“All is Fair in Love and War”
Valentine’s Day 2021
Perhaps it all started with Adam and Eve. Formerly innocent in their nakedness, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil opened their eyes to their differences and the attraction between them as man and woman. Thus, it is said, humanity fell from grace, from favor in God’s eyes.
It has no doubt puzzled far wiser heads than mine to reconcile what seems like the perfectly reasonable and useful knowledge of good and evil or the attraction between men and women with the cause of humanity’s fall from divine favor. But there it is. We have to deal with it. Besides, some might say, what’s wrong with knowledge, or romance and sex?
The sexual aspect of this fall is not easily dismissed though it is often ignored by a focus upon the nature of the knowledge of good and evil. One must assume there’s no difference as the two are clearly related to each other in the story.
Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the famous and popular story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” explains this conundrum in his writings and in his life story. While I’ll refrain from a complete recap of Yogananda’s commentary on the Adam and Eve story, he wrote that sex temptation (“touch”) is the “apple” in the center of the garden (of the body). The sex nerves are stimulated by the movement of Life Force of the body (the coiled up spinal energy, the “serpent”) which arouses the feeling aspect of human consciousness (the “Eve’) which draws into its orbit the reason aspect (the “Adam”). Intoxicated by desire, reason succumbs.
The purpose of placing the story “In the beginning” is to state that our origin as souls is pure and free from gender identity and its related “good and evil” impulses. The purpose of having an Adam and an Eve as characters, personifications of humanity, is to contrast our mind with our heart and to imply that the distinction can be problematical when separated but blessed when united. Furthermore, the story belongs to each and every one of us as “the scales fall” when we reach puberty and begin to notice the other gender. Once, whether in time or in life, our reason and feeling faculties were One, innocent of distinctions, like children. Upon our adolescent awakening, our single eye (unaware of differences) divides into two physical eyes, seeing the differences, so to speak, when sexual impules are stimulated by changes in the body.
So here we have Valentine’s Day celebrating the unveiling of this knowledge into endless variations! Curiously, the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are not just monotheistic but patriarchal. Other faiths, including so-called “pagan” faiths, celebrate this everlasting play of male and female in the stories of the gods and goddesses and in human life. Matrimony only became a sacrament much later in Christian history, in the 12th century. It was justified as being a symbol and a reminder of the union of Christ with his church as his mystical body. It was thus not a celebration unto itself.
In the Old and New Testaments, it is stated that the basic teaching there is that we should “love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.” And the second part is “like unto the first: Thou shalt love thy neighbor AS thyself.” Thus, the impulse here of human love is first re-directed toward God and then expanded into impersonal or equal love for all. (No mention, that is, of romantic love.)
How far we have come! Gay, trans, pan, poly and every possible variation. Like those temples in India with erotic sculptures, our culture, too, is in the midst of an orgy of sexual and romantic adventurism.
So, how do we reconcile these seemingly conflicting points of view? Perhaps it's less of a reconciliation (which suggests equality) and more of a progression, a direction. At the heart of the issue there is an existential element: do we worship the adventure and play of the creation for what we can enjoy in it and get from it, or, do we see the One, the Divine, playing through the many, playing all the parts and in each part revealing aspects of the One? Might the former evolve into the latter? Or, is it safer to turn away from the creation altogether and focus on God alone?
Just now I read on Facebook that yet another of the young Ananda monks has bit the dust, or is the apple? (He didn’t say. He just said he’s no longer a monk but we usually know what that means or at least where it leads.) As I grew toward adulthood in the 1960’s I observed what probably was in the cumulative was thousands of nuns, priests, and monks leave their vocation only soon enough to become wed.
How can we love someone we have never met? God, for example! Just as Darwinists speak of the evolution of species, so too in any given human life we might find that romantic love leads to family love, which expands over the years to include service to a larger community and a deepening of the friendship between the two who started adult life together in marriage. This is the progression that is easily observable though of course not universally true.
What is meant by “all is fair in love” is mostly the simple fact that once the heart’s feelings are aroused (whether romantically, sexually, or both) there’s very little one can do to stop the emotion from its natural course (even if that ultimately means being thwarted for unrequited love is a staple of life and drama).
From the New Testament: Luke: 7: 36-50
And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.
37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?
50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
You see, even on a human level, love, as it is perfected, goes from self-satisfying to self-giving. This is both the natural and the soul (sole) purpose of the attraction, whether romantic or otherwise. We are compelled by romantic or sexual impulses, and compelled by biological ones (re children, siblings or parents) but with a friend, we have what, in principle at least is the purest form of friendship: given without compulsion but on mutual affinity and recognition.
There’s another side to the Adam and Eve story. It is the teaching that each of us, as a soul, has a soul-mate. Yogananda acknowledged this teaching but did not give it much emphasis because the human interest in romance is so deeply embedded that he didn’t want his teaching to be twisted into a love-cult, so to speak. Besides, the soul is neither male nor female. Thus, one’s soul-mate is inherently free from gender compulsions or attributes. Think of soul qualities, rather than human differences. A soul that inclines to go more by thought might be best mated by a soul that goes more by feeling. The existence of soul-mates is said to take place at the beginning of creation when the one soul is divided into two. The temptation to say this is male and female is almost overwhelming but it is not what Yogananda taught. It is in this that we can see Adam and Eve as reason and feeling and the serpent and apple as relating to each person internally, not externally, in male and female forms. But their story would have been a lot less interesting if it were devoid of that “which makes the world go ‘round.”
Swami Kriyananda described divine love as bliss in motion; or bliss in relationship; or in creation. Bliss is One; Love is two.
When Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, is asked whether it is best to seek God as the Absolute (as One) or in the I-Thou relationship, Krishna replied unequivocally that for “embodied beings” the I-Thou relationship was easier, meaning more natural. Yogananda worshipped God in the feminine form, in his life, as Goddess Kali. This is NOT the worship of the creation for itself or its gifts but the worship of God AS the creation, donning the mask, as it were: neither denying God's handiwork nor, being fooled by it.
Yogananda frequently made the point that while God IS and HAS all things, He does not have our love (attention, interest and seeking) unless we offer it to Him. “Love—the tie that binds”—is the one thing missing. And as the woman of many sins was forgiven for she loved much, so too it is axiomatic that love for God is perhaps the quickest way to soul freedom. But, it is also NOT as easy as it sounds. As I wrote earlier, how can we truly love someone we have never met? And distracted by our need to love and be loved, it is far easier to fall in love with the face in front of us (like Queen Titania in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream")! [Why do we say "fall" in love? Adam and Eve "fell" too.]
Swami Kriyananda taught us that in India couples are instructed to see in one another the Divine enshrined in one another’s forms: the Infinite Spirit or the Divine Mother. Thus, it is the divine way that human love is intended to become ever purer, ever more expansive until it becomes the pure love of God.
On that journey and with that intention, “All is fair!”
Happy Valentine’s Day,