The topic of Love has been the subject of much discussion for centuries: Is it a gift or a curse? Do men and women experience it differently? Is it the essence of the universe or a temporary burst of chemicals?
However we might answer, one thing is obvious: Love is tremendously important to our experience of life. People create art for it, die for it, live for it. When we feel loved, the world becomes beautiful around us; when we don’t, the same world seems cruel and grey.
Love has been expounded upon in many spiritual books, and the Bhagavad Gita is no exception. Fully a third of its 18 chapters are devoted to Bhakti, the yoga of love and devotion. Hero Arjuna is preparing to fight the battle of his life and turns to his cousin and charioteer, Krishna, for advice. Krishna has already taught Arjuna about action and duty. Now the conversation takes a radical turn: Krishna starts to describe himself in great detail.
Krishna sings about his attributes, some of which are down-to-earth and some of which are mysterious and esoteric: “I am the courage of warriors, the scepter of rulers, the moon among the stars in heaven, the eagle among birds, the lion among beasts. I am a teacher, a priest, a musician, a philosopher,” he says, and in Chapter 7:
“I am mother to the Earth
And Her end when time dissolves….
“I am the Unmanifest.
Fools who think me embodied
Know not my higher nature,
Changeless and superlative.” *
Arjuna responds, “I had no idea. If you are indeed all that, show me. I want to see you as you are.”
Krishna counters, “Are you sure?”
Here is the dance of the lover and the beloved, no matter the relationship: the desire to be known by, and to know, another completely. It reveals the deepest wish of all of us, to be able to be unreservedly honest with another who will accept us and reveal themselves in return.
Is Arjuna up to the task? Krishna agrees to reveal his true nature to his cousin. Krishna at first shows his good and desirable qualities (don’t we all?) and then reveals his scarier and undesirable side, as well. Arjuna trembles and begs Krishna to stop the revelation, to go back to the man Arjuna thought he knew. Out of care for his cousin, Krishna does go back to his usual self, and then declares: “Now I will teach you what love really is.”
Arjuna has not lived a sheltered life. He was raised in the wilderness, he has hunted and been hunted, he has killed. Yet for this mighty warrior, the most frightening thing he has encountered is another’s complete openness and vulnerability. The thought of knowing another completely, and realizing that he can be fully known, is both terrifying and the thing he most desires. In order to be able to genuinely be himself, and to allow others to be themselves with him, he will need to learn the most difficult lesson of his entire life.
For Arjuna to embrace his destiny, he must not only be courageous in battle but courageous in love. And so it is for all of us. If Arjuna does not embrace love in this time of turmoil, his country, all he holds dear and all he knows to be right will be destroyed.
Does this sound familiar?
Join us to learn more about Love and Chapter 7 of the Bhagavad Gita at our 8th annual Memorial Day Retreat!
*original translation of Chapter 7 by Atmadarshan Laura Santoro © 2018