Monday, February 13, 2023

Valentine's Day: what is Love?

In the English language, the word "love" bears a great burden for it has to shoulder multiple meanings. We don't have the nuanced words of the Greek language such as Eros (sexual), Philia (friendship), Ludus (playful love), Agape (universal love), Pragma (committed), Philautia (love of self).

 In human life, we have the love of toddlers and children for their parents and siblings; teenage infatuation; romantic relationships; marriage; partnership; friendships based upon shared interests; the love of uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents and so much more. In recent years I see articles on what is narcissism (love of oneself) and we have twisted forms as in co-dependent, addicted, sadistic and so on. We have the term "making love" which as often as not, is, at best, a euphemism that generally describes passing passion than lasting love.

In religion, we have the love of and for God as Father, Mother, Beloved or Friend. I recently read that the Church of England was struggling with the patriarchy of God as Father. (Someone should suggest to them the oriental solution of the mantra "both-and!)

In Catholicism, the veneration of the mother of Jesus has steadily grown. Reported apparitions of Mary have occurred around the globe. St. Joseph of Cupertino (17th century Italy) had a special devotion to Mary as an infant! In India, devotees have a similar devotion to Krishna as an infant just as Christians have a devotion to the infant Jesus. Love of the beloved appears in medieval courtly love and in traditions such as the Sufi tradition (as illustrated in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam or the popular poet, Rumi).

But here we are in the 21st century. In America, especially, debates rage around transcending binary labels of male of female. Yet for the relatively small contingent that wants to transcend labels there are far more cohorts exulting in their differences as attested to in the popularity of pornography, OnlyFans, "Free the Nipple," and a fashion industry employing less and less cloth. This culture here in America has weathered waves of rising gay pride, same-sex marriage, and changing gender identities and controversies over the lowly pronoun.

Do we dare "celebrate" Valentine's Day in this cacophony of confusion? Valentine's Day is celebrated by children sharing heart-shaped candies, and by adults giving gifts to friends and co-workers, and not just lovers and partners.

Love certainly deserves a celebration but what is it we are celebrating? 

Paramhansa Yogananda came from India to live and teach in America in the year 1920. Though at first careful, he gradually permitted himself to express his love for God in the form he called "Divine Mother." With his upbringing as a Bengali, the particular form of divine mother to which his devotion was directed was the goddess, Kali. Of all the Hindu goddesses, Kali is perhaps the most confusing and even frightening. Yogananda took care to explain the somewhat shocking symbolism seen in depictions of goddess Kali. But he tuned into and early-on expressed and affirmed a devotion to God in the feminine form.

It is no coincidence that not long after Yogananda's passing the quietly rising tide of feminism broke into a large wave recognizing the need for change and equality among men and women. Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda--trained by Yogananda--taught that the time has arrived when God can and should be approached in the feminine form. This teaching can help elevate the social and psychological movement towards a higher, divine expression. In the masculine form, God tends to be distant and expresses more naturally justice and wisdom. God is closer to us in the feminine form, especially as mother.

And here, then, we have a budding solution to our cacophony. God is neither male nor female and neither are we, made as we are, in the image of God. In India the traditional counsel given newlyweds is for each to see God enshrined in one another's forms: God as Father, and God as Mother. Whether we are comfortable in our body's gender or not comfortable, either way we are not our body, nor even yet our personality. We are the immortal soul. 

But neither need we deny our body and its influence upon our consciousness. The gender of our bodies, the customs of our culture and our own personal karma may influence us to behave in certain ways considered masculine or feminine but we can also choose our influences and aspire to transcend binary self-definitions or at least not reinforce them. 

Best then it is to relate to one another as souls rather than bodies. We can consciously aspire to live more in our center wherein is found a balance of each gender. To be a soul and a human first and only secondarily have a male or female body (just as secondarily we may be American, Indian, Chinese, black, white or red) is the invitation God is gently offering to humanity at this time. This is part of what is meant by Self-realization. 

This feeling of freedom was what I encountered when I came to Ananda Village in 1977. We were mostly young then: in our twenties and thirties but the example of Swami Kriyananda and the influence of the yoga teachings we practiced suggested a "non-binary" lifestyle and attitude. It was refreshingly clean and freeing. We were friends and souls first. Little notice was given to our gender differences. When we relate in this way, we find that men and women working together can re-direct their naturally occurring animal magnetism into forms that are creative and serviceful. Most of the leaders of the various Ananda communities worldwide are couples. Relationships and marriage came naturally and so did also, from time to time, divorce, for we were not immune to the consciousness of our times. But the elation of the one and the pain of the other were mitigated by the simple fact that first and foremost we were friends in God.

In Swami Kriyananda's book of counsel to the yogi, "Sadhu Beware," he counsels men and women not to gaze into the eyes of the opposite sex. However, even without gazing and basking, it is uncomfortable to avert one's eyes in ordinary conversation. Looking into the spiritual eye (point between the eyebrows) is helpful but most important is one's own intention and consciousness. Otherwise we might appear nervous or shifty-eyed and that's almost as unhelpful.

I once complimented a young woman on her singing and said, "Thank you, Mother!" Perplexed she said, "Huh? Mother?" Realizing that didn't make any sense to her, I just laughed and said, "Well, it's safer that way" (safer, that is, to see her as "mother" or "sister" rather than to view her as an attractive young woman). St. Francis was reported to have warned a woman who was constantly wanting to serve him, "Be careful, I can still father children." Age, you see, unfortunately, has little to do with imagination and desire. (That's why we have reincarnation!)

Let us be children, or brothers and sisters, again, mixing as circumstances and culture may require, but happily relating to one another as souls, as Spirit incarnate. We can do our part, also, not to act out our gender roles when circumstances tempt us to do so. Our words, dress, and comportment can be calm, modest and respectful, free as much as language allows, from an emphasis on gender. And even with one who is our partner or spouse, calm respect and courtesy go further than the ever-oscillating waves of romance idealized at weddings or on Valentine's Day! 

May our beloved Friend, Father-Mother-God, be our Valentine!

Swami Hrimananda