All spiritualities highlight the ambivalence and ambiguity of love; its different natures and its two faces. Love is an initiatory school in which we learn to make progress, to rise above ourselves and then to free ourselves, but it can also be a prison in which we are bound by more and more chains. We go under, get lost and eventually become totally dependent. The universal teachings of spiritualities, philosophies and all religions are in agreement about this, and proffer the same truths: in love, the individual rediscovers what he or she went there to look for, because love is a mirror as well as a revelation. Because he is under the sway of his emotions and his need to possess, his love will always turn against him and cause him the sufferings of dissatisfaction and a chained heart. Imbued with spirituality and mastery, his love will take him out of the self and enable him to attain fulfilment and self-giving.
Love is therefore like education. It involves “going with” and learning to detach ourselves with an ever-greater awareness of the ambivalence of things and of the need for balance, which is always so difficult to achieve and so fragile. Knowing oneself, loving oneself sufficiently, learning to love better, to give, to give oneself and to forgive are lifelong learning processes that are never complete, never finished, always to be renewed. Loving without becoming attached and loving without becoming an object of attachment are probably both attitudes that require human beings to develop an acute discernment and to arm themselves with deep qualities of being and courage. Loving life and watching it fade away, loving ourselves without any illusions about ourselves, loving one’s loves in the knowledge that times will take them away, loving without idolatry, and loving with an awareness of the relativity of all things. That is the profound meaning of the loving compassion that must, in the Buddhist tradition, set us free. In the monotheist religions, the oneness of God has the same deep meaning. We must free ourselves from our illusions, from the false worship of our desires and idols of one’s inner self if we wish to accede to a love-lucidity as we seek a proximity that can perceive the extent of distance in the absolute. That is the mystical experience that al-Jilâni (11-12th centuries) and Rûmi (13th century) tries to convey, as do all spiritual and mystical experiences. Gibran’s Prophet sums up how the love of the Whole and/or God leads us to abandon the self when he says ‘When you love, you should not say “God is in my heart”, but rather “I am in the heart of God”.’
To love without being dependent. Nothing could be more difficult, and doing so requires a long apprenticeship that is both demanding and sometimes painful. The goal is to love without any illusions. That is all the more difficult in that we sometimes have the impression that love means being deluded. How can we graduate from the illusion of love to the lucidity of love? How can we detach ourselves from the very thing to which we are, by definition, attached? Gibran’s Prophet also says: ‘Love possess not, nor would it be possessed ’, but what becomes of those who are possessed, of the women and men who are ‘blinded by love’ and who are in chains? How can we reach out of ourselves to merge into the heart of the Whole or the Light of the One? Love is indeed a promise of good, beauty and well-being, but that promise has always come with so many tears, so much suffering, and so much pain. To live is to suffer; to live is to love … to love is to suffer. And if we wish to live, must we therefore come to love our suffering until we die?
The love that transcends love is a love that liberates. It brings both fullness and a sense of contingency. We therefore have to teach our consciousness and our hearts to love in the absolute of the moment and in full awareness of time, to be there and to know that we will pass away. To love whilst learning to go away: the finest love never forgets separation, and still less does it forget death. Love and death are the most human of all couples: the deepest human love tries to have no illusions about the inevitability of death. That fragility is its strength. The power of humility lies hidden on the edge of that awareness –in love –of death.
To go back to the beginning. The sacred texts, the ancient traditions and all philosophies of all ages tell us to look at and learn from Nature, its beauty and its cycles, and to the ephemeral and eternity. We know that we love, naturally, but they still teach us to love better, to love consciously and spiritually, and to learn to apprehend meaning in detachment. And we have to choose between the reserve of Kant and Nietzsche’s impetuosity, between the way of Buddha and that of Dionysus, between the love of God and the love of Desire. Between an idea of freedom and the management of needs, between independence and dependence, and between detachment and bondage. One does not choose to love but one can choose how to love. Nature is the mirror before which we must raise our faces, gaze into proximity and distance, in the knowledge that, whilst we are now fully present, the earth will give the same fullness to others as it sanctifies our absence. The mirror of time and the infinite spaces reflect it, the liberated self understands it, and the One repeats it: to love is to be there, in proximity to the extraordinary in the ordinary, and to offer, give and forgive. To love is to reconcile the sedentary presence with nomadic migration, the roots of the tree with the strength of the winds. To love is to receive and to learn to let beings go. To love is to give and to learn to go. And vice versa
Professor Tariq Ramadan