Our Limits on Love - A Spiritual Primer

Our Limits on Love

Love, the saints teach us, is the most complete and unshakeable force in life. It is love more than anything else that leads us to a balanced and happy life. But until love becomes our dominant quality, our mind and senses will continue to limit its free flow.

The limits of knowledge

Love is another name for the spirit of God, which is a limitless and all-pervading reality. Our awareness of this divine love is limited by the present dominance of our intellect. The intellect can only reason and quantify. It cannot grasp the eternal and immortal, which can be grasped only by the soul. We cannot imagine God, because the reality that is God is beyond the reach of the human mind and intellect. By thinking, we cannot obtain any experience of him, even though we may read hundreds of books or think thousands of thoughts.

It is necessary to accept with our understanding some of the limitations we face when discussing such a grand subject. Stanley White, in Liberation of the Soul, discusses the limitations of the mind in understanding God. He says: “Our mind, as science tells us, is a finite entity. This means it has limits. It can only do so much, and then it can do no more. For example, we can multiply figures in our mind without the assistance of paper and pencil, but we can do so only up to a certain point before we become frustrated. We can hear sounds only in specific frequency ranges, although the sound spectrum extends above and below our audible range. We cannot perceive the presence of x-rays, infra-red, or ultra-violet rays, but this does not mean that they do not exist. Rather, it shows that we are unable to verify their existence through the use of our senses.

“At this very moment we are being bombarded by radio waves from our local broadcasting stations, but we cannot verify this existence until we ‘tune-in’ to their frequency length by means of a specially designed receiver. Few of us would be foolish enough to deny the existence of radio and television transmissions simply because we cannot hear them unaided through our senses. We have thus come across an important principle of life. … There are things which exist that cannot be perceived by the senses.

“… Great religious teachers have said that God is infinite. This means that He is without limitation of any kind. How does a finite entity (the mind) comprehend something infinite like God? It is obvious that we have run into a rather severe problem. How can the mind understand something which is greater than itself?

“… Try to remember as you read that it may not be possible to explain every single concept in detail as there are no words to convey experience which goes beyond the realm of mind and matter. … Since words are of the mind, they cannot convey a reality higher than that experienced by the mind. With this point firmly fixed in our awareness, let us now attempt to use words to the best of our ability in an attempt to feed the mind spiritual insights from which it can profit.”

Only that knowledge which is utilized in trying to understand God and our true self is, in the final analysis, useful. All other knowledge, although it might be helpful for some aspects of life, is too superficial to help us contact our true self and to realize the power of the Creator within.

We can realize this force by experiencing it, not by reading or by thinking about it. In order to experience it, we need to reach the regions of pure consciousness inside ourselves. By the words ‘spiritual life’ we mean a life of communion with this force, not a life spent in merely thinking, reading or talking about it.

God is everywhere, in every particle of the creation. He is also present in every one of us, for are we not part of the creation? Typically, as human beings we direct our efforts to finding him outside ourselves. Typically, we never consider searching within. This is an important part of the teachings of the saints, for it gives us a clue as to our error, and where we must search to find him. The principle is simple: The Creator we seek is not to be found outside. The Creator must be realized within the human body.

Once we realize God’s power within ourselves, we will break through our limited concepts and find that he is everywhere – there is nowhere in the creation that he is not. Saints tell us that it is not possible to see God in the creation, however, unless we have first experienced him within our own being.

The limits of rituals and ceremonies

Rather than reaching out to God through the ocean of love, we become wrapped up in rituals and traditions. All religions preach the same ethical and spiritual truths for humankind. Their principal teachings are that all people should observe good conduct, have faith in the Creator, love him and attain communion with him.

Instead of emphasizing these fundamental spiritual points, the present-day religions ask us to worship or venerate past mystics such as Christ, Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, Krishna, Lao Tzu, Guru Nanak and so forth. They do not tell us how these mystics attained spiritual eminence or how we can effectively meet them so as to learn from them. They stress the necessity of having faith in one religious scripture or another, but they do not give us details as to how we can have the same spiritual experiences described in them. They tell us that our aim is to attain communion with God but fail to provide us with the tools to do so. They promise salvation, but on faith, and only after death.

Rites and rituals have taken the place of the experience of God. We are content to go to churches, synagogues, mosques and temples on the prescribed holy days, thinking that by attending such services and by listening to a priest, rabbi, mullah or pundit recite our holy scriptures we will gain salvation. But that is only a delusion of the mind.

If our aim is to reunite ourselves with God, how can this be achieved through rituals and ceremonies? Liturgies, rituals, ceremonies and places of worship only limit and hinder our efforts to search within because they put external worship in its place. As the Bible explains, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21); or, as St. Paul puts it, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Most of us are familiar with these words from the Bible. But do we understand them, or take note? It would seem we do not. Actually, our temples, mosques and synagogues stand as statements of how we try to limit God to the physical. How can we limit the Unlimited? How can God, who is everywhere, be constrained by walls of brick and mortar or stone?

Saints point to the truth and speak of a simple path to the divine reality which is inside every person. This path, they say, is a natural way to self-discovery. It has been created by God and has been in existence for as long as human beings have lived. It is not man-made. It has nothing to do with rituals or ceremonies, nor does it end in moral conduct or good works. Saints say that God exists and that all religions try to establish communion with him. The path, or discipline, of communion with God is commonly called religion. ‘Religion’ comes from the Latin word ‘religare’ which means ‘to bind’ or ‘to unite’. Its real purpose is hidden in the root of the word. Religion means ‘re-uniting with God’. We can reunite ourselves with God only if we find him within. The underlying spiritual path is the same for all. Anyone who remembers God and achieves inner communion may be called God’s true devotee, irrespective of who he is.

God created human beings, and only later did they become Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and so forth. There were no Sikhs five hundred years ago, no Muslims thirteen hundred years ago, no Christians two thousand years ago, no Buddhists two thousand five hundred years ago, and no Jews four thousand years ago. People are people, whether of East or West, and all are equal, as there is a soul in each of them which is a particle of the same Creator.

There is only one God, although in our limitation we call him by different names. For example, to quench his thirst, one person may ask for water. A person from a different country may ask for agua and another for pani but they are all asking for the same H2O regardless of the name they call it.

To realize God, one may belong to any religion. To attain communion with the Creator, it is not necessary to give up one’s own traditional religion. All human beings can meet God within, regardless of their gender, social status or religion.

Saints tell us that though God is to be found inside the temple of the body, between the soul and God lies the curtain of egoism and this is why the soul cannot see God. Both live in the same temple, at the same time, but they do not see each other. No ritual or ceremony can change this fact. Only true spirituality, the practice of inner meditation, can lift the curtain.

The limits of our worship

The real church or temple of God is the human form. This is a simple truth, yet perhaps only one person in a million makes his or her actual search for God within. External worship, the saints say, is not only limited but useless. St. Paul says: “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16).

If someone were to throw a stone through the window of our church or temple, we might fly after him in a rage and punish him as a temple desecrator – yet God dwells in that very person. Daily we ravage the real temple of God, the human body, by all manner of thoughts, words and actions. We search for God throughout the physical universe, yet fail to recognize where he can be found – within each and every one of us. We foolishly believe that mystics and saints speak only figuratively when they tell us that the Creator is to be found within. We fail to grasp the literal meaning of their words.

We limit our worship of God when we ask him for things as if we were bargaining at a marketplace. Normally, the benefits we expect from him have to do with physical or material things like health, wealth or relationships. If we succeed in getting what we want, we only become more involved in the creation. This type of worship is more like a commercial transaction in which we try to bribe God. If he gives us what we want, we will give so much in charity or we will do such and such a thing. In reality all these limited forms of worship are nothing but ‘spiritual materialism’. As far as true spirituality is concerned, they are useless.

Another form of spiritual materialism is when we mistake doing humane works with spirituality. True spiritual teachers are not concerned with changing this world. They know that this world is a learning stage for the soul. Just as there are stages from elementary school to university, so also there are intermediary learning stages in the journey of the soul. This world is one of these stages.

The souls that incarnate in this world have to learn from the subjects that are offered in this school called ‘earth’. Human beings throughout time will be exposed to the same subjects. These subjects present themselves as pairs of opposites. We will always have to deal with feelings of love and hatred, lust and self-control, greed and contentment, anger and forgiveness, sickness and health, life and death, and so on. This duality is the nature of the world. As long as there are days, there will be nights. As long as there is wealth, there will be poverty. As long as there is war, there will be peace. Our aim should be to graduate from this school by raising ourselves above the pairs of opposites. It is then that we will arrive at our real spiritual home.

If we do not know how to swim, how can we save somebody who is drowning? Would it be selfish to first concentrate our efforts on learning how to swim? Only then can we help those who are drowning. It is very easy to criticize the state of the world, but if each one of us becomes a better person, we will make a far better contribution to improving it than engaging in endless discussions on what everyone else is doing wrong.

Building hospitals, churches, hospices and schools, and doing other types of charitable work – like working with the sick, the dying and the needy – are all worthy humanitarian endeavours and do indeed give us a sense of fulfilment. The trouble is that humanitarianism is mistaken for spirituality. Such activities on their own cannot lead us to God. Unless a person consciously goes inwards, expands his or her own consciousness, has communion with God and becomes like him, all outward efforts – no matter how noble – will be of no avail.

The different religions encourage us to do charitable works, to pray and to live a moral life. They consider these actions the be-all and end-all of religion. Though these actions are very good, they are not enough, because they cannot take us past the lower heavens of the spiritual regions. Once the merits earned for such good behaviour end, the soul has to return to this plane of consciousness and start all over again, because the heavens where we go to be rewarded for our good deeds are all within the domain of the mind. It is in reference to this complexity of the spiritual planes that Christ says: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions” (John 14:2).

Our communication with God is limited when we pray to him with set prayers. If God has the power to grant our wishes, surely he must also have the power to know what we need. It is our own lack of faith which prompts us to beg from him as if he did not know what we need. When we use set prayers, aren’t we stopping ourselves from freely expressing our love? Do we need set words to speak to our loved ones? Is God so hard of hearing that we need to repeat our prayers over and over again? Do we worship him out of fear of what he might do to us? Or do we worship him out of vested interests to get what we desire? Either way, prayer motivated by fear or vested interests is very limited. We should worship God only out of love. Rabia Basri, a woman saint of Persia, said: “I wish that I could flood the gates of hell so that no one would worship thee out of fear, and I wish that I could set fire to the gates of paradise so that no one would worship thee for the promises of heaven. Then, everyone would worship thee out of love alone.”

Breaking through our limits on love

Love itself is what dissolves all the boundaries and limits we impose on life. Love is the most powerful force in the creation. Without love, life is dry and worthless. Devoid of love a mansion will appear as dreadful as a graveyard. Filled with the light of love, an ill-furnished and dilapidated hut will vibrate with beauty. Love is the richest of all treasures. Without it, there is nothing; and with it, there is everything. As Maharaj Sawan Singh says in Philosophy of the Masters:

“Prior to the creation of this world, God was a vast ocean-like All-Consciousness. He was all love, all bliss and self-sufficient. God was everything in Himself and was in a state of blissful quiescence, and His basic form was Love. It was not love for any other being, because none existed. It was for Himself. It was part and parcel of Himself, and He did not have to depend on anything else for this. Such is the indescribable condition of Love.”

Love is another name for the spirit of God. The spirit of God is what upholds the universe in balance and harmony. This is why the powerful forces that move in the universe are not in conflict with one another but coexist in perfect balance. If we put ourselves in contact with the spirit of God, we too will enjoy perfect harmony. The same force that upholds the whole creation is also unceasingly supporting and nurturing our own life. That force is love, the positive power of the creation, that includes intelligence, joy and balance. Saints and mystics come to put us in contact with that force so that we may rise above our earthly limitations and rediscover that love in its abundance, balance and joy.