Over the past few years I have engaged in an on-going discussion with a Brother on the subject of Unconditional Love. But recently I began to consider the possibility of opening up the discussion to wider participation, for I am sure that there must be other points of view on this important subject. Being a Therapist, our Brother tends to focus more on behavior itself, rather than on the cause of one’s behavior. On the other hand, being an idealist – some might even say a cynic – I tend to focus on the ultimate cause, often veiled by experiences too painful to recollect. I have, therefore, decided to share with you some of my own concerns and insights regarding this thorny subject.
Let us begin, therefore, by supposing that during a visit to town you should encounter a homeless person whose countenance and demeanor moved you so profoundly you had to fight back tears. In this state of emotional agitation you reach into your pocket or purse and give this homeless person a twenty-dollar bill. My questions to you are as follows: Why did you give money? Why, for example, did you not engage in a conversation with this person in an attempt to ascertain how best you could help? Is it possible that you gave money because you felt so sorry for the person and, in fact, there is a part of you, which would feel guilty if you had not given? If this is indeed the case, then did you give out of love, and if so, love for whom – yourself or the homeless individual, or both? And if indeed you did give not out of hidden feelings of guilt, why, in fact did you give?
While there can be no doubt that we are each potentially capable of tremendous kindness, and even of heroism, my concern is that we too often assume that our acts of “love” are truly unconditional when, in fact, they may be generated by some unconscious need. Furthermore, given this potential, even inherent capability for performing tremendous acts of kindness, why does it manifest only occasionally and then under a given set of circumstances, directed towards only certain types of needy individuals? Where I am going with all this is to get you to look at your motives – really look at them! – in all that you do, simply because it is motive, which determines whether one’s love is conditional or not. In fact, I am here reminded of the Buddhist injunction, found in the little booklet entitled LIGHT ON THE PATH, which runs as follows: BEFORE THE EYES CAN SEE THEY MUST BE INCAPABLE OF TEARS. BEFORE THE EAR CAN HEAR IT MUST HAVE LOST ITS SENSITIVENESS. AND BEFORE THE VOICE CAN SPEAK IN THE PRESENCE OF THE MASTER IT MUST HAVE LOST ITS POWER TO WOUND. The question now arises: what does this injunction really mean? Does it mean that one must become hard-hearted, incapable of tears, incapable of being moved by the agonizing cries of our Bothers and Sisters in need? I think not! And I say this, because for me the key to the entire injunction is to be found in its very last sentence, which deals with the matter of the voice having lost its power to wound.
When one really stops to think about it, who wounds another with their words anyway? Even a cursory examination would soon reveal that the fact of the matter is that a voice which has the power to wound is that of an individual who himself or herself feels wounded. And who can say that they have never been wounded – especially during childhood when one is so sensitive, so vulnerable? Indeed, the same can be said both for the eyes, which are capable of tears and for the ears, which have not lost their sensitiveness. Thus when we cry, for whom are we crying and when our ears are offended, what in us is being offended? In other words, it is entirely possible that much of the emotions we experience in our daily lives are directly tied to unconscious feelings of vulnerability and pain, wounds of the King, which, in Grail symbolism, will not heal. How then does one go about the healing of one’s wounds? Indeed, is it not possible that we “love” those who do not trespass on our wounds and dislike or “hate” those who do? Is it possible that we “love” those who respect and admire us, those who make us feel comfortable, and despise those who do not? Is it possible that we “love” those who fulfill some need, or call forth some unconscious longing within us and ignore those who do not?
If one really stops to think about it, one could come to realize that much of what ordinarily passes for “love” is but a rush of emotion, which has its roots in some unconscious fear, some unconscious wish, some unconscious desire, some unconscious aversion, some unconscious wound, longing, etc. And as delicious as the emotion called “love” may be, all of these unconscious “feelings” referred to earlier, all represent the pre-existing “conditions” necessary to the awakening of the emotion, which ordinarily passes for “love”. In fact, the dictionary defines “love”, in part, as follows: the attraction, desire, or affection felt for a person who arouses delight or admiration, or elicits tenderness, sympathetic interest, or benevolence. But please don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that these emotional events, which lead to so many marriages and later to so many divorces, are not important elements in our efforts to learn to “love” truly, unconditionally, as God “Loves”, without regard to gender, social status, material riches, criminal behavior, ethnicity etc., or even as the sun “Loves” as it shines equally upon the rich and poor, the good and bad, without discrimination. And you may rightly ask: Is it possible for a human being to love in such a manner, to love unconditionally? Is it possible to love without even the condition of realizing that our acts of kindness, one to another, “make us feel good” because we are living in harmony with our highest idealism? What exactly does one mean by the term “unconditional love” anyway? And even if we could arrive at a satisfactory definition of “unconditional love”, how would one go about realizing it? Indeed, what exactly is love?
It has been said that there is but one fundamental force in the Universe and that force is “LOVE”, a force, which harmonizes even the most radical opposites. Indeed, it is this universal force of “LOVE”, which harmonizes the elements of opposition, which constitute the atom, the fundamental building block of matter – as we know it. Thus, it goes without saying that being human, living in a world of duality, as soon as we conceive “LOVE” we automatically also conceive its opposite, which many consider to be “HATE”. Nevertheless, popular opinion notwithstanding, I would like to suggest that “HATE” is but a manifestation of the real opposite of “LOVE”, this opposite being the absence of “LOVE” or “FEAR”. In other words, all acts of hatred, all acts of cruelty and unkindness, and even acts of psychological manipulation, are manifestations of unconscious “FEAR”, the absence of “LOVE”, in the universal, cosmic sense. But even more sinister than these blatant acts, which are obviously motivated by fear, are those acts which commonly pass as “LOVE” but which are themselves manifestations of a more refined and often dignified form of “FEAR”, which presents itself as a conscious or unconscious discomfort when faced with our own vulnerabilities. Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that a necessary inner condition for the expression of “unconditional love” is the unconditional acceptance of our own vulnerabilities.
So now we come to the most critical of the critical question, namely: Is it possible to love another – others – unconditionally if one does not love oneself unconditionally? In other words, if one is not OK with his or her own vulnerabilities, can one be truly OK with those of another?
In this regard, it has been said that a truly humble person is one who, being both grateful for, and content with his or her strengths and vulnerabilities, neither uses the one to dominate others nor the other to manipulate others. Thus, a truly humble person is one who loves himself or herself “unconditionally” – warts and all, as the saying goes – and can, therefore, be reasonably confident within himself or herself that his or her acts of kindness are truly expressions of “unconditional love”, requiring no other justification than the innocent love of all. Then, and only then, is one in full compliance with the final phrase of the Buddhist injunction cited earlier, to wit: Before the Soul can stand in the presence of the Masters its feet must be washed in the blood of the heart. And, further, one could then say: When the Master reads my heart, he will find it clean, utterly. Such, in my opinion, is the inner condition necessary for the expression of Unconditional Love.