Each year around Valentine's Day the service reading at the Ananda centers worldwide has had the topic title of "The Law is Perfected in Love."
It would be easy to conclude that love, according to the reading ("Rays of the One Light," Week 7, by Swami Kriyananda), is all that is necessary to achieve perfection (happiness, bliss, nirvana or samadhi).
However, even the title of the reading isn't saying that. In fact, the title is simply reminding devotees and seekers that the "way" is not the "goal." Your faith, your religion, your yoga, your beliefs, and your righteous way of life are but steppingstones to perfection in God. (Be ye therefore perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matt 5:48) Do not mistake the path for the goal!
But is the reading saying, never mind the "way?" Never mind the discipline; the self-offering; the effort? No, it isn't saying that.
No more is the reading saying that than is the emotion of love the only reality in human relationships. Effort, intention, and "work" is needed to achieve success in all worthy endeavours: health, relationships, career, art, and the spiritual path.
Even Valentine's Day (which occurs each year around the time of this reading) isn't attempting to say romantic love is the definition of marriage. (It's simply acknowledging one aspect of marriage.)
Someone asked me the other day: "How can I love God more?" In responding I was fortunate to recall Swami Kriyananda's counsel on this: "pray to God that you feel devotion; that you feel God's love." I believe he went on to explain that it is difficult to love "someone" you haven't met yet. It is difficult to love an abstraction contained in a nondescript three-letter word ("God"). To feel God's love is the gift of grace, not merely effort.
When he, Swami Kriyananda, prayed to Yogananda that he could feel Yogananda's love for him, Yogananda (who intuitively "heard" Kriyananda's silent prayer) responded saying, "How can the little cup hold the whole ocean?" One must expand the cup of one's consciousness toward infinity if one is to know the infinite love of God.
It is easier, however, to feel love itself: love without an object and without any conditions as to who, what, when, where or how. As God is the source of unconditional love, praying to feel love is to experience even a little bit of God: the Source of love.
Swamiji also shared with us that Paramhansa Yogananda suggested that most of us approach God through joy, rather than as love. Why? Because most people's experience of love is tainted with the all too confusing (painful, pleasurable, attached, and mixed) human love experience. How often have I seen a newcomer's heart open to divine love only find it difficult to remain on such a high plane and thus "fall" into attachment to the nearest soul clothed in the form of the opposite sex! (Reminds me of the delightful Shakespeare play, "A Midsummer's Night Dream.")
Even apart from romantic love, however, devotees who go more by emotions are sometimes far too personal (just as those who revel in ideas are sometimes insensitive to the feelings of others). And such devotees are inclined to "love" only those who "love" them. Beyond their "mutual admiration society," duality can throw a bucket of cold indifference towards outsiders.
We, humans, you see, are more likely to know what unconditioned joy is than unconditional love!
Think of an aspiring musician: unless born with it like Mozart, even the best musicians are likely to have spent years learning and practising. Their love for their art draws them through the "law of practising" into the inner experience of the joy and love of music. Without their love of music, their playing would presumably be colourless, lacking in feeling. But without the hard daily work of practice, they could not soar high on the wings of inspiration. As I often say in classes and talks, "truth is a BOTH-AND affair."
Love is higher than the law for the simple reason that the experience of satisfaction, success or oneness is the REASON behind the willingness to "pay your dues" through effort and self-discipline. To achieve the union, perfection, and joy of love which unites lover, loving and beloved is what propels the artist, devotee, the lover, or the humanitarian to sacrifice all for the "pearl of great price!"
At the conclusion of the reading described above, Swami Kriyananda quotes Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita saying, in effect, "love God alone and let go of all else." Poetic, romantic, even, but be careful not to rely one-dimensionally upon a convenient interpretation.
A story illustrates the point: Krishna once counselled the devotee, Draupadi, to practice yoga. Her response, however, was "How can I practice yoga when my mind is fixed upon you?" Krishna, it is said, only smiled.
Until you, too, can be fixed upon God alone in every thought, feeling, and action, then you should not be so quick to dispense with the "rites and writ duties" of the "Way" of right action and right attitude.
Swami Kriyananda also offered this useful thought, drawn from his own experience of encountering those who, to say the least, didn't love him: "I choose to love because I am happier loving than hating."
When, through prayer, meditation, and self-giving we feel loving, it does not require a conscious act to love anyone: friend or self-styled critic alike. It is, rather, a natural extension of your own consciousness. When you are blessed to have this experience, distil from it the joy of loving so that the alternative of focusing on loving doesn't draw you into attachment to those to whom you express that loving feeling. Instead, feel the joy of that state of the soul.
Joy to you!