Yesterday, a friend of mine, who’s a follower of Sri-Sri Ravi Shankar, posted a quote from the Guru’s lecture on his Facebook timeline –
‘Agyaat se Prem(devotion for the unknown)’ ko shraddha kehte hain – Sri Sri
It translates to – Love (Prem) and Devotion for the unknown is called ‘Shraddha’. Now, there is no real translation for Shraddha in english, but roughly it equates to a combination of dedication, faith and love. But this seemingly innocuous quote somehow triggered a whirlwind of thoughts in my crazy head. On the face of it, it seems absurd to be able to love & trust an unknown entity. Even in the very naive model of love (although of a specific type), that I analyzed years ago, the fundamental assumption was the presence of a subject – The one that is loved. Also, even if you consider love to be an emotion manifested by certain chemical processes in the brain, it is still dependent on a trigger (subject) to start those chemical processes.
Hypothetically, if such a notion was true and we were to imagine a world where all inhabitants have this superpower of being able to experience love without a subject – the world would be an amazing place. Most of us have experienced pure love at some point in our lives – not just towards somebody but towards some idea, some vision or something. Imagine if that feeling was to be independent of the subject and you could be in a state of perpetual love, as and when required. We’ve previously seen how our minds are chained by supernormal-stimuli triggering desire-infested emotions and our intellect by in-born biases. If there is one overpowering emotion that can free us all of this misery, it would probably be love. However, love often, and based on my experience, tragically so, ends in pain. We usually lose love because we somehow lose the subject, or our abstraction of the subject falls apart. If there is no subject, then there is no possibility of loss and hence no possibility of heartbreak. This would thereby result in perpetually free (from pain or loss) love. Wouldn’t perpetual love be a shortcut to perpetual bliss? Looking at it another way, this would take the phrase ‘Love has no boundaries‘ to a whole new level. Not only would love have no boundaries of race, color, age, caste, creed, sex etc. but it’d also not have a boundary of existence or nonexistence of the subject. That’s where you probably being to think I’m too high on weed on a weekday!
Vedantic literature is full of verses explaining how the end goal of spiritual practice is to be able to eliminate the ego, and thereby experiencing the common unifying underlying spirit. Sufi mystics and poets like Rumi and Kabir also speak of the same. When you are in a truly ego-less, desire-less state, there is nothing left, but to love and trust every single manifestation of that spirit around you (because you understand the futility and worthlessness of everything outside the (real)ity of spirit). Now, all that sounds lovey-dovey, but in a practical sense, I don’t see people being able to reach that level of selfless, desire-less, ego-ridden love even in 1-on-1 relationships. Not only is love enslaved by the existence and actions of the subject, it is also enslaved by our expectations on the abstractions of the subject that our minds create. (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, illustrates this point with great finesse). If those abstractions begin to crack, our love begins to crumble. And all of this, with just one subject, and in spite of all the support that it gets from our in-born attraction, infatuation, attachment etc. towards that subject. If we aren’t capable of experiencing love within subjective boundaries, can we really be capable of transcending those boundaries of existence and experiencing it perpetually?
That is perhaps where the conceptualization of God (and Bhakti) comes from. With God, we create an abstraction that is somewhere between Gyaat (known) and Agyaat (unknown). The abstraction is seemingly impossible to break, given that the Subject itself is not really seen or unseen – it is imaginary, and is like an implanted seed in our minds (an image, an idol or a story). Yet it is not really unknown (Agyaat). We create an illusion in our mind of knowing God, by our imagination. After taking that leap of faith, Bhakti, gives us a glimpse of the same elevated happiness or bliss that I’ve talked about above. At the same time it is independent of the actions of any ‘living’ subject (since the subject is an unreal imaginary abstraction), and so has almost the same insurance from heartbreak and disappointment as subject-less love. And yet, some (arguably most) people manage to break even this seemingly unbreakable abstraction by loading it with expectations and desires, which when unmet, result in loss of dedication, faith & love (Shraddha).
From this, it also seems that being able to love without the crutches of existential dependence might in-fact be the ultimate preassigned goal of the human form. If I revisit the paths that the Gita shows – it asks us to create some abstractions (as a cure for our inability to love the unknown), that can be used as crutches to attain that goal. Note that none of these paths take a dependence on any abstraction of a living form or on something that might change, based on its own material nature. The 3 paths can be thought of as follows:
- Karma Yoga – As the path of falling in love with the abstraction of action and work
- Bhakti Yoga – As the path of falling in love with the abstraction of God (as described above)
- Gyana Yoga – As the path of falling in love with the abstraction of knowledge. The science of understanding the path to absolution.
Theoretically speaking, if I fall in love, with an abstraction of You, by just having seen You, without ever having met You or spoken to You or known You, my love for You would in fact be more blissful and better-insured against heartbreak, than falling in love with the ‘real’ you. That abstraction of You, would be an abstraction conceptualized almost entirely in my mind – just like God’s. Like God, You’d still be between the known and the unknown, but unlike God, I would not need to take leaps of faith to see or imagine You. You’d also not carry the burden of perfection or expectations or desire fulfillment that God’s abstraction does, or the abstraction of Your material self might. Thus, loving You, would be closer to the elusive ‘Loving the Unknown’ path, than loving God. And I understand it isn’t an easy spiritual journey, but if I can, loving that abstraction of You would be easier and get me closer to my existential goal of perpetual happiness, than any other real path that I can think of. And yet, in spite of all this, ironically, the world would call it Unreal. And even more ironically, I’d agree with the world – Un’real’ indeed!