Happy Chinese couple

When I was sixteen, I wrote an article for my school magazine and called it “The Different Aspects of Love”. Wow! Looking back I wonder now what a mere sixteen-year-old knew about love, let alone its different faces. Now decades later, I return to ponder on the amazing, miraculous and paradoxical nature of human love.

Buddhists and Hindus believe that the human condition is suffering. For most of my adult life I have pondered on the truth or falsity of this basic premise that forms the beginning and end of these two great spiritual teachings. Nowhere is this truer than in the multi faceted diamond called love. The highest of ecstasy, whether found in erotic or divine spheres, love remains true to the twin suffering of longing and loss. The suffering engendered by love’s longing to fulfil itself either in union with the Inner Beloved or a warm body next to us, is inexplicably sweet, poignant and always lonely. Assailed by restlessness, an inability to sit or stand, eat or starve, the lover’s suffering is a fever forever in search of a cold. Or in search of a Soul.

Yes, the human condition is suffused with pain and pleasure, a paradox that plagues us. The exquisite pain of loving someone is also the reward of that same love. Another paradox: picture the restless yearning and wandering of a person who searches for the beloved and once found, is equally torn with jealousy, sleepless nights of wondering where the beloved is when out of his or her sight. He, who longs before to be in the arms of his one true love, is now tormented by the imagined or real loss of this sweet object of his love. Strange are the ways of love indeed.

Longing is a restless, nebulous feeling difficult to define. It is not a feeling one particularly would seek. Yet, one has little control over when it comes and when it goes. Its source is mystical. It comes in odd times of a person’s life. As I said earlier, I recall having this feeling when as a child growing up in Malaya. It came strongest when the day was ending, the brief twilight of the tropics. A glimpse of the divine, lasting the length of a breath and totally inexplicable, especially for a child. Now as an adult, I have the words to name the feeling. I have the knowledge to describe the call of the Inner Self. It is the call to spirituality. It is an invitation to be in union with the Great Tao, Brahma or God. Now I can retrieve a residual memory of long ago, buried deep, a memory before birth.

For the Chinese Taoists, the Buddhists and the Hindus, the Self is our inner God or Goddess, our inner Beloved, in Carl Jung’s view. Longing for the Self is therefore primordial. It is only still when the most laudable of human emotions, divine or spiritual love, is found within oneself. This form of Self-love then liberates and exhilarates. It brings bliss, peace and a stillness of mind in the face of pain and suffering.

On the other hand, love outside oneself tends to bring pain when we suffer its loss. A loss of one’s outer beloved does not necessarily be bad however. For some, loss brings new life, new growth. This is dependent on our mind set. Is this a mind that can accept every life’s event as a manifestation of divine love? Or a mindset that can only accept the benefits of love and reject its losses? Love’s loss is, of course, most celebrated universally at death. Death is always someone’s loss whether for the living or dead. However, death is seen as liberation in all great religions. The Chinese Taoists, Hindus and Buddhists see death paradoxically as yet another stage, another change, a transient passage to some place where we will be born again. So love, longing and loss are all linked in their view as an infinite spiral, spinning forever and ever towards the ultimate liberation of the soul from our body and ego, the source of all our suffering.

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