Back of the Book
Our deepest need is to love completely, universally, without reservation- in other words, to become love itself. Where there is love, everything follows. To love is to know, is to act; all other paths to God are united in this path of love.
In from a verse-by-verse reading of a chapter on devotion from the Bhagavad Gita – the most popular spiritual document of India – Eknath Easwaran’s words of practical wisdom guide us through the nitty-gritty challenges of everyday love, showing:
About the Author
Eknath Easwaran was a successful writer, lecturer, and professor of English literature when he came to the United States on the Fulbright exchange program in 1959. In 1961 he founded the Blue mountain Center of Meditation in Berkeley, California, to move, as he puts it, “From education for degrees to education for living. “He taught what was probably the first credit course on the theory and practice of meditation to be offered at an accredited University in the West, at the University of California, Berkeley.
Easwaran is the author of over twenty books, which have been translated into eighteen languages. These include Meditation, Take Your Time, Your Life Is Your Message, Gandhi the Man, and The Bhagavad India’s best-known scripture. He taught and lectured regularly on the classics of world mysticism for more than thirty-five years.
Many Years Ago, after Mother Teresa achieved world recognition for her work in India, she delivered a surprise: It wasn’t long before she delivered a surprise: she had decided to extend her work to the United States, starting missions in New York and elsewhere – including, eventually, San Francisco.
By now we are used to seeing the Sisters of Charity with their white, blue-bordered saris in our streets. But at the time, the Bay Area met Mother Teresa’s announcement with shock. After all, this was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, not San Francisco. We knew the third word needed her, but this was the first world, and San Francisco was the richest city in the richest state in the richest country on earth. What could someone like Mother Teresa have seen here that warranted placing it in the same category as Delhi, Colombo, and Addis Ababa?
I have never forgotten the answer she gave. “There is hunger for ordinary bread,” she explained, “and there is hunger for love, for kindness, for thoughtfulness; and this is the great poverty that makes people suffer so much.”
Coming from someone whose life was dedicated to “the lowest, the lowliest and the lost,” those words went deep into my heart. Mother Teresa who lived every day with people who were dying of hunger, was telling us that our own neighbors were starving too- starving for love.
In every human being, she was reminding us, there is a deep need for love – not only to be loved, but to give love as well. This need is written in our hearts. It is part of what we are as real as human beings, an inner necessity every bit as real as our need for food and drink. When we are deprived of it, we begin to die inside.
All the world’s great religions explain this in the same way. We need to love, they tell us, because love is our real nature. “The soul is made of love,” says Mechthild of Magdeburg, “and must ever strive to return to love. Therefore, it can never find rest or happiness in other things. It must lose itself in lover.”
Once we grasp the sense of these quiet statements, they can change our lives forever. They mean that being able to love fully, unconditionally, is our native state. We cannot also this native capacity, cannot get rid of it even if we try. The most we can manage to do is cut ourselves off from it, burying our capacity for love under layer after layer of the self-cantered conditioning that accumulates so easily in the modern world. But that conditioning can be removed, and when it is removed, what remains is our original goodness – a capacity for love that is, in principle, without limit.
At bottom, the promise of every personal relationship is to open up this wellspring of love deep in our hearts. We aren’t often aware of this promise, of course. We think of love as an emotional or even biochemical need that can be satisfied by something outside us. But it is need to give, not to get. And as Mechthild says, it is a need of the soul rather than of the body – of our inmost self.
In other words, our hunger for love is really spiritual.
And here we are in for a surprise. Despite what the mass media assure us, if we want to learn about love – even romantic love – we need to go to those who really understand it: to Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi, to Jesus and Mechthild and the Compassionate Buddha, to the luminous spiritual figures of every age and every culture who know that love is nothing casual or superficial but the very essence of who we are.
These luminous figures are the world’s great mystics. This word mystic is one of the most misunderstood words I have ever encountered. It has been misused so often that we think mystics are people who turn their backs on life and isolate themselves from other in the search for a private, inner reality, “forgetting the world and by the world forgotten.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Experts tell us that very few people understand quantum dynamics. I would say even fewer understand spiritual dynamics. The spiritual life rests on four pillars:
First underlying the ever-changing phenomena both around and within us lies a changeless reality that most major religions call God.
Second, this changeless reality is be found not outside us but at the very core of our consciousness. There is a spark of divinity within us – in the soul, if you like, or in Sanskrit, simply atman, the Self – that is not separate from God. The Sufi mystics put it beautifully: God is nearer to us than our body, dearer than our very life.
Third, this reality can be realized – uncovered and integrated into our character, consciousness, and conduct – by practices that are essentially the same in every religious tradition.
Finally, as every mystic will assure us passionately, this realization is the real purpose of life. It is possible to discover and base our daily lives on this changeless foundation. Nothing else can truly satisfy us. Far from being an otherworldly activity, living in the awareness of God is the most practical goal a human being can pursue. It brings happiness, meaning, and fulfillment where other satisfactions came and go.
But how are we to do this?
Here, I admit, traditional answers may not be helpful for most of us today. In every major religion, the search for this changeless reality has often led to a life of withdrawal from the rest of the world. I have profound respect for this path, but very few of us are capable of or even desire a cloistered life. We want a way to pursue a spiritual life in the context of close, personal relationships family and friends. We want, in short, what the world’s religions call the Way of Love.
One of the worst misconceptions about the spiritual life is that we have to drop out of the world to pursue it – turn our back upon our family, go away from society, get into a cave, and sit there for twelve years until illumination dawns. In my eyes, the spiritual life is one of selfless action and rich relationships with everyone around, extending not merely to a few among family or friends, but wider and until our love embraces the whole of life.
In India, where religion has been regarded for thousands of years as an art, a skill, and even a science, there is a little manual on the Way of Love that would be recognized by mystics everywhere because it is so free from dogma. It is embedded in the Bhagavad Gita, India’s best-loved scripture. Like parts of the Imitation of Christ, it is composed as a dialogue between the human and the divine – between Arjuna, a warrior prince who represents you and me, and Sri Krishna, an incarnation of the Lord. “What is the best path to you, “Arjuna asks, “the Way of Knowing or the Way of love?” the reply is so Practical and so inspiring that I have laid out this book as a commentary on each verse, drawing on my own experience to illustrate the applications to everyday life.
The implication of this teaching is simple but very far reaching. Love is a skill that every one of us can learn – not merely for personal enrichment, but so that deepening and strengthening our relationship becomes a sure, swift path toward making God a reality in our daily lives.
There is really no end to which this love can grow. Just as when you stand on Mount Everest and look around, you are overwhelmed by the beauty of creation, similarly, when you scale these dizzy heights of the superconscious and look around, you will be overwhelmed to see the whole world shining with unity – sky and sea, mountains and rivers, forests and lakes and creatures great and small, all as expression on unbroken whole. The joy that comes with this vision cannot be put into words. The love that flows through your heart then will make you want you want to exclaim with Francis of Assisi, “Any more and my very life would melt away!”
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