Thursday, February 26, 2009


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I took me a while to write this article on love. And I don't know when I will write another article again, but if you have any suggestions on what you might like to read, that will provide some motivation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Upanishad of Love

My inquiry here is into relationships with special reference to “love”: what are the myths and realities in the so-called love? Is there a genuine relationship that could be called love? What are the factors that go into making such a relationship? What are the dependency and liberating factors? And so on. I am interested in the morphology of love.

When I was teaching Upanishads in an Eastern Philosophy class, I used to say to the students that they could write their own Upanishad, as for example on the subject of love. Any such Upanishad would start with what is the most obvious aspect of love, viz., physical attraction and eventually culminate in a non-dual state where there is neither the lover nor the loved, and no need exists for the lover either. The following essay explores those various aspects of love, partly from personal experience and partly from observations of human behavior. This Upanishad perforce is somewhat autobiographical, but it will illustrate the stages one could go through to arrive at what might be construed as the non-dual aspect of love.

An Upanishad of Love:

Stage 1: The process starts with sexual arousal. When you see a person of the opposite sex (sometimes same) you begin to have an arousal; maybe the person is naked or you have touched him or her. Either by accident, because there is no channel for expression of sex, (and no experience of being held physically or holding another), or because of company one might get into sexual fantasies and even masturbation. One yearns for the contact of a sex partner.

Stage 2: If, by chance, one does get into a relationship, (especially as a teenager), one feels that his or her life has found a new meaning. One is full of life and joy. One feels as one lives for the sake of the other. You buy gifts, say sweet things, do various favors and so on and so forth. If there is no sexual intercourse, one keeps fantasizing and hoping for that moment of touch and union. If it comes, it will last for a while and can end up in marriage or at least an affair.

Stage 3:
When there is a frustration or some obstacle in the course of love, and one’s emotional needs are not yet satisfied (for instance, for lack of an adequate response from the partner), there is a likelihood of becoming dependent on the other. This can also be coupled with one’s ego being hurt, one’s sense of conquering or power or self-importance not being satisfied. Then it’s bound to express itself either with excessive or unreasonable demands or expectations, or as a show of power withdrawal of affection or favors from the other. Or if forcing oneself or one’s will on the other doesn’t work, one can end up hating the other. And it can, in the same vein, lead to force and violence. One can also get into a state of loss of meaning or interest in life or total boredom.

Stage 4: One can get desperate and seek escape from one’s condition by entering into more dependency-generating relationships, activity, achievement, alcohol, attempts at suicide and such. Ultimately, if none of them succeed, one can run into a total life crisis.

Stage 5:
Questioning Assumptions or Premises in one’s thinking process: I recall a time of crisis in my own life: That day when it happened, I had called this girlfriend 21 times, each time being hung up on the other end. Finally, I ended that effort. But the pain and agony did not go away. That night I was groaning and moaning with my head in the pillow. In one of those moments, whether thanks to my being acquainted with the teachings of J. Krishnamurti or because something else, I can’t say, but I became aware of a mistake I had been making in all my youth, namely, assuming that life without love is not worth living. The youthful urge for sex and contact with the opposite sex (which I was deprived of in India, thanks to the sexual segregation in the culture there), the previous frustration of an affair with a married woman (6 years older than me) not getting anywhere, the eagerness to fall in love with someone available around and that love not finding a response -- all precipitated in this crisis. The idea in my assumption was that someone, somewhere, must love me. Of course, if it is just any love, I could have found that in umpteen numbers of ways and places – among friends, parents and so forth – but that wasn’t good enough. It had to be romantic love and that too from this woman, or whomever I chose to be with at that moment.

Once I became painfully aware of that assumption, I was out of my crisis instantly. I merely questioned the assumption, I did not accept it or reject. The problem, as a consequence, dropped out of me as if a handkerchief dropped itself out of my pocket. I never had to become dependent on another person again in my life.

I stopped calling my girl friend. Yet, I heard from her about three months later. Her foot was hurt in a skiing accident. There were a few meetings and sex, and even an attempt on her part to get me to meet her grandparents (perhaps for possibly of marrying her). But eventually the relationship fizzled out. She married a lawyer and divorced him in six months! I heard from her again about 17 years or so later. She said she later discovered her true sexuality and had a relationship with a lesbian who walked out on her after 10 years. She had a habit of calling me when she was in doldrums! Anyway, I was so glad I did not get entangled any more with her.

It’s not that somehow I could never again relate to another person, nor was it that I was never involved in sexual or other love relationships with women any more. Far from it. It’s just that the relationships never deteriorated into dependency any more.

One more consequence of this event was that I was sort of rooted out of both my native Indian culture as well as the Western/American culture I was engrossed in for the previous three and-a-half years of my life. I remember going on a bus to San Francisco from Berkeley on some errand and while I was travelling on the bus, I had this vision of my travelling in some sort of a ship when the round window of the room suddenly opened up and I saw the vast expanse of the ocean and sky outside for the first time. That sight was too frightening for me and I quickly shut off the window. It was clear to me that a part of my self was dropped the previous night and this freedom which resulted from the event was too new and too scary to bear. It took me years to understand the implications of that freedom.

Stage 6:
Relationships after: I would still go after women, have affairs and eventually I got married twice and had two children, one from each wife. I have an excellent relationship with my present wife and family. And my ex-wife is still on friendly terms with me and my family and visits us at least once or twice in a week. Yet, there is no involvement in relationships, and certainly no dependencies. People who have observed, an elderly person in India, for instance, described my relationship as no involvement yet fulfilling my family duties and obligations. By the way, I and my wife never used the word ‘love’ when we talk to each other. (UG says ‘love’ is just a “four-letter word!”)

But I think more needs to be said in this context, because it relates to the matter of love. I enjoy relationships, yet I am also content to be alone. I do think about myself and my health and other matters, but when there is another person in front of me, such as my wife or a friend visiting or a someone who needs my attention or help, I think also (perhaps even first) of the other person. I do things for them which I don’t necessarily do for myself. When there is a conversation, most of the time it’s not to win a point or show myself off, but rather it’s geared toward listening, understanding and helping, if necessary. It’s not as much that the other takes precedence over my needs and tastes, but that there is not much thinking about my own needs – they, not being many, would be met easily anyway. Relationships are no longer based on need. They just happen. I do not mean that I sacrifice myself and my needs. I am just not in the picture.

And when I am by myself, when I have not immediate concerns about my health or other needs, and I am not occupying myself with various activities (such as playing games on the computer!), there are moments when nothing and no one in the world matters, and there just in no one in the picture. When someone does enter into the picture, then that person is the primary focus of attention and nothing else matters. I am not sure you could call that ‘love’. Anyway, it’s not based on mutual exploitation, push and pull, expectations or demands.


While many relationships are rather clear-cut, we notice that some of these create bondage for both (or several) parties involved. In almost all these relationships there is a mutual dependency of one on the other. The same can be said about even the relationship of love. More often than not, the dependency is generated by a set of desires or expectations and/or fear of these not being fulfilled. Perhaps friendship is the one relationship in which the partners are free to be related or separated as they wish.

In some sense or other we are related to the environment around us, including the people in it, whether we will it not. To exist is to be related, not in the sense of self and other, but in a very existential sense – I am related to the things in the environment, for instance. May be they are my tools, my property, things I cherish or detest, and so forth. But I am already jumping ahead – by calling these such, I am already involved in a self-thing relationship: For example, I have an identification with the newly bought TV set in the sense that if a part of it is broken, I feel as if a part of me is broken.

But once the self is formed through the thought process, i.e., my being connected through memory to my past experiences which in reflection are regarded as pleasant or unpleasant, I am related as a self to my environment, whether it be objects, situations, persons or ideas and beliefs. We can generalize here and say that ultimately all our relationships are based on the pleasure principle, i.e., pursuing what has proven to be pleasurable in the past and avoiding what has been experienced in the past as painful. As UG, would say, our relationships, particularly love, are based on “what can I get out of it?” When things fail in our relationships, when we don’t get what we expected, and we can’t seem to press the partner into yielding what we desire, we play the last trump card call “love”.

Role of Instinct: Although thought is invariably mixed and drives most of our responses, some forms of behavior are closer to the instinctive behavior we observe in the animal world: Take, for instance, a mother’s willingness even to die to protect her child, or a person’s starving himself or herself to death upon the bereavement of the partner in love or matrimony. The attachment is too great to even care for one’s own survival. Even such behavior in other cases, however, is vastly modified, of course, by one’s upbringing and various other factors generated by the ego-centered thinking mechanism.

Physical Contact: There is no question that touch and any sort of physical contact play a vital role in sex, romantic relations and other human relations. We know that children deprived of physical contact have a stunted growth and grow up as warped human beings. When someone is in distress, nothing consoles like a hug, or getting the other person physically close to you or at least a touch on the shoulder. Lovers sitting in embrace or even hands-in-hands can experience a state of euphoria or ease and blissfulness. These are the moments which we normally remember and cherish about love, along with friendly conversations in which we sense no conflict.

Touch in Sex: No doubt touch plays a central role in sex. In India when I grew up I knew how starved I was for touch and physical contact with the opposite sex. If only I had such a contact, I would have not grown up to be so warped in my sexual growth. In sex, of course, chemistry and electricity are major components. We can actually feel how charged we are before the contact, and how the charge gets ‘neutralized’ after a period of contact. This phenomenon is even more poignant in sexual intercourse, part of the reason we feel so laid back and relaxed (and even wasted) after the orgasm. The glands have done their job. There is no ‘built up’ tension any more.

In a sense Freud was right: most of sex is touch. But unfortunately he reversed the equation and somehow thought that most of touch is sex. His interpretation of the tactual relations that exist between a parent and a child of the opposite sex as sexual, in my opinion, is a perversion which led to his weird theories of Oedipus Complex and penis jealousy.

When sexual relationships (or so called ‘love’) are limited to sex, it is quite likely not only a sense of bonding does not develop between the partners, but one tends to treat the partner as a mere object to be utilized for one’s pleasure, and change partners like one ‘changes jackets.’ One gets into the mode of conquest: I knew of a ‘friend’ in India who boasted one day that he had slept so far with 267 women and was still counting! I also know women who did similar things with men.

Sharing: Doing things together and sharing things with each other are some other components. Doing things for one another, dedication, loyalty, sharing a family and children and so on, are other ingredients of what we normally call a love relationship.

In our minds we sometimes have a sense of communion where the other person’s as well as our own minds are so completely relaxed and at ease and nothing else seems to matter, and the mind doesn’t seem to go anywhere else.

Bonding: Just as one develops a bonding with one’s child or a friend or a spouse (in India many times after marrying), you could develop a bonding with your partner: her (or his) interests become your interests. One would do things for the other which one wouldn’t do for oneself. Bonding generally goes beyond dependency. There is a certain empathy you feel for the other which is beyond normal relationships.

An Expanded Self: When two people are entwined with each other, soon one’s self-interest begins to encompass the other too, and the two begin to form an exclusive relationship. As a consequence, people who were friends before no longer receive the same treatment. A transition has been made from the ‘I-club’ to ‘We-two Club’.

This is somewhat akin to the in-groups one becomes part of as one grows. More often than not, one’s family becomes such an in-group. Collectively, the family and its interests alone are what count. And one is willing to exploit others (or rob them) to feed the family. The standards that we apply to the others we don’t apply to our family members. We say, “It’s the family.” Property relations are only part of the story.

So, although it start out to be an expanded self, love relationship can eventually lead to become more aware of others and shed more of oneself in favor of other.

Power in Relationships: It’s not just pleasure-seeking or gratification one seeks in relationships, but a sense of power or importance which often expresses itself in the form of competition. A win or victory in competition as well as pleasure gives a sense of one’s own existence and continuity. The continuity of the self is ubiquitous in human relationship.

Women as well as men use sex to gain power or domination over the other by dangling it, withdrawing it when they find it necessary and so forth.

The Role of Will:
More often than not, one tends to exert one’s to assert one’s will and insist on having one’s way. A tug-of-war of wills is the usual consequence. When both the sides assert themselves in this fashion, not only conflict, but ultimately a breakdown of relationship can occur.

Possessiveness: Once a relationship has been established, each side can become possessive of the other, and that is bound to choke the relationship and lead to ultimate failure. Jealousy, violence and domination and submission (as well as masochism and sadism) are bound to enter into such a relationship.

Faithfulness: In marital or other love-based relationships, each partner feels that he or she owns the other, and that the other owes allegiance to oneself and one’s relationship. When she or he has a side affair, anger, jealousy and hatred flare up in the other and we all know the consequences of these.

All this seems somehow bypassed in what we imagine as love relationship. When there is romantic love, one is intoxicated, to be sure. The mere presence or even thought of the loved one is enough to trigger a sense of exhilaration, well-being and feeling good about oneself. Each thought about the other fuels the feeling one has towards him or her. But like all other feelings, this feeling of love also is transitory and subject to changes of time – it lasts only until a sense of doubt, questioning or some other obstacle presents itself and begins gnaw at it. The rest of the self naturally asserts itself and introduces expectations and demands into the picture. The self and its interests, for instance, jealousy, will eventually have to play a role and bring down the edifice of love one has built so assiduously. Also, competition is bound to create division: you keep looking for the difference in the other person and that creates the division. The division is the source of conflict. We develop contempt or fear of the partner. Where these exist, there is no scope for love.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that these divisions have to be permanent. It’s entirely possible that a couple, even after they are married, may work these differences out to the degree of not only being able to live with them, but also being able to allow the partner to be different. But in this process something is lost. The initial fervor no longer exists. We may arrive at a point at which we may let each other be, but we are lone individuals living under the same roof, meeting occasionally for dinner or lunch or some social occasion when friends visit us.

Economics: After one forms a family with the partner, economic relationships not only a play central part, but also become one of the major sources of conflict within the family, as they do in the rest of one’s life, and become a source of pulls and pushes and ultimately of even divorces. That’s one reason why I think in spousal relationships, it is highly advisable to get economics out of the way, by, for instance, leaving complete access to money and property to the partner. Of course, this takes tremendous mutual trust. Economics, we know is a key to feeling power in life. Such a relationship is bound to create a more relaxed married life.

The same goes for enabling the partner to have a total sense of power by including him or her in any major decision making within the married life. In fact, in my family I even included my children in the decision-making. I used to say, “Don’t think of just what you want and how you would want to get it. But think of how, given the whole picture, including every one’s interests and wishes, what sort of decision you would make not just for yourself, but for everyone. Whatever decision we come to must be agreeable to all of us.” Of course, I also let the children have their say in the choice of schools or subjects they studied. That too gives them a sense of power. I was there to merely advise them of the consequences of their choices – as for instance, when I told my daughter how difficult it is in the highly competitive contemporary world to make a living as a dancer. If my daughter still wanted to go into dancing, it would be her choice. And when she grew up, neither she nor the rest of the family were unhappy with her decision.

Is there a need for a relationship? In this process, one has perhaps lost one’s zest for life. You may become slowly lifeless and merely carry on the business of living. Also notice that one’s self and interests have diminished somewhat and the self is carrying on a minimal load. Of course, you may turn out to be a lonely person: whereas earlier the same loneliness drove one to a relationship (even if it is an unpleasant or unfulfilling one), having turned somewhat bitter, now you get reconciled to this sort of existence. You only do what comes in your way. You only respond to people and situations when there is a demand from outside. You have no initiative.

Also, as one ages, one sees that one’s possibilities are limited and he or she is stuck with the partner one is left with, which may be better in one’s mind than not having a partner at all. Or, the other hand, the couple could develop a genuine friendship with each other and enjoy each other’s companionship.

Of course, these are all just abstractions and purely hasty generalizations. A lot of people choose many other and different paths of life. They can repeat affair after affair; or if life presents frustrations, one could escape or compensate through activity, achievement, drinking, or even suicide. The possibilities again are endless.

The impressive features I have noticed in various instances of love: 1) The bereavement in birds and cats and even in people can lead to suicide and death. I remember that one of the pair of little kittens once disappearing and then the other kitten stopped eating and eventually disappearing too. 2) You notice that some persons never recovered from the grief of the death or even separation of their partner. I don’t think, my friend Bob, for instance, ever recovered from his wife leaving him to be with a family friend. 3) I notice that people go to extraordinary lengths to care for their partners, even to their own detriment: I remember Vito being so patient and serving his wife Shalom when she was having serious problems. Same with my wife’s friend, Ann, when her husband had an accident and was seriously injured. You see how forgiving fathers and mothers are when dealing with problems caused by their children. These instances are not people just bound by custom and tradition. There is an intimate bond that has been formed that accounts for such behavior. You could say it is identification based on habit and so forth. But it may be more than that. The self simply has diminished or has little place in determining one’s actions. What’s happens to the other is the only factor that operates. 4) Also I see with some such gentleness and affection emanating from every move of theirs (I remember the elderly lady, part of the renter’s family in our house, when I was little). She would just wish ill for no one. Nothing around her trained her to be so. It was her nature. She was just born with very little self, I would say, and never let it get the upper hand over her. 5) Or someone like UG, who would show such utter compassion for even total strangers – we don’t even know what triggers it. But he can go extreme lengths to care for that person. Again, there is a total lack of self.

In all these behaviors, one thing that seems to be common is that not just there is some bond between people, but the self or ego and interests don’t come in the way. We can say that it’s the self or the ego that has its own interests which are sooner or later bound to conflict with the interests of the loved one that is detrimental to anything that could be called genuine love.

Then the question arises as to why one needs a relationship such as love at all if there is no self-centered need? Why bother?

Is it possible to live without a relationship then?

A few things I want to say about relationships, especially about what you might call ‘love’: I strongly feel that where there is fear (of authority, for instance), dependence, contempt for the other, and feelings of inferiority or superiority, there can’t be love. Also, when relationships are based on mutual need or exploitation, they might work for a while (even for a long time), but I would say they are not based on love.

After all this, how do we go about describing or defining love? I don’t know. But you know what I mean. As long as there is the self and the needs based on the self, you don’t have any love. I know this goes quite contrary to the current beliefs, especially on the part of psychologists and psychoanalysts, about love. But check it out yourself.

Need for a Relationship:
There surely are biological and psychological constitutional factors that initially prompt one to seek a relationship. For one thing, sex glands being active is a primary reason: the sight of opposite sex, even one is a child, is bound to invoke feelings of sex in oneself. Add to that the fact as one becomes conscious of oneself and a sense of the self has formed, one feels a gap or emptiness sometime or other. Combine these two, you have the ingredients for a romantic love: as I said before, plain consciousness is an unstable state, if only for the fact that the psychological elements of memory, acting through the brain, are bound to impinge themselves on one’s consciousness. Once they are present in the consciousness, one can see oneself as lacking or needing such things. This one could easily perceive as a need to fill the gap generated by these memories. Aloneness or loneliness thus arising constantly prompts to seek fulfillment through seeking company, achievement, proving oneself and what not.

I am not saying there is no such thing as friendship or affection beyond these things. But if there is such a thing, it masks the initial emptiness, and soon uncovers it when there is a frustration or other obstruction in its way. It is the same with what we call ‘love’. There are moments when we are in company with someone, with whom we are not necessarily romantically involved, when we are gloating in each other’s company and our minds do not go to some other place. We are not even conscious of ourselves. Those idyllic moments, unfortunately, are short-lived. Soon there is an awareness of it, and the desire process butts in by either wanting to continue or perpetuate or repeat those moments. Then we are back again in the process of seeking and desiring and the accompanying aloneness or loneliness which we constantly make up for.

Of course, it is also quite likely that without such warm relationships such as friendship and love, our life may seem not only dry, but may in fact feel meaningless. We may drift and drag in life and merely carry on. However, I feel that such an attitude may be the result of some initial frustrations and once they are cleared from our way, we just live our live without any negative feelings.

What I am saying here is that if there is any such thing as love or friendship, it is quickly contaminated by the process of the self which introduces various elements into the picture, such as calculation (how much each is giving or taking), competition, power relations, finding differences or other kinds of division. It takes quite a bit of maturity on both sides to eventually overcome and transcend these divisions and come to a place where one lets each other be without the common pushes and pulls and enjoy each other’s company.

Such a state also enables one eventually to become aware of the whole process of the self and enables us to be free from it, however short-lived that freedom may be.