There are very interesting stories and origins of love in Hinduism (Hindu Dharma). One is that a super-being used to live, known as ‘Purusha,’ who had no desire to do anything as the created universe was perfect and complete. Lord Brahma took things into his hands and split Purusha in two. The Sky separated from the Earth, the darkness separated from light, the life separated from death, and finally, the male separated from the female. Each of the halves then went on a quench to satisfy itself by reuniting with its other half.
As either male or female on this earth, we are seeking our other half too, and that search is known to be ‘Love.’ Today, we are completely indulged in the romantic and sexual elements: there are dating sites to find “partners,” and advertisers exploit this “love” to sell everything. Then some movies keep us on our toes with romantic involvement.
But the sages of ancient India say that the love we’re chasing is not love; instead, it is the fleeting emotional high of “falling in love,” which can collapse at any moment. The sage philosophers kept pondering on this topic way before Christ and freshly developed the ideas during the revival of Bhakti Yoga during the 15th century. They found that love transits at five different stages. These stages are:
1. Kama – Sensory Craving
The desire to merge initiates from physical attraction. The Kama means “craving for sense objects.” Hindu dharma doesn’t associate sex with shame; it is a positive aspect of human existence. This is where Kamasutra comes into play, not just about positions but more about the philosophy of love and the questions of love. The sages agree that kama can be a goal of Hindu life, but it is not the sole factor that can lead to wholeness.
2. Shringara – Rapturous Intimacy
Only sex can fulfill physical desires, but there would be no emotional feeling if we indulge in sex without true intimacy and sharing. This is where the Indian sages focused on the emotional content and developed a rich context to understand the moods and emotions.
This is where ‘Shringara’ was born, which is romance. The erotic attraction from just sensory cravings is stirred up when they share secrets, make affectionate names of another, play games, and exchange gifts. This imaginative play of love is symbolized by the relationship between Radha and Krishna, where they are involved in adventure, music, dance, poetry, and many other romantic gestures.
However, the ancient sage understood that just finding our “soulmates” would not be able to solve all our problems. However, it does provide us with the foretaste of something good, something much greater.
3. Maitri – Generous Compassion
The dating sites and apps scream: “Stop waiting for love; it is within your power right now to make it happen.” But can just a swipe or a click of a finger really help you on your spiritual journey? Maybe, maybe not. Because there is little love in little things, we can do. This could be a simple smile to a stranger or food for the hungry.
Mahatma Gandhi says, “The simplest acts of kindness are far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” Compassion is just like the natural love we feel towards children and pets. The “Matru-Prema,” which in Sanskrit means motherly love, is the kind of love that is most giving and least selfish. Maitri is the motherly love, not just for your partner or children but for all living beings.
Compassion for everyone might be hard for all. Thus, there are practices in Hindu and Buddhist dharma that can help you develop this ability. And when you are more compassionate with everyone, you become even more compassionate with your partner.
4. Bhakti – Impersonal Devotion
Compassion is just a start and not a final rubber stamp. The ancient sages went beyond interpersonal love and envisioned a form of love that expanded to the whole of creation. This path to finding this love is known as “Bhakti Yoga,” where you are not only cultivating the love for others but also for the love of God.
The love of God can be the highest form of kindness, truth, or justice. Saints and sages of the past were all passionate and committed to these highest forms of truth, kindness, and justice.
5. Atma Prema – Unconditional Self-Love
There is a cycle to everything. The love that started by directing towards others is again directed towards the inside – the self. Atma Prema could be translated as self-love. Indian mystical poet Kabir says, “The river that flows in you also flows in me.” This means that what we see in others, we see others in ourselves.
Once we achieve self-love, we recognize that we are all one. The true self is all. Rumi says:
I, you, he, she, we –
in the garden of mystic lovers,
these are not true distinctions.
Atma-Prema leads us to understand that we are part of the Purusha, and we are the children of the highest. Thus, when we love ourselves and others most profoundly, the love knows no boundaries and thus becomes unconditional.
Love in the end
Thus, the ancient philosophers of Hindu dharma propose these five stages of a lover’s journey as mutually exclusive and that we don’t need to renounce physical love and romance to pursue higher love. When we develop ourselves in these five stages, we only free ourselves from the attachment of physical romance and thus can live love most unconditionally.