On Love, Human and Divine
In the Name of God, the Most Kind, the Kindest
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
“Don’t come to us, if you’re heartbroken,” is a quote attributed to some Buddhist masters. “Don’t come to us, unless your heart has been broken” is a Sufi teaching one often hears. They seem contradictory, but the messaging is the same. One cannot find Inner Peace through escapism, and one cannot find God without realizing the limitations of temporal love. Most love songs express a longing for something eternal, an immortal love that cannot be had in this world among mere mortals. Does this mean that we are incapable of love? No. But it does suggest that the highest love transcends the physical and is Divine.
In university, I came across a rather lengthy quote by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan on the secret to a lasting, loving relationship. I typed it out and have kept it with me for more than twenty years. He wisely observed that “marriage is not so much a concession to human weakness as a means of spiritual growth. Man is not a tyrant nor is woman a slave, but both servants of a higher ideal to which their individual inclinations are to be subordinated. Irreducible peculiarities there will always be, and the task of the institution of marriage is to use these differences to promote a harmonious life. Though there is some choice with regard to our mates, there is a large element of chance in the best of marriages. That marriage is successful which transforms a chance mate into a life companion.
Marriage is… the beginning of a strenuous life where we attempt to realize a larger ideal by subordinating our private interests and inclinations. Service of a common ideal can bind together the most unlike individuals. By restraint and endurance, we raise love to the likeness of the divine. The recognition of the spiritual ideal of marriage requires us to regard the marriage relation as an indissoluble one. So long as we take a small view of life and adopt for our guide the fancy or feeling of the moment, marriage relation cannot be regarded as permanent. In the first moments of infatuation we look upon our partners as angels from heaven, but soon the wonder wears away, and if we persist in our passion for perfection, we become agitated and often bitter. The unrest is the effect of a false ideal. The perfect relation is to be created and not found. The existence of incompatibility is a challenge to a more vigorous effort… We tend to look upon ourselves as healthy animals and not spiritual beings.”
David Richo in How to Be an Adult in Relationships gives five keys to mindful loving:
1. Attention to the present moment; observing, listening, and noticing all the feelings at play in our relationships.
2. Acceptance of ourselves and others just as we are.
3. Appreciation of all our gifts, our limits, our longings, and our poignant human predicament.
4. Affection shown through holding and touching in respectful ways.
5. Allowing life and love to be just as they are, with all their ecstasy and ache, without trying to take control.
The passage by Radhakrishnan provides a spiritual perspective, while Richo gives practical keys to unlock the door of one’s heart.
I’d like to close with two more seemingly contradictory statements on love, human and Divine. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: “If I was to command anyone to prostrate to anyone other than Allah, I would have commanded women to prostrate to their husbands.” Whereas, the Hindus say, “Pati Parmeshwar,” which means the husband is God, i.e. worthy of worship. So the sentiment is the same, even if the manner of expression is vastly different. Many spiritual teachings in Islam are veiled or implied, while spirituality in Hinduism tends to be more explicit.
Both traditions are essentially asking us to transform our love from human to Divine by seeing our partner as a soul worthy of utmost reverence. I would add that this applies equally to wives. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The best of you are those who are best to your wives.” Spiritual equality between men and women is one of the salient features of the Quran Sharif, although some fail to see it. Similarly, Hinduism gives women an exalted status and complete equality with men spiritually.
Shall we elevate our love, and transform our relationships? Shall we aspire to be healthy animals or spiritual beings? It’s true, our love is imperfect. We hurt each other and fall short, but we are capable of so much more. Maybe we’ve had a string of failed relationships, or have been through a divorce, or maybe we are in the middle of a marriage that seems loveless, maybe we have a good thing and want to make it better, wherever you are there is your Beloved, beckoning you to come inside.
From one needy of your dua,
PS. One of the best books ever written on love, human and Divine, is Tales from the Land of the Sufis. Among other treasures, it includes the unforgettable stories of Layla and Majnun, Yusuf and Zulaykha, and Khusrau and Shirin.
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Productive Wisdom readers
The sad thing about love in our generation is that nobody wants to be in love. And I think it’s kind of unfair but also not at the same time. Because all of the facts about love and marriage as misinterpreted. I saw a lot of my classmates in high school getting their heartbroken but I feel deep down nobody was ready for it. It isn’t love when you don’t know the true meaning of it. Mortal love is temporary. It’s beautiful but temporary. There is an enormous amount of societal pressure and that sense to belong somewhere, which drives people to claim that they’re in love. I believe in love trust me, but nothing superficial excites me.
I can’t really comment on marriage but I feel like after a certain time you get a habit of having that one person being around and being in your corner. And I think that’s the mercy of the Almighty.
Wonderful, a much-needed dialectical topic that needs unpacking especially in an age wherein the (divine) feminine is reawakening and the men feeling insecure by women waking up.
For more on the crisis of modern masculinity, see the series by Iman Amrani, a Guardian journalist, on YouTube: