is this not all too common these days? Is not the spiritual purpose of this, at least in some small measure, perhaps, to help the parent to open his/her heart and serve this needful child unselfishly devoid of the usual hope and expectation that the child will “be a chip off the old block?”
Does not the typical teacher prefer the child who is attentive and obedient? Are not the rebellious or restless ones a tad bit too creative and troublesome? The files of school history are crammed with the stories of geniuses who were only recognized as such later in life (perhaps after overcoming whatever setbacks their education imposed upon them).
Are not the weekly tabloids which feature the marriages of the rich and famous strewn with the beautiful bodies of those who had great sex but a lousy marriage? Drug addiction, alcoholism, infidelity: are these not the fruits of such glamorous unions?
Well, for all of that, who can stem the tide of attraction between, say, men and women? Why bother to fight City Hall? We each have the right to learn our lessons our way: that is, the hard way! None of that, and indeed, all of that suggests that true love exists on a higher plane, even if it need not deny the magnetism of the lower.
Rather as marriage is a union of people, and as Self-realization is the union of body, mind and soul, so too a spiritual marriage can unite as parts of body, mind and soul. We just have to know what we are looking for and what actually works (brings greater fulfillment).
But, no matter how successful our marriage is or our relationship with our children, no relationship can fulfill the nature of the soul’s longing for omnipresence and onenesss. So long as our love is based upon differences we will be forced to play the part of the yo-yo, which is to say, the fool. As we love, so we suffer.
Interestingly, however, there is no way out EXCEPT to love. Jesus forgave a woman her sins and said, “For her sins, which are many, she is forgiven for she has loved much.”
We cannot find God by rejecting our brothers and sisters. Rather we must strive to perfect our love until it “becomes the perfect love of God.”
That perfection includes seeing in all, seeing in the “other,” the Divine presence. It means loving that unique expression of God without condition, without contractual expectation. A tall order, of course. Jesus said, hanging from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
We, who are far less than perfect as Jesus was, have plenty of reasons to “hang” without anyone crucifying us without cause! Yet, therefore, can we not forgive? Accept? Love without condition? Infidelity? Rebelliousness? Lack of charity? Rejection?
Do you see, now, perhaps, even a little more clearly, what we speak of? Yogananda grieved at the loss of his mother, for he was, at that point, a child. He didn’t pretend or need to pretend he was anything less. But in his overarching nature, to the degree he contacted it, he was free, in Bliss. The same holds true, at least potentially, for you and me.
Jesus suffered not for himself or his body but for those who lashed out at him and would suffer themselves on account of it.
We only need to try. Just like meditation. Just like the spiritual path at large. Non-attachment doesn’t mean to be impervious to pain, it means to strive to realize the Self which is beyond pain. It means to unite in one seamless experience both pain and transcendence, denying neither. The one is now, the other, eternally NOW. They co-exist only to the degree that they Co-Exist in our consciousness.
As Krishna says to Arjuna, his disciple, in the Bhagavad Gita, “Even a little bit of this practice, will save you from dire fires and colossal sufferings.”
Give your Self to God, to your Cosmic Beloved. See in all whom you love, the shining Face and perfection of your own true Self.
Blessings and joy to you,