People more than ever are hungry to fill the hole in their hearts. Honest individuals will recognise they are dying for want of real love. We want others to see our sacrfice, we crave to be appreciated, we desire others to make us feel wanted and hope that others will be concerned for our happiness. But amazingly, our dilemma is that we have a certain fear and inhibition to show affection or appreciation ourselves, or at best we express this kind of affection to some people, but not to others. One way we can gauge our level of happiness in this world is to see how well our hearts are nourished by fulfilling relationships.
World renowned spiritual teacher A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada elaborates in a preface to one of his books entitled Nectar of Devotion:
The basic principle of the living condition is that we have a general propensity to love someone. No one can live without loving someone else. This propensity is present in every living being. Even an animal like a tiger has this loving propensity at least in a dormant stage, and it is certainly present in the human beings. The missing point, however, is where to repose our love so that everyone can become happy. At the present moment human society teaches one to love his country or family or his personal self, but there is no information where to repose the loving propensity so that everyone can become happy. That missing point is Krishna…
Professors of transcendence conclude that Krishna is the Love Supreme. Such a claim means he is the best person who can reciprocate with our heart’s desires. Krishna is a person, which means he is responsive, and we can directly hear from his expertise in the intricacies of loving relations, during the later volumes of the spiritual epic Srimad- Bhagavatam. Krishna himself elaborates on the different ways people can relate to one another in the material world, and by analysing these categories we will better see where we stand in our own relationships. Krishna begins his exposition with:
1. The merchant.
These kinds of lovers are selfish; they don’t actually care and just want something for themselves. Such persons are always calculating, “I’m only going to give as much as I’m going to receive.” At times, we may catch ourselves saying, “I’ve given so much to this person and what did I get back?” Another indication is that we maximize what we are giving, and minimize what others return. This is the mentality of shoppers. They go to a department store simply trying to get a bargain from the shopkeeper. Merchants are not actually interested in the welfare or benefit of the other person, they are simply in it for a good deal. Krishna deprecates this kind of love—better not to have any facade of love, than to have these so-called loving exchanges where I am apparently loving you, but simply enumerating what you are giving me in return. The merchant is thinking all my love is simply about me and what you can do for me. We know we have this kind of relationship when we become angry, bitter, disturbed, and sad, because we didn’t get the reciprocation from the other person we thought we deserved.
2. The well-wisher. These people are selfless in their love regardless of the outcome. Krishna further expands this category into two types.
a) The self-realised souls. These people are adorned with happiness and they feel the contentment of others. They are so compassionate that, although for oneself they are never unhappy, they feel unhappiness on account of others’ suffering. These enlightened souls are rare because they have a connection to the divine source of love—love they freely distribute to those fortunate enough to attain their ascociation. There was once a great saint called Prahlad, who had a father who was intent on murdering his own son by many devious means. Despite the atrocities he faced, the boy always maintained his composure and remained a well-wisher to his father. This standard of selfless love cannot be imitated by any common person.
Parents naturally love their children. It’s painful when children speak harshly to their parents, but despite the bitter reciprocation, we still love our dependents. Srila Prabhupada says that the closest thing to real love in the material world is that of a mother for her child; particularly the mother, because the child came from her body. Most of us, if we were to interrogate our mothers, would learn how much they had to go through maintaining and cleaning up after us as infants. This kind of selfless love is lesser than the love shown by the self-realised soul because it is limited to a bodily self-conception. We can catch ourselves extending our affection only to those whom we see as part of our family, our country, our race, or our religion. This love, based on a bodily conception, can never fully satisfy our heart.
3) The indifferent. Next, Krishna talks of the neutral lovers, which he further expands into three types:
a) The self-satisfied. These people are undergraduates amongst self-realised souls— although satisfied on a spiritual level they have no interest in relationships. Their consiousness is elevated to the point where they have become free of material desires, and they see all living entities as equal and consequently devoid of any form of hankering. Because such individuals are at peace with themselves, they have no need for any kind of ordinary, material interactions.
b) The materially gratified. Those in this category have material desires, but are satiated by their capacity to gratify their passions. Such persons are just like wealthy men who have all conveniences due to a massive fortune and already have thousands of friends, so do not need another one. They don’t care if you’re loving to them or not. These materialistic people are blinded by the glamour of their own wealth and are classified as being indifferent in their reciprocation towards others.
These people are the fools. They do not recognise what others have done for them, nor do they ever notice it. They don’t see the sacrifice people are doing for them. The fools are individuals who are so lost in their own world that they can’t reciprocate at all. Most of us have had this experience, where we sacrifice for someone and they don’t even care. They don’t know how to reciprocate nor can they detect the love that others extend towards them.
Krishna now describes those who feel enmity towards their benefactors; they’re not just indfifferent but are antagonistic even to the extent where they will act against their wellwishers. You may know someone for whom you sacrificed but received very negative responses. This stems from the merchant mentality, where we don’t like it when we’re in too much debt. We may actually develop envy or hatred for people who do things for us, if we can’t amply reciprocate with their sacrifice. For example, if you had to borrow a large sum of money from someone and you realised that you couldn’t pay them back—you probably wouldn’t want to ever see them again. One can develop a subtle repulsion for those whom we deem overly generous and kind towards us. Why? Because the uncomfortable feeling due to our incapacity to respond becomes far too overwhelming.
So, to be happy we really need be honest with ourselves and ask, what kind of lover am I? This will in turn reveal to us what kind of relationships we have with others. People generally bounce around the attitudes: “I’m allowed to hate you because of some reason,” or “This is my people therefore I will sacrifice for and love them only,” and “What’s in it for me?” Krishna explains that to be fully happy we need to learn how to become a selfless lover, the self-realised soul in the second category of his exposition. Such compassionate persons are connected to the storehouse of divine love, which they express without any limit. Being connected to Krishna, they are fully satisifed in themselves and think only for the welfare of others, and being free from envy they are joyful to see the happiness of others. Ordinary persons find it difficult to keep on giving, because they become depleted due to their limitations, and at some point are forced to think of themselves. But these topmost yogis, abundant with devotion, become channels for the Unlimited, when connected with the Infinite. For example, a laptop will only work for the duration the battery lasts, but if it was plugged through a power supply, it will work as far as it is connected to the energy source. If I’m trying to give myself, I become exhausted, but if I’m plugged into the unlimited, then what I’m giving to you is directly a transmittal from the unlimited source to you, through me. In that way, I can reciprocate with you indefinitely.
The ancient yoga texts of India explain Krishna to be that unlimited reservoir of all energies. To cultivate relationships in such a way where each party is helping one another connect with Krishna is considered a relationship beyond the confined psycho-physical infatuations of the body and mind. This is the true meaning of unconditional love. When people speak of unconditional or eternal love they are actually alluding to relationships based on a platform that has nothing to do with the “material,” as everything we experience in this phenomenal world is indeed subject to deterioration, and consequently riddled with all sorts of conditions. So where is the question of unconditional love, in a world full of conditions?
Consider someone you deemed close to your heart. What you’re actually attracted to in the other person is not just the body. If you separated the consciousness of that person from his or her body, you will be left with a peaceful corpse, albeit not many people will be into dating dead bodies! What you’re attracted to is their consciousness, which Krishna describes as the energy of the soul. True love is enacted on the level of the soul. This notion is in the term “soul mate,” which people carelessly fling around to express someone’s attachment to another limited person. But the implications behind this statement run deeper than our bodily attachment. Indeed, what is the soul? Why do my relationships end in grief? Who is Krishna? If we’re really interested in the art of unconditional loving affairs, then we need to begin by exploring these questions.
People appreciate hearing from relationship books and seminars, because they see value in people and desire to improve their interpersonal dealings. Enlightened souls who have perfected the art of love will deem Krishna as the topmost authority in such transactions. Moreover, he can show us systematically how to connect with others through him in a genuine spiritual way. Krishna will personally elaborate these topics through his lifestyle coaching, found in books such as the Bhagavad-gita (described as a foundational degree in relations). Then there is the Srimad- Bhagavatam (considered to be the postgraduate study in loving reciprocation) and the Caitanya-caritamrita (the PhD in romance beyond the material plane). We pride ourselves in learning from the greatest scholars or teachers, so why not give Krishna a chance to explain himself and foster in us a first-class lover? Yoga masters of the past and present have attained the pinnacle of perfection through the art and science of love and devotion as instructed by the Love Supreme himself.