Artwork by Elena Khomoutova.

Divine love is the affection shown toward the spirit of the individual. Personal love is the love that is shown toward the body, or the mind and its characteristics, or, the person’s belongings; anything that is materially-based. Even though there is spirit in each and every individual, the individual is called an individual, because of all the features that are separate from the other person. Spirit is the same in quality and quantity in every individual. So there is no individual quality in the spirit, but temporarily, the spirit seems to be divided into separate entities, which you label as a person. This division is only in the mind and the body.

A good analogy is when you take a few different kinds of containers to a water source, such as a lake, and you fill the containers with water. The water takes the shape of each container. The water in the pot will be called pot water. Water in a cup will be called cup water. But once the containers are broken, the water again becomes mixed up together and it is the same original water. The very same analogy is given in the Upanishads, using the idea of akasha. There is no proper translation in English for akasha. Some people call it ether. Or, for the sake of understanding you can call it air. There is the maha akasha and the ghata akasha. Maha means great, universal. Ghata means the pot. The air inside the pot is called the pot air. Outside the pot, it is called the natural air. The air is either called the outside universal air, or the air in the pot. If not for the container, the air in the pot will not get the name of pot air. The same is true with the water. Likewise, the spirit is cosmic, universal, and unlimited. It has no particular form or particular individuality, but because of the container of the body, the spirit gets a name and a form. So you say, “his spirit” or “her spirit,” but otherwise, in quality, the spirts are the same. If you love that spirit as your own, because that spirit is not different from your spirit, then that love is called universal love, or divine love.

This is what is meant in the Bible when you are asked to “Love your neighbor as your own self.” And that is possible only when you know that you are the Self and you are not Mr. or Ms. So and So. Those identities all belong to the body and mind—Mr. Universe, Miss India, Miss Universe. When you miss the universe you will see God. That is because if you see God as God, then the universe is not there. If you see the universe, then God is not there. But, they are really one and the same.

This can be explained better by a Tamil saying: “Within the wood is hidden the great elephant. Within the great elephant is hidden the wood.” It is referring to a wooden carving of an elephant. The wood and the elephant are not different. But what you see depends on how you look at it.

The same is true of the universe and God. God is not different from the world. All the world and its contents make up God. Otherwise, you cannot say God is omnipresent. God must be present in everything, even a small blade of grass. So, that means God has become the world, the universe. If you see God, then you don’t see the universe, and if you see the universe, then you don’t see God. But there is a certain state where you can see God and the universe simultaneously. But that means that you know the truth and you know the manifestation. Then you can see both at same time.

Likewise, you can love the spirit and the individual at the same time. Loving only the individual and forgetting the spirit is dangerous. But there is no danger in forgetting the individual and loving the spirit. Because the individuals are the parts, or are the containers, of the spirit that always change. Your love should not be based on the container, on the body, or on the character of the individual, because nobody will have the same character always. As soon as he gets up in the morning, you see him as good natured. But when he comes back after an evening out at a club, he is a different person; you can’t love him. You may love him in the morning and hate him in the evening.

We can have our personal love, but we should not rely on that. That’s why there is a proverb that says: The husband should love the wife not for the sake of the wife but for the sake of the Self in the wife. And vice-versa. If their love is based on the spirit, or the soul, they will live in love for a long time. That is what is called divine love, or universal love. We should slowly learn to love the permanent factors and not the impermanent. I’m not saying not to love the impermanent, but don’t rely on it. Then the love will last long. Loving the spirit is divine love. The Spirit is God; it is the image of God. So let all our love be based on the spirit, and not on the changing physical and mental side.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda