by Jakob Merchant
Over the centuries, religions have disagreed and fought over many of their beliefs. However, within all the diversity, there is also a common factor to all of the major world religions and that is the emphasis on love. This love, however, is fundamentally different than the personal or romantic love that is commonly known in Western society as relationships. Each of the major religions contains teachings on love and how to practice love in daily life, among those are the practices of worship, self-sacrifice, surrender as well as unrestricted unconditional love to all.
The first step in understanding the application of spiritual love is to understand what spiritual love actually is. Spiritual Love is fundamentally different than romantic or sexual love. Even though the essence of love is always the same, its expression can differ in many ways. The most significant difference between spiritual love and personal love has to do with attachments as well as conditions that are put on loving a person. In a traditional (personal) Love relationship, the conditions on loving the other person are based on how the other person behaves as well as the conditions of not leaving the person. In Spiritual love however, love is not limited to a specific person or its behavior. Love is shared freely with anybody and is not limited to romance or sexuality. The difference of the two forms of Love can be found in the great religious treatises. The Upanishads, for example state: “verily, a wife is not dear, that you may love the wife; but that you may love the Self, therefore a wife is dear.” (Müller). This Love is practiced in all of the religions in many ways, among them a form of worship.
Worship is an expression of Love, in the form of devotion and is common in all of the world religions in one way or the other. Worship in traditional Christianity is often seen as a Sunday morning liturgical experience. What many are not realizing however is that worship is a devotional supplication and that which one worships, one eventually becomes. Dr. David R. Hawkins states that “The act of worship is an entreaty and invitation to these higher energies for assistance in one’s spiritual endeavor” (Hawkins). Worship of love means that one eventually becomes that very love. Hinduism believes this to be the highest form of spiritual practice: “The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Those who fix their minds on my personal form and are always engaged in worshiping me with great and transcendental faith are considered by me to be most perfect” (Shrimad Bagavad Gita). Hinduism hence teaches that worship is not only important, but is considered a quality from somebody who is “most perfect” and that the love for God should increase to a point where one’s mind is fixed always on God. This same approach of continuously fixing one’s mind on Divinity as a form of worship can also be found in the Sufi practice of remembrance. The concept here is that Divinity is already all that exists, but people have forgotten this truth and need to now remember. The common Sufi practice of remembrance is to repeat a phrase that is translated by the Sufis as “Other than God there is nothing. God alone exists” (Berke). This ultimate form of worship, where one is focusing on Divinity in all that exists is also found in Christianity, especially in its aspects of selfless service.
Another expression of Love within the worlds religion is the self-sacrifice of selfless service. Jesus Christ stated that “Whatever you do to the least of my breathren you do it to me” (The Bible).Jesus Christ was very explicit that service to others becomes service directly towards Divinity. On this level of practicing selfless service, similar to worship on its highest level, the one who is served is always Divinity. Mother Teresa is one example of Christian selfless service. Mother Teresa said that she was not serving the poor, but merely Jesus in disguise (Desmond). Hinduism has a similar notion in that “The Supreme Lord said, to give up the results of all activities is called renunciation by the wise. And that state is called the renounced order of life by great learned men.” (Srimad Bagavad Gita). Buddhism emphasizes that all actions have karmic consequences and hence “Even gods praise the monk who lives a pure life of selfless service.” (Fronsdal). As selfless service requires a relinquishment of one’s own personal gain, ultimately this self-sacrifice requires also a sacrifice of personal will.
The relinquishment of personal willfulness in the practice of surrender is considered a central expression of spiritual practice in many of the world religions. In one of the core teachings of Christianity, the Lord’s prayer, Jesus Christ teaches to pray that “Thy will not mine be done” (The Bible) Sufism goes a step further when Rumi states “People will ask you what is Love and you will say: the sacrifice of will”. Hence, Sufism is often considered the pathway of surrender. Western research has also acknowledged this:”After nearly 30 years of the study of Sufism, I would say that in spite of its many variations and voluminous expressions, the essence of Sufi practice is quite simple. It is that the Sufi surrenders to God, in love, over and over; which involves embracing with love at each moment the content of one’s consciousness (one’s perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, as well as one’s sense of self) as gifts of God or, more precisely, as manifestations of God.”(Godlas).A key concept of Buddhism is the teaching of relinquishing all attraction and aversions (Fronsdal). This is similar to the concept of relinquishing one’s own will in that in both cases one accepts with love and peace, whatever it is. The sacrifice of one’s very own will is not only a spiritual practice and expression of love, but also leads towards a state of unconditional love.
All of the world religions teach the importance of unrestricted, unconditional love and give practices to reach such a state of being. Gil Fronsdal, a contemporary Buddhist scholar states that “As such, love may flow from us equally toward all beings or it can glow freely without needing to be directed to anyone. When boundless, love without any particular object is recognized in Buddhism as a form of liberation.” Jesus Christ even went a step further when he stated that “By this shall all man know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”Hence he was clear that to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, one needs to seek love for all that exists. This practice of unconditional lovingness can also be found within Sufism. Hazrat Inayat Kahn states: “Sufism is to seek God in the heart of mankind” (The Pathway of the Heart). This call of unconditional love towards all is also the ultimate fulfillment of spiritual love.
Spiritual Love has been seen as a Healing balm and force for good within the world’s religions. Furthermore, all of the religions see it as a pathway to find their respectable truth. Even though this truth may differ, their attainment is in many ways very similar. All major religions engage in some form of worship for example as a pathway towards the Truth. Selfless service and self sacrifice have been a characteristic that made religion a great benefit to society. The relinquishment of personal will has not only been part and parcel of each tradition but also stands at the center of becoming unconditionally loving. This unrestricted love towards all is seen among all mentioned religions as the pinnacle of their striving and is the fulfillment of spiritual love. Even though there are major differences within the beliefs of all of the world religions, the developmental qualities and aspects around love are very much the same. In this way spiritual Love can become a uniting force between the different religions because in beliefs we are divided in love we are united.
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