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Material and Spiritual Love – Jiva Institute of Vedic Studies

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Question: Often Vaiṣṇavas say that in the material world, there is only self-centered love or kāma, while kāma for Krsna is selfless love, or prema. But what about the selflessness, sacrifice, service, or selfless love we experience in this world? Sometimes we hear sādhus glorifying a mother’s love, a wife’s service, etc.? How can we understand this difference of material and spiritual love without disrupting our material relationships or taking a negative view of our relationships? Also, when devotees love God, aren’t they also doing it ultimately because it gives them bliss?

Answer: It depends upon what you call the “self”. If you consider the body as self, then perhaps you can say that there is selfless love in the material world, such as a mother’s love for her child. In Tatittariya Upanisad, the puruṣa is also called annamaya, or made of food. This refers to the physical body. But we know that the body is not the self.  Therefore, real selfless love is possible only if one realizes the self. If one is misidentifying the body as self, then love is also in relation to the body. This is the harsh truth not liked by us because we are not selfless. We do not want to give up our attachments. Thus we feel happy if some spiritual person supports our attachments. A mother’s selfless love or a wife’s selfless service sounds very appealing. That is a good explanation to make common people interested in spiritual life. It is the same technique that is used by Taittariya Upanisad when it calls the body made of food the puruṣa. But then it does not stop there. It moves beyond that to the mind and ultimately to the innermost puruṣa, the ātmā. Sadhus also use the same methodology.

This, however, does not mean that we cannot have good material relationships while pursuing a spiritual path. All beings are spiritual. Therefore, do not love them just at the physical level. Know that they are also part of Kṛṣṇa (GĪTĀ 15.7). See the presence of Kṛṣṇa in them. In fact, Kṛṣṇa says that He is the ātmā situated in everyone’s heart—aham ātmā guḍākeśa sarva-bhutāśaya-sthitaḥ (10.19). He also says that He is everything—vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti. Loving Kṛṣṇa means not only loving Him but also everything that belongs to Him.

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Question: In devotee association, the bad saṁskāras stored in the heart do not reveal themselves but as soon as they get in bad association, they reveal themselves. Is there any way to permanently remove these bad saṁskāras?

Answer: The sincere practice of bhakti will cleanse the heart. This is called anartha-nivṛtti.

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