That love is elusive is obvious. Many of us want not only to be loved but to love. Many of us try hard without lasting success.
Would you be willing to think clearly about this for a few minutes?
For the sake of clarity, let’s restrict ourselves here to relationships (encounters) between human beings.
Let’s also agree to use ‘love’ as a verb rather than a noun. To be loving is to have an active orientation. To love is to do something. What?
To love is to act so as to benefit the beloved. [I argue for this in my book Love and Respect.] Loving is giving.
By way of contrast, loving is not using another to benefit oneself. It’s false that loving is taking.
For example, love is not “falling in love,” which is really just a way of using someone else in an attempt to improve or fulfill one’s own life. Only the mature are capable of genuine love.
Love is impossible without void consciousness.
After understanding this simple suggestion, let’s consider its startling implications.
Distinguish two states of consciousness, namely “form consciousness” [“object consciousness”] and “void consciousness” [“emptiness consciousness”). [This is hardly an original distinction; many have made it. I have also made it elsewhere; for example, see my post “How Does Consciousness Relate To Living Well?]
Briefly, a form is anything that can be singled out for attention. For example, physical objects, emotions, judgments, bodily sensations, and events are all forms. If you are able to answer the question, “Which one am I thinking of?”, you are thinking of a form.
Singling out form consciousness is just thinking of the awareness of any form.
Obviously, then, void consciousness cannot be singled out because there’s no form that it’s about.
Many (perhaps most or even nearly all) people live their whole lives without getting beyond form consciousness. If it’s true that love is impossible without void consciousness, it follows that all those people never experience love. That’s unnecessary.
Friendships and love affairs are between pairs of individuals. This is also applicable to larger groups of human beings. That it is that way explains all our cruelty and inhumanity to each other. Like the daily news, history is mostly a terrible litany of how badly we treat each other. To paraphrase Churchill, it’s just one damn disaster after another. Why? The answer is that many people are living devoid of void consciousness.
To live in the prison of form consciousness is always to take other human beings as objects to be conceptualized (classified, judged). I am over here and everyone else is over there.
Of course, this is not only normal but natural. It would be impossible merely to survive without conceptualizing other beings. Obviously, for example, if we didn’t correctly distinguish food objects from non-food objects and limit ourselves mostly to eating only the former, we wouldn’t last long.
This does not mean it’s wise. The problem is that other human beings are not merely objects to be conceptualized. In fact, their nature or essence is such that it is impossible to conceptualize. Why?
Their nature or essence, like our own, is void. We are empty in the sense that it’s false that we are substantial selves. This was The Buddha’s great insight 2400 years ago. [I have argued for this thesis in multiple writings, including Mastery in 7 Steps.] The prevalence of ego delusion explains the paucity of love.
Since void or emptiness cannot be singled out, it cannot be conceptualized.
To have an essence is to have a nature. If it’s true that our nature is void, then it’s impossible to conceptualize it.
That this is true also may seem obvious. After all, if it were easy to conceptualize ourselves, how could identity crises even be possible? They are not only possible, they are not infrequent. Haven’t you yourself at least occasionally wondered seriously, “Who, really, am I? In what does my personal identity consist?”
Why is it so difficult to determine who we are? It’s because there is nothing (no thing, no object, no form) that is our nature. Essentially, we are void or emptiness.
Individuals are clusters of qualities. Qualities are commonalities. For example, being red is a quality that individuals may share. Being red is quality of an individual (as opposed to being the individual itself).
The root of the problem is ignorance of the nature of individuals. Either there is a form or object that is doing the clustering or not. If there is, what is it? Go ahead: try to single it out. Seriously. Please keep trying.
You’ll fail because we are not like pin cushions in which pins (representing qualities) inhere; instead, we are like tornadoes surrounded by swirling stuff (qualities). Our centers are empty space.
The substantialist [form, object, pin cushion] view of our nature leads to a bumper car world of human interactions: we each make our way alone as we collide and bounce off other people. Love is nothing but happening to drive beside another briefly, which is a conditional mutual using, a business arrangement. This is the cold, lonely, divisive world of right wing politics.
The emptiness view of our nature leads to a radically different view of love as union. Imagine the joining of two tornadoes, the merging of their empty cores. Love is the merging of void. There’s nothing conditional about it. In fact, it’s unintelligible in the sense that it’s unconceptualizable.
Even the through of two voids becoming one void is senseless. It’s impossible to distinguish the essence of one void from that of another. It’s impossible just to think of the essence of one void.
To love is to identify with the beloved. Differences disappear. How could two voids be different?
If I were to use the beloved in any way for my own egocentric purposes, I would be failing as a lover. It’s false that love is taking.
On the other hand, if I were always to act so as to benefit the beloved, then, strangely, it really turns out that I am also acting so as to benefit myself, my own true nature, since the “two” voids would in reality be one void. If my beloved were always to act so as to benefit me, then we are acting in unison. A friendship or loving couple occurs when two empty cores merge into one.
In other words, love occurs when two people realize that they are each other. Naturally, they then act accordingly.
This realization is blocked by the substantialist view of human nature. In other words, love is impossible without void consciousness.
This explains the disappointment that inevitably occurs when what is ordinarily taken for love is thought to be love. Sooner or later, it’s natural to feel betrayed and let down, to think that he or she, my beloved, failed me.
Please notice the egocentricity inherent in a judgment of the form “X failed me.”
The truth is that we fail ourselves. This occurs because we confuse what others are with our thoughts about what they are. We classify others as being such-and-such and then we project our understandings onto them. Ignoring evidence to the contrary, we “see” them as we understand them to be. As usual, we welcome evidence that conforms to our expectations.
When the evidence finally emerges that they are not as we understand them to be, we are shocked and saddened.
Others are never as we understand them to be. Why? Essentially, another human being is void and it’s false that void is intelligible. Only forms are intelligible. Void is beyond or past thought. It’s for this reason that another may be felt to be an impenetrable mystery.
As Eckhart Tolle points out, the original act of violence is thinking that another is merely another form. To conceptualize is to abstract and deaden. The more we live in our thoughts, the more alienated we become from the living world that surrounds us. Once we’ve deadened others sufficiently, treating them unethically is simply the next step.
Others, like ourselves, are beyond form. Ultimately, “we” are all one, which is why each of us is infinitely valuable. Each of us is Being.
What’s the practical takeaway? If you want to experience love, free yourself from bondage to form consciousness.
Ego reduction is the process of doing that.
The result of ego reduction is the end of ego delusion. The end of ego delusion is often called “spiritual awakening” [satori, enlightenment, “waking up”]. It’s the realization (not just the thought) that we are empty in the sense that we lack a substantial self. That undermining of the substantialist view of self means the end of living as bumper cars.
This is why sages [successful philosophers, saints] are the greatest lovers. Becoming a sage requires successfully doing the hard work of ego reduction. That automatically means identification with others.
Do you think it’s possible to live well without love?
I do not.
If you agree with me, since successful ego reduction requires mastery of some effective spiritual or yogic practice or training such as one of the classic varieties of meditation, then you will agree that there is no wisdom, no living well, without mastering some effective spiritual or yogic practice or training.
The Buddha: “Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance . . .There can be . . . no wisdom for those who do not meditate.” [Dhammapada, Easwaran translation.]
Obviously, it’s impossible to master a practice without engaging in it. It’ impossible to master meditation without meditating. Mastering meditation is successful ego reduction, the end of ego delusion. Since the end of ego delusion is required for living well, it’s impossible to live well without meditation. This is why, like other spiritual teachers, The Buddha never tired of urging us to meditate, to find out for ourselves what living well is like.
As I argue in Are You Living Without Purpose?, the ethical imperative is the same as the spiritual imperative: wake up!
If you want more love, end ego delusion by committing to and mastering meditation to realize your own true nature, which is realizing nonseparation from others.
Questions or feedback for me? You may email me directly at: Dennis@ConsultingPhilosopher.com