Heaven or Hell; What is“True Love?”
Be drunk with Love, for Love is all that exists. Rumi
However, before drinking we have to make sure it is really the “drink of love” that is before us or some poison that might kill us. As someone said, love is one of the most attractive and desirable ideas and at the same time the most elusive. Although it is considered the master key that opens the gates of happiness, but how to find and discover it is the main question.
Everyone talks or loves to talk about love, but IMHO no one seems to have even the remotest idea as to what is a true love? We spend our lives thinking and craving it, searching for it, and talking about it, but are never able to define it as it is felt more than can be clearly expressed. According to Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “we find it discussed in song, film, and novels — humorously or seriously; it is a constant theme of maturing life and a vibrant theme for youth. Philosophically, the nature of love has, since the time of the Ancient Greeks, been a mainstay in philosophy, producing theories that range from the materialistic conception of love as purely a physical phenomenon — an animalistic or genetic urge that dictates our behavior — to theories of love as an intensely spiritual affair that in its highest permits us to touch divinity.”
However, words fail us when the beauty, the grandeur, the magic, and the depth of the moment seem so vastly superior to whatever you do to describe it. Even the prettiest of images and words or illustrations can’t do any justice. This enigma has, to the great extent, been encapsulated by French author Francois de la Rochefoucauld in following words:
“ True love is like ghost, which everyone talks about and few have seen.”
In other words, talking about love “true or not so true” is easier than grasping the very idea of it or feeling it. Eric Fromm (a German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist) is said to have equated the idea of “true love” to the pair of socks and says that “true love is like a pair of socks: you gotta have two and they’ve gotta match.”
However, with socks, it’s fairly easy to match a pair. But in love, looking to find the other half of your pair is not an easy task. Sometimes (or most of the time), even after trying again and again you still find yourself in the lurch.
Similarly, in his novel “The Alchemist,” Paulo Coelho too has tried to summarise the idea by comparing the love with the flight of two free birds demonstrating “love without ownership.” Ownership has more to do with the ego than ecstasy and makes the love poisonous and creates suffering, instead of an antidote against all kinds of suffering.
It is also said that love is blind and that marriage is an eye opener. The problem, according to a study, many people fall in love with their idealized vision of their lovers, or with the idea of being in love, rather than with the actual reality of their lovers. Indeed people often say that they are living out their dreams with their beloved. This situation is labelled as “Positive Illusion” that is central to romantic love. And romance (as will be explained later) has more to do with the body or ego than the soul. Thus this kind of love can be blind that can prove a disaster after the dawn of reality. But true love is accepting the negative traits as well and not only loving the partial person.
And as Simon Blackburn (an English academic philosopher known for his work in metaethics) nicely puts it, “Perhaps we prefer Cupid to have dim sight rather than to be totally blind. Thus it seems that positive illusions and a misty-eyed view, rather than either clear sightedness or complete blindness, are most favorable for enduring love. It means we have to know, accept and love the whole person with all the positive and negative traits.
Regardless of these differing views, 13th century Persian poet, scholar, and Sufi mystic, Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, also known as Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī, Mevlânâ/Mawlānā, and Mevlevî/Mawlawī, but more popularly known simply as Rumi, has explained the love in most profound way. Love is the basic theme in his works. Although he lived during the 13th century, his books continue to sell millions of copies, making him the most popular poet in the US, according to the BBC. And if his passionate poetry and marvelous tales continue to capture the imagination of listeners and readers even in 21st century , this is because he speaks to every lover’s concerns — and who is not a lover? Nonetheless, to understand Rumi’s philosophy or teachings in depth, it is necessary to have a thorough grasp of what he means by love — even if, as he reminds us, love cannot be expressed in words and must be tasted to be known (Chittick, 1983, p. 195).
But before going any further, it is also important to know or learn the difference between “love” and “romance”. People often mistake “romance” for “love” ignoring that two are poles apart.
The main difference between love and romance is that love is an inner gesture, on the other hand, romance is an outward expression. Love means devotion, sacrifice, affection and commitment,and most of all self-negation. Romance is everything superficial like long drives, pop music and songs, intimate (candle light) dinners, and physical intimacy that creates thrill, excitement, and exhilaration. Hence romantic feelings are also feelings of indulgence and pleasure that are always transient forcing us to chase them ad-infinitum. On the other hand love, more precisely, is living for the sake of another, motivated by heart-felt feelings of caring, affection, and responsibility for the other’s well-being. In short the basic difference between “love” and “romance, in the words of Jungian analyst Robert Johnson, is:
“The passion of romance is always directed at our own projections, our own expectations, our own fantasies, It is a love not of another person, but of ourselves.”
On the other hand, “Love is the one power that awakens the ego to the existence of something outside itself, outside its empire, outside its security.”
Love, in other words, is transcending the ego to connect with another.
Moreover, Romance is a cultural obsession (or product of a consumerist culture where romantic love is glorified), an imperial ideal. We believe that love can be found, here and now and forever, in an instant, across a crowded room — or tomorrow, just around the corner. Or can be delivered to us at our doorstep like fast food.
And in the words of Eva Illouz (a professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris), “through its incorporation in the sphere of leisure, contemporary romantic love remains deeply entrenched in the tradition affirming the disorderly individual against the well-regulated group, only now this affirmation is expressed in the consumerist idiom of postmodern culture.” She further argues that romantic love has become a basic theme in contemporary (capitalist)culture that also serves the economic interests of the capitalism/imperialism in which economy has been transmuted into culture and culture into the transient and disposable world of goods.”
In her book, “Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism,” while revealing close connection between “romance” and “leisure” or how “romantic utopia” eventually ended up creating another equally powerful utopia of “leisure for all”, she delineates how things turned out during expanding mass markets of leisure with the advent of industrial capitalism:
“Movies and advertising in newspapers, magazines, and billboards presented a flow of images with strong democratic overtones, offering to all the utopian vision of relationships free of gender and class divisions and combining the thrills of leisure with those of romance. In the utopia where love and leisure reign, romance, it is believed, can and should find permanent form in marriage, but romance is also swept up in the new emphasize on beauty, youth, fame, and glamour. This change signaled not only transformations in the definitions of marriage but also the progressive disappearance of “courtship” as a preparatory phase. Instead, dating supplanted the practice of “calling on a woman” at her parents home and relocated the romantic encounter to the public sphere of consumption: restaurants, movie theaters, and dance halls. By inscribing the romantic encounter into the consumption of leisure, the practice of “dating” marked the symbolic and practical penetration of romance by the market. This shifted the focus of the romantic encounter from marriage as a permanent and unique union to the fragmented but repeatable pursuit of pleasurable experience.”
In short, love in the capitalism has been reduced to a commodity that can be bought and sold like other items of luxury or pleasure. And love always remains a pipe dream. For instance, according to a survey of 1000 consumers it was estimated that £726m would be spent on Valentine’s Day gifts in 2018— an increase of £39m on 2017. The question is that even though all this expenditure produces economic benefits for someone but does it contribute to the quality of relationship building. Then relationships or courtship (to use an old-fashioned word) should not be confined to a single day but should be celebrated every day and this celebration does not have to involve the commodification of relationships through acts of consumption.
Thus, on the one hand, “the romantic-industrial complex poses romance as a product to be generated and sold for fabulous sums” and, on the other hand, there are many who are unable to even pay for their marriage expenses.
In this context, Rumi’s idea of love has become more relevant as well as everlasting and universal. If anyone has unpacked love’s significance in language, it is certainly Rumi. Like other Sufis and theologians who talked about love, Rumi says that God and human beings are both lover and beloved and provides us with four basic issues: God as lover, man as God’s beloved, man as lover, God as man’s beloved. Rumi addresses each of these in terms of tawḥid (oneness), which is to say that he explains why there is no lover but God and no beloved but God, and why this means that by definition, to be human is to be a lover and a beloved. According to him, love is the energy behind creation. Thus love is formless with a thousand forms. The general principle here is that all things are animated by love (as Avicenna had explained, and Aristotle before him). “Love” is simply a name given to the force that drives things to seek their ultimate good, their final end, their telos.
Rumi goes to great lengths to show that “men love Him” is a statement of fact: Human beings love God because, in reality, there is nothing else to love. The created realm is like pure water, “within which shine the attributes of the Possessor of Majesty.” The water changes, “but the reflection of the moon and stars,” i.e., the divine names, “remains” (Maṯnawi VI, l. 3172ff.). People are in love with reflections, shadows, pictures, forms, all of which are “gold-plated by God’s attributes” (Maṯnawi III, l. 554). Their hopes, desires, loves, and affections for fathers, mothers, lovers, friends, gardens, palaces, knowledge, activity, food, drink, “are all desires for God, and those things are veils” (Fih, p. 35). “In reality God is worshiped by all things, for they all travel their paths in search of joy” (Maṯnawi VI, l. 3755). Thus Rumi distinguishes between “metaphorical love” (ʿešq-e majāzi), which is love for shadows, and “real love” (ʿešq-e ḥaqiqi), which is love for God. “God alone is desired for His own sake”; everything else is desired for the sake of something else (Fih, p. 101).
Plato’s complex philosophy of love also reflects the Plato’s sense of love as ultimate striving towards the good. His most important works on love are presented in “The Symposium.” The Symposium is very important in the philosophical tradition. In the work, Plato seems to reject the idea that love is (only) about desire and lustful gratification. In Plato’s days, the common word for love was Eros. It meant, generally, “need” or “desire,” a reaching out for whatever one lacked. Originally and characteristically, a man felt Eros toward another human being in the sense of carnal desire. Then there is the verb philein and its cognates (philia is the noun, philos the adjective) — a word that is used all the time when we talk about philanthropy, philosophy, philharmonic, and the like. To fully grasp Plato’s ideology, we have to study The Symposium. According to some brief reviews, in The Symposium, the priestess Diotima, whom Socrates introduces as an expert in love, describes how the lover who would advance rightly in erotics would ascend from loving a particular beautiful body and individual to loving Beauty itself. This hierarchy is conventionally referred to as Plato’s scala amoris or ‘ladder of love’, for the reason that the uppermost form of love cannot be reached without having initially stepped on the first rung of the ladder, which is the physical attraction to a beautiful body or individual. In other words, the ladder is a metaphor for the ascent a lover might make from purely physical attraction to something beautiful, as a beautiful body, the lowest rung, to actual contemplation of the Form of Beauty itself.
Thus the term “Platonic Love,” as a type of love ascending from passion for the individual to contemplation of the universal and ideal, encapsulates Plato’s whole philosophy of love, though the philosopher never used the term himself. This kind of love rises through levels of closeness to wisdom and true beauty, from carnal attraction to individual bodies to attraction to souls, and eventually, union with the truth.
Moreover, essence of the idea of true love (as we can infer from the propositions of above mentioned mystics/philosophers) is an all-encompassing love, a love that elevates us up to an expansive love of all nature. The same view is also expressed by Thich Nhat Hanh when he says that “true love is like sun, shining with its own light, and offering that light to everyone.
I would like to conclude the essay by sharing the following wonderful poem where Rumi equates love with the divine:
THE SILENCE OF LOVE
Love is the astrolabe of God’s mysteries.
A lover may hanker after this love or that love,
But at the last he is drawn to the KING of Love.
However much we describe and explain Love,
When we fall in love we are ashamed of our words.
Explanation by the tongue makes most things clear,
But Love unexplained is better.
Love is thus a mystic force for Rumi — it is the “Astrolabe of the divine mysteries” (Masnavi 1: 110). Whatever one says in explication of the theology of love is embarrassingly incomplete, because love speaks without words, and reason gets stuck in the mud trying to describe it (Masnavi 1: 112–115).
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Life is a name of struggle and everyone of us is thus constantly struggling to overcome challenges, obstacles…
iii) Eva Illouz, Consuming Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, University of California Press, 1997, pp 12–14)