If an alien civilization tried to understand the Human Race through the content of our popular songs, they would clearly think we are all obsessed with love. We appear to struggle and strive to find love but then we often suffer and lament our loss of freedom when we have love. We begin life with no understanding of love and yet we spend much of our life in pursuit of it. First, if we are so blessed, we experience the love from our mother and father. Later, we may experience the love of another person; a partner, a soul mate. Then we may also experience the love of our own children. Each of these relationships offers a different form of love. Each will offer a different mixture of passion, intimacy and attachment. Each may offer trust and compassion. Each may demand compromise and sacrifice. They all enable us to learn about the complexity of love.
For those of us on a spiritual path, these forms of love help to prepare us for yet one more form of love – the love of the Divine. This is a form of love that transcends the limitations of all the other forms of love. The love of the Divine includes the love of all manifestations of the Divine – the finite (Prakirti) and the infinite (Parusha). Although you may begin learning about love through the love of another person, the path to Divine love leads you to the love of all things and all people; to see the Divine in all. It even leads you to love yourself. In fact, without allowing for the acceptance and appreciation of our own strengths and limitations, we cannot really arrive at universal love. For most of us, understanding the difference between self-love and egotism is perhaps the main reason why navigating this path takes so long.
Guru Nanak refers to this human situation as “this game of love” and taught us to follow a practice of Divine love through devotion, or “Bhakti”. In one of his most quoted lines he says:
Jo to praem khaelan kaa chaao || Sir dhar talee galee maeree aao ||
If you desire to play this game of love with me, then step onto my path with your head in hand.
Ita maarag paira dhareejai || Siir dheejai kaan n keejai ||
When you place your feet on this path, give your head, and pay no attention to public opinion.
Siri Guru Granth Sahib page 1410
It may be one thing to place your heart in your hand when we speak of love. But here, Guru Nanak tells us that we must go further; to put our “head in hand” – to surrender the self-important ego. And that would challenge any of us, but he says that we should also “pay no attention to public opinion” –that we must rise above our petty concerns about what others may think. These are serious considerations.
Throughout the many pages of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib we are often reminded to seek a loving relationship with the Divine. Sometimes this relationship is referred to through the use of a Shiva/Shakti courtship metaphor: the devotee represented as the bride, and the Divine represented as the groom. Putting aside the obvious gender roles, we can see beyond the stereotypes, into the more powerful understanding of these archetypes. The bride leaves behind the comforts and attachments of her family home to live in the home of the groom, free to embody a redefined self, with new behaviors and values that align with the identity of the groom – the Divine. The home of the groom, manifesting all the ideal attributes of the Divine, provides spiritual stability and a sanctuary for the devotee to truly merge into the Divine.
Years ago, while visiting Amritsar, in India for the first time, I was given a rare privilege to do the Ishnaan Seva or the washing of the marble floors of the inside of the Harimander Sahib, the Golden Temple. This is a very sacred task that only five people are allowed to perform each night. After everything had been removed, rugs etc., then the five of us stood loosely-gathered in a circle around the epicenter of the temple, around the spot where the Siri Guru Granth Sahib has been enthroned every day since the temple was constructed over 400 years ago. We began with an Ardas, a group prayer. Then some milk was poured onto the marble in the center of the room. Milk is used to clean the marble but also to venerate the precious quality that has been imbued into the marble over hundreds of years of singing and chanting the sacred sounds of the Gurbani or Guru’s words. As my bare hands made contact with the milk on the marble floor, I was transported beyond this level of perception and existence; the milk acting as a catalyst carrying my consciousness through and between the atoms of the marble. I came in contact with the “Mahat Dharat” or Ultimate Creative Earth Mother energy – a fathomless, timeless energy manifesting an infinite amount of nurturing grace. I had been guided to the Guru’s door. Then the Guru led me through a window into an experience of God, Herself!
When we open our heart to experience love of the Divine it can be like an explosive release of emotions, both painful and joyful. It can be the first time we get to “lay down our burdens” at the altar of the one place where we feel “safe and connected”. Finding a place to bow to something greater than oneself offers the blessing to feel “Oneness”. That feeling can be so unexpectedly exhilarating. To some it may feel like a long-forgotten experience from childhood. Others may feel like it is connecting to something that predates even this life. The outward flow of love draws you into even deeper connection. Once that door opens, you never want to close it.
In the teachings of Sikh Dharma there are two practices that allow for even greater expression of this Divine love: one is “Sangat”, the directive to gather with other people for sharing and support; and the other is “Kirtan”, the singing of the Guru’s words that uplift and transform us. When we are gathered in Sangat we get to see the Divine in each other, serving and cherishing the other person as a manifestation of the Divine, providing an opportunity to express our love. With each exchange of energy or act of service we are reminded of the Divine all around us. When we sing Kirtan, it is the Naad (sacred sound current), the vibration of the words set to music with moving melodies, which causes our Heart to open to the point of breaking – our love is expressed in a precious, sacred dialog or communion with the Divine.
I have had many deeply moving devotional times since that first Ishnaan Seva years ago at the Harimander Sahib. And I cherish them all. But I hold a constant abiding sense of gratitude that I was guided to even receive a glance of the Guru, a chance to trust that I, too, was worthy to experience Divine love. We all have this potential. It is said that when you take one step toward the Divine, then the Divine takes ten steps toward you.
“Why not play one game to become timeless and one with God? That is the game of how you recognize and love your own deep truth in life. When you can play just one game that is boundless in time and space, then all others stop. The measure of the game is how near you are to your own truth, to the reality in your soul.”
Siri Singh Sahib Ji The Mind page 55