Once you have drunk from the water of unconditional love, no other well can satisfy your thirst. The pangs of separation may become so intense that seeking the affection of the Beloved becomes an obsession. When we were with Maharaji, we were intoxicated with his form, the colors of his blanket, the buttery softness of his skin, his tapering, almost simian fingers, the long eyelashes that so often hid his eyes, the red toenail on his big toe. As with any lover we, too, became fascinated and enamored of every detail, although these cues triggered spiritual bliss instead of physical desire.
In their way intoxication and addiction are analogies for devotion. Once you experience unconditional love, you really get hooked. The attraction is to that intimacy between the lover and the Beloved.
You are so drawn into the songs, stories, images and constant remembrance of the Beloved that you may hold on to the form and not want to go on to the next stage. You are always thinking about it and tuning your being to stay in that intimate loving relationship with this person you love.
But the Beloved is not a person in the usual sense, and the form is just a costume for the play, the lila. Ultimately, this form is the one that takes you beyond form. What the Beloved, your guru, reveals to you is your own soul. Even so you may choose like Hanuman, to remain in a kind of duality to serve and remain immersed in the ocean of devotion.
The devotional path isn’t necessarily a straight line to enlightenment. There’s a lot of back and forth, negotiations if you will, between the ego and the soul. You look around at all the aspects of suffering, and you watch your heart close in judgment. Then you practice opening it again and loving this too, as a manifestation of the Beloved, another way the Beloved is taking form. Again your love grows vast. In Bhakti, as you contemplate, emulate, and take on the qualities of the Beloved, your heart keeps expanding until you see the whole universe as the Beloved, even the suffering.
As I have explored my own and others’ journeys toward love, I’ve encountered different types of happiness. There’s pleasure, there’s happiness, and then there’s joy. Addiction, even in the broad sense of just always wanting more of something, gives only pleasure. Pleasure is very earthbound when you’re getting it from sensual interaction, and it always has its opposite; also, the need for satisfaction is never ending. Happiness is emotional, and emotions come and go. It may play into the complex of other emotional stuff that we all carry. But there is also spiritual happiness, which gets very close to joy.
As it becomes less personal, spiritual happiness becomes joy. Joy is being part of the One. It’s spiritual, the joy-full universe, like trees are joyful. It’s bliss, or ananda. It’s all those things. The difference is that it comes from the soul.
- Ram Dass, excerpt from Be Love Now, co-authored by Rameshwar Das
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