Posted On 30 Nov 2021
What is love?
Any answer to the question concerning the nature of love must enable us to understand why interpersonal love is usually so difficult, why falling in love is insanity, and why being in love is often so highly valued.
Elsewhere I’ve argued that all entities are empty of substrata [E.g., Chapter 6 in Mastery in 7 Steps]. Aristotle and many other philosophers have understood change to require something that changes and something that remains the same to change.
For example, if you’re cold outside and go inside to get warm, you are the same entity that underwent the change from cold to warm. Someone is cold at one time and warm at another time. To be a “continuant” is to be the same entity at different times. Aristotle thought that continuants are what remains the same to change (whether they in fact change or not). In this way, he understands us to be persons who are continuant substrata.
Qualities are commonalities, what 2 or more individuals may share or have in common. Since 2 ceilings can be white, whiteness is a quality. By way of contrast, individuals are unique. For example, that ceiling is an individual that is not the same as other individuals even though it has qualities in common with other individuals.
Individuals are clusters or bundles of qualities. That ceiling has a color, a shape, a texture, and so on. The question is: What’s doing the clustering? If it’s something, a “substratum,” what’s that? What could a qualityless individual be? If it’s nothing, how are an individual’s qualities clustered? After all, a list or set of qualities is not the same thing as a clustered or unified bundle.
I myself have followed Butchvarov in arguing that it’s false that substrata exist and that the question about the clustering of an individual’s qualities can be answered without positing the existence of substrata to do the clustering [Cf. Chapter 12 in my The Fundamental Ideas or Chapter 7 in Butchvarov’s Being Qua Being].
This may seem irrelevant to the discussion of the nature of love until you understand that persons (selves, empirical egos) are, supposedly, substrata! [Cf. Chapter 7 in my Are You Living Without Purpose? as well as my Love and Respect.] Although it’s practically useful in daily life in the way that it’s also practically useful to adopt Aristotle’s understanding of change, it’s actually an important mistake to believe that persons are continuant substrata. No, we are empty of substrata.
This is nothing but The Buddha’s doctrine of nonself. All entities, including human ones, are empty of a self or separate substratum. Nothing exists in splendid isolation. Every entity inter-is with every other entity. The existence of one entity requires the existence of every other entity.
From the spatial perspective, we think nonself. From the temporal perspective, we think impermanence. Although we are able to separate them in thought, nonself and impermanence are the same. The Buddha taught 3 Dharma Seals, namely, anatman (nonself), anitya (impermanence), and nirvana. If thoughts are noise, nirvana is complete silence. It’s Being itself. To be a buddha is to realize our true nature, which is Being.
There are degrees of realization and they begin at personal calibrations of 600, which I explained in the previous post.
We are all buddhas. We are all, essentially, Being. This is why we are all morally equal and infinitely valuable.
Those who are still in personhood calibrate at 499 or lower. Those who are sages calibrate at 600 or higher. Those who are in the 500s are in transition from personhood to sagehood.
Recall that Being is formless. Since there’s nothing to single out in Being, it cannot be thought. Again, this is why it’s impossible to think one’s way to realizing nirvana. We might simply say that, although Being is the root or ground of all forms, Being is the formless fecund emptiness that gives rise to all beings. All beings (whether entities or nonentities) are temporal, whereas Being is timeless (eternal).
If so, essentially, even if you haven’t yet realized it, you are a sage. If you ignore that, you are dooming yourself to a life of dukkha (dissatisfaction, discontent, unease, misery, suffering). Mastering the way of nonattachment is the way to nirvana (realization, Buddhahood).
If so, this answers the three questions.
First, why is interpersonal love so difficult? The very notion of “interpersonal love” is confused! If it’s false that persons are continuant substrata (because it’s false that substrata are real), then love cannot really be understood as a relational quality between two substrata.
Even if it’s false that time is real, it’s nevertheless helpful in everyday life to use the idea of time to make plans such as meeting for lunch tomorrow at a certain time. Similarly, even if it’s false that separate persons are real, it’s nevertheless helpful in everyday life to use the idea of personhood to interact.
Second, falling in love is insanity because it’s based on the delusion that there is someone separate who may be used to complete or fulfill me. In reality, there is no separate self to fall in love and no separate self to fall in love with! I already inter-am with everything else. In other words, essentially I am Being and so is my beloved.
To love is to identify with the beloved. It’s been called a state of Being. It has nothing necessarily to do with conditioning or emotions or thinking. It doesn’t require a relationship of any kind with anything else. Genuine love is Being. There’s no separation or difference between genuine love and Being.
This is why it’s not infrequently claimed that God is love. If God is understood as impersonal Being, that’s true. Notice that the idea of a personal deity is incoherent. If there are no persons, then God isn’t a person. That’s a primitive or childish or anthropomorphic understanding of the divine.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was a recent sage with a personal calibration of 720. Note the title of his book: I Am That. Exactly! That’s the whole point. Sages identify with what appears to be everything else, with all entities. Whatever fills in the blank in the material identity judgment “I am ___” will yield truth.
Thinking all such material identity judgments are true is not the same as realizing it’s true. Since all entities are temporal and since Being is nontemporal, words never work well in such contexts. Still, it’s one experience just to think that your whatness or essence is the same as mine and another to “feel” or “sense” it.
This is reminiscent of Sartre’s tortured discussion of “the look” in Being and Nothingness. Of course it was tortured! What can be said other than “I am” where Being is the referent of ‘I’? (Since there’s not even any apparent separation here, that cannot be a material identity judgment.)
Third, since the only beings in love are sages and sagehood is the only ultimate value, of course being in love is highly valued.
Only sages are master lovers. To become a sage is to have dissolved all attachments to egocentric personhood. Sages take themselves to be the beloved, and everything is beloved.
(Remember, personal calibrations may fluctuate. There’s no guarantee that exceeding the 600 threshold will result in permanent residence. At least in theory, all sages have simply broken the chains of egocentric emotions and desires. They’ve transcended self to Self. Furthermore, there are degrees of sagehood. For example, The Buddha distinguished 4.)
In practice, sages lead lives of selfless service to others. In truth, we could say, their service is to Self and we are all essentially that Self. They always look as though they’re acting for the benefit of the beloved (as opposed to trying to use the beloved to benefit themselves). They are not, however, even attached to the ideal of service. Being of service out of a sense of duty or obligation is not the same as naturally being of service to Self.
Notice that nobody can genuinely love you if that other calibrates at 540 or lower. Should you, therefore, restrict your pool of potential lovers only to people whose personal calibrations are 540 or higher? No. That’s trying to use someone else to fulfill yourself rather than to love that other for the good of that other.
Notice, too, that a sage may love you without being in a relationship with you. He or she need not be your friend or your lover. There’s nothing essentially exclusive about love.
While it seems to me impossible to fall in love with 2 or more people simultaneously, it’s certainly not impossible to be in love with 2 or more people simultaneously. In fact, isn’t that the benevolent attitude that sages actually have?
This is why sages emanate love. It’s like a frequency or vibration that they constantly give off that many others notice and are attracted to.
Where does such love come from? It comes from the realization of Being, which is waking up spiritually. The foundation of all genuine love is the realization of Being. In that sense, all love is spiritual.
If you are not a sage and yet would like to become one, what should you do? Master the way of nonattachment. Teach yourself how to delete all thoughts and, so, all attachment to compulsive thoughting. What obstructs that? Ego attachment. To love better, delete everything egoic.
What will happen is that you’ll stop “seeing” others in terms of their secondary personal characteristics and begin “seeing” them as another yourself, as Being. That’s the only way to have a genuinely satisfying encounter with another, the only way to genuine love.
Yes, you have a body. Yes, you have thoughts and beliefs. Yes, you have emotions. Your personhood is the history of all your experiences with respect to them: your sensations and perceptions, the development of your conceptual system, the emotional highs and lows, your interpersonal history, and so on. That, though, is only a small part of your whole.
Your whole is Being. You are not a human animal opening to Being. You are nothing less than Being itself having human experiences.
May you realize your true nature!