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Series III - Chapter 39 - 'What is love?'
[ THE LITTLE GIRL next door was ill, and she had been crying, off and on, all day long, and far into the night. This had been going on for some time, and the poor mother was worn out. There was a small plant in the window which she used to water every evening, but for the past few days it had been neglected. The mother was alone in the house, except for a rather helpless and inefficient servant, and she seemed somewhat lost, for the child's illness was evidently serious. The doctor had driven up several times in his big car, and the mother became sadder and sadder.
A banana-plant in the garden was irrigated by the kitchen water, and the soil around it was always damp. Its leaves were dark green, and there was one very large leaf, two or three feet across and much more in length, which had so far not been torn by the winds, like the other leaves. It would sway very gently in the breeze, and it was touched only by the western sun. It was a wonderful thing to see the yellow flowers in descending circles on a long, drooping stem. These flowers would soon be young bananas and the stem would become quite thick, for there might be dozens of them, rich, green and heavy. Now and then a shiny black bumblebee would go in among the yellow flowers, and several black and white butterflies would come and flutter about them. There seemed to be such an abundance of life in that banana-plant, especially with the sun upon it, and with its large leaves stirring in the breeze The little girl often used to play around it, and she was so full of fun and smiles. Sometimes we would walk together a short distance down the lane as the mother watched, and then she would go running back. We couldn't understand each other, for our words were different, but that didn't stop her from talking; so we talked.
One afternoon the mother beckoned me in. The little girl was skin and bones; she smiled weakly, then closed her eyes in utter exhaustion. She was sleeping fitfully. Through the open window came the noise of other children, shouting and playing. The mother was speechless and bereft of all tears. She wouldn't sit down, but stood by the little cot, and there was despair and longing in the air. Just then the doctor came in, and I left, with a silent promise to return.
The sun was setting behind the trees, and the huge clouds above it were brilliantly golden. There were the usual crows, and a parrot came screeching in and clung to the edge of a hole in a large, dead tree, with its tail pressed against the trunk; it hesitated, seeing a human being so close, but an instant later disappeared into the hole. There were a few villagers on the road, and a car went by, loaded with young people. A week-old calf was tied to a fence post, with its mother grazing nearby. A woman was coming down the road with a brightly-polished brass vessel on her head, and another on her hip; she was carrying water from the well. She used to go by every evening; and that evening especially, against the setting sun, she was the earth itself in motion.
Two young men had come from the town nearby. The bus had brought them to the corner, and they had walked the rest of the way. They worked in an office, they said, and so couldn't come any earlier. They had put on fresh clothes, which the old bus hadn't soiled, and they came in smiling but rather shyly, their manner hesitantly respectful. Once seated, they soon forgot their shyness, but they still weren't quite sure how to put their thoughts into words.
What sort of work do you do? "We are both employed in the same office; I am a stenographer, and my friend keeps accounts. Neither of us has been to college, because we couldn't afford it, and neither of us is married. We don't get much pay, but as we have no family responsibilities, it's enough for our needs. If either of us ever gets married, it will be quite another matter."
"We are not very well-educated," added the second one, "and though we read a certain amount of serious literature, our reading isn't intensive. We spend a great deal of time together, and on holidays we go back to our families. There are very few in the office who are interested in serious things. A mutual friend brought us to your talk the other day, and we asked if we could see you. May I ask a question, sir?"
Of course. "What is love?"
Do you want a definition of it? Don't you know what that word means? "There are so many ideas about what love should be, that it's all rather confusing," said the first one.
What sort of ideas?
"That love shouldn't be passionate, lustful; that one should love one's neighbour as oneself; that one should love one's father and mother; that love should be the impersonal love of God, and so on. Every man gives an opinion according to his fancy."
Apart from the opinions of others, what do you think? Have you opinions about love too? "It's difficult to put into words what one feels," replied the second one. "I think love must be universal; one must love all, without prejudice. It's, prejudice that destroys love; it's class consciousness that creates barriers and divides people. The sacred books say that we must love one another, and not be personal or limited in our love, but sometimes we find this very difficult."
"To love God is to love all," added the first one. "There's only divine love; the rest is carnal, personal. This physical love prevents divine love; and without divine love, all other love is mere barter and exchange. Love is not sensation. Sexual sensation must be checked, disciplined; that's why I'm against birth control. physical passion is destructive; through chastity lies the way to God."
Before we go further, don't you think we ought to find out if all these opinions have any validity? Is not one opinion as good as another? Regardless of who holds it, is not opinion a form of prejudice, a bias created by one's temperament, one's experience, and the way one happens to have been brought up? "Do you think it is wrong to hold an opinion?" asked the second one.
To say that it is wrong or right would merely be another opinion, wouldn't it? But if one begins to observe and understand how opinions are formed, then perhaps one may be able to perceive the actual significance of opinion, judgment, agreement.
"Would you kindly explain?"
Thought is the result of influence, isn't it? Your thinking and your opinions are dictated by the way you have been brought up. You say, "This is right, and that is wrong", according to the moral pattern of your particular conditioning. We are not for the moment concerned with what is true beyond all influence, or whether there is such truth. We are trying to see the significance of opinions, beliefs, assertions, whether they be collective or personal. Opinion, belief, agreement or disagreement, are responses according to one's background narrow or wide. Isn't that so?
"Yes, but is that wrong?"
Again, if you say it's right or wrong, you are still in the field of opinions. Truth is not a matter of opinion; a fact does not depend on agreement or belief. You and I may agree to call this object a watch, but by any other name it would still be what it is. Your belief or opinion is something that has been given to you by the society in which you live. In revolting against it, as a reaction, you may form a different opinion, another belief; but you are still on the same level, aren't you?
"I am sorry, sir, but I don't understand what you are getting at," replied the second one.
You have certain ideas and opinions about love, haven't you? "Yes." How did you get them? "I have read what the saints and the great religious teachers have said about love, and having thought it over, I have formed my own conclusions."
Which are shaped by your likes and dislikes, are they not? You like or you don't like what others have said about love, and you decide which statement is right and which is wrong according to your own predilection. Isn't this what you do? "I choose that which I consider to be true."
On what is your choice based? "On my own knowledge and discernment."
What do you mean by knowledge? I'm not trying to trip or corner you, but together we are trying to understand why one has opinions, ideas, conclusions about love. If once we understand this, we can go very much more deeply into the matter. So, what do you mean by knowledge?
"By knowledge I mean what I have learnt from the teachings of the sacred books." "Knowledge embraces also the techniques of modern science, and all the information that has been gathered by man from ancient days up to the present time," added the other.
So knowledge is a process of accumulation, is it not? It is the cultivation of memory. The knowledge that we have accumulated as scientists, musicians, type-setters, scholars, engineers, makes us technical in various departments of life. When we have to build a bridge, we think as engineers, and this knowledge is part of the tradition, part of the background, or conditioning, that influences all our thinking. Living, which includes the capacity to build a bridge, is a total action, not a separate, partial activity; yet our thinking about life, about love, is shaped by opinions, conclusions, tradition. If you were brought up in a culture which maintained that love is only physical, and that divine love is all nonsense, you would, in the same way, repeat what you had been taught, wouldn't you?
"Not always," replied the second one. "I admit it's rare, but some of us do rebel and think for ourselves."
Thought may rebel against the established pattern, but this very revolt is generally the outcome of another pattern; the mind is still caught in the process of knowledge, tradition. It is like rebelling within the walls of a prison for more conveniences, better food, and so on.
So your mind is conditioned by opinions, tradition, knowledge, and by your ideas about love, which make you act in a certain way. That is clear, isn't it?
"Yes, sir, that is clear enough," answered the first one. "But then what is love?"
If you want a definition, you can look in any dictionary; but the words which define love are not love, are they? Merely to seek an explanation of what love is, is still to be caught in words, in opinions, which are accepted or rejected according to your conditioning. "Aren't you making it impossible to inquire into what love is?", asked the second one.
Is it possible to inquire through a series of opinions, conclusions? To inquire rightly, thought must be freed from conclusion, from the security of knowledge, tradition. The mind may free itself from one series of conclusions, and form another, which is again only a modified continuity of the old.
Now, isn't thought itself a movement from one result to another, from one influence to another? Do you see what I mean? "I'm not at all sure that I do," said the first one. "I don't understand it at all," said the second.
Perhaps you will, as we go along. Let me put it this way: is thinking the instrument of inquiry? Will thinking help one to understand what love is? "How am I to find out what love is if I'm not allowed to think?" asked the second one rather sharply.
Please be a little more patient. You have thought about love, haven't you? "Yes. My friend and I have thought a great deal about it."
If one may ask, what do you mean when you say you have thought about love? "I have read about it, discussed it with my friends, and drawn my own conclusions."
Has it helped you to find out what love is? You have read, exchanged opinions with each other, and come to certain conclusions about love, all of which is called thinking. You have positively or negatively described what love is, sometimes adding to, and sometimes taking away from, what you have previously learnt. Isn't that so?
"Yes, that's exactly what we have been doing, and our thinking has helped to clarify our minds."
Has it? Or have you become more and more entrenched in an opinion? Surely, what you call clarification is a process of coming to a definite verbal or intellectual conclusion. "That's right; we are not as confused as we were."
In other words, one or two ideas stand out clearly in this jumble of teachings and contradictory opinions about love. Isn't that it?
"Yes; the more we have gone over this whole question of what love is, the clearer it has become."
Is it love that has become clear, or what you think about it?
Let us go a little further into this, shall we? A certain ingenious mechanism is called a watch because we have all agreed to use this word to indicate that particular thing; but the word 'watch' is obviously not the mechanism itself. Similarly, there is a feeling or a state which we have all agreed to call love; but the word is not the actual feeling, is it? And the word 'love' means so many different things. At one time you use it to describe a sexual feeling, at another time you talk about divine or impersonal love, or you assert what love should or should not be, and so on.
"If I may interrupt, sir, could it be that all these feelings are just varying forms of the same thing?" asked the first one.
How does it appear to you? "I'm not sure. There are moments when love seems to be one thing, but at other moments it appears to be something quite different. It's all very confusing. One doesn't know where one is."
That's just it. We want to be sure of love, to peg it down, so that it won't elude us; we reach conclusion, make agreements about it; we call it by various names, with their special meanings; we talk about 'my love', just as we talk about 'my property', 'my family', 'my virtue', and we hope to lock it safely away, so that we can turn to other things and make sure of them too; but somehow it's always slipping away when we least expect it.
"I don't quite follow all this," said the second one, rather puzzled.
As we have seen, the feeling itself is different from what the books say about it; the feeling is not the description, it is not the word. That much is clear, isn't it? "Yes."
Now, can you separate the feeling from the word, and from your preconceptions of what it should and should not be?
"What do you mean, 'separate'?" asked the first one.
There is the feeling, and the word or words which describe that feeling, either approvingly or disapprovingly. Can you separate the feeling from the verbal description of it? It's comparatively easy to separate an objective thing, like this watch, from the word which describes it; but to dissociate the feeling itself from the word 'love', with all its implications, is far more arduous and requires a great deal of attention.
"What good will that do?" asked the second one.
We always want to get a result in return for doing something. This desire for a result, which is another form of conclusion-seeking, prevents understanding. When you ask, "What good will it do me if I dissociate the feeling from the word 'love'?", you are thinking of a result; therefore you are not really inquiring to find out what that feeling is, are you? "I do want to find out, but I also want to know what will be the outcome of dissociating the feeling from the word. Isn't this perfectly natural?"
Perhaps; but if you want to understand, you will have to give your attention, and there's no attention when one part of your mind is concerned with results, and the other with understanding. In this way you get neither, and so you become more and more confused, bitter and miserable. If we don't dissociate the word, which is memory and all its reactions, from the feeling, then that word destroys the feeling; and then the word, or memory, is the ash without the fire. Isn't this what has happened to you both? You have so entangled yourselves in a net of words, of speculations, that the feeling itself, which is the only thing that has deep and vital significance, is lost.
"I am beginning to see what you mean," said the first one slowly. "We are not simple; we don't discover anything for ourselves, but just repeat what we have been told. Even when we revolt, we form new conclusions, which again have to be broken down. We really don't know what love is, but merely have opinions about it. Is that it?"
Don't you think so? Surely, to know love, truth, God, there must be no opinions, no beliefs, no speculations with regard to it. If you have an opinion about a fact, the opinion becomes important, not the fact. If you want to know the truth or the falseness of the fact, then you must not live in the word, in the intellect. You may have a lot of knowledge, information, about the fact, but the actual fact is entirely different. put away the book, the description, the tradition, the authority, and take the journey of self-discovery. Love, and don't be caught in opinions and ideas about what love is or should be. When you love, everything will come right. Love has its own action. Love, and you will know the blessings of it. Keep away from the authority who tells you what love is and what it is not. No authority knows; and he who knows cannot tell. Love, and there is understanding.