What is love? Unfortunately, the word “love” is very much misused. When we see our own Self in others and wish that they would experience the very same happiness, the same joy that we have toward ourselves, then you are experiencing true love. This kind of love is not personal; there is no business or bargaining in it. You just love for the sake of loving. When you smell a sweet flower, it doesn’t ask you to give something back to it. In the same way, when you take a bouquet of flowers and give it to someone, you do it to make them happy, that is all; you don’t expect anything in return. You just give for the sake of giving, for the joy of loving. If there is business involved in love, there will also be disappointment, because you are expecting something for yourself, and then and it’s not real love. True love is more universal, you love all equally. And that love goes very deep—it surpasses the body and even the mind. It is the love of the Self.

In one of the ancient scriptures from India, the Upanishads, it is said that a husband loves his wife, not for the sake of the wife, but for the sake of himself, and a wife loves her husband, not for her own sake but for the sake of the husband. That means that in true love, you enjoy the act of loving itself. That kind of love brings you great benefit; it brings you peace. In true love, you love the very essence of the individual. All other love is based on superficial things and will not last long. If you love the body of a person, you can’t even love that body continuously because it changes. When you see a few wrinkles here and there, the love is gone. When you love in this limited capacity, as soon as you see somebody more beautiful, or more handsome, your love is transferred to that other person. If you admire someone because of their wonderful poetry or some other ability, if you meet someone with even a greater ability your love will be transferred. If your love is based on mental and physical features, the love itself will be constantly changing. So, ultimately, love should penetrate deeper than the physical and mental. Ultimately, we should love the Self in ourselves and see that same Self in others.

Loving the Self is a universal love called bhakti, or devotion to the divine. Because the Self itself is the image of God. When you love the image of God in another person, you are loving the divine through that person. The Sanskrit word for devotion is bhakti. But that bhakti or devotion begins from an ordinary, material level. In the beginning, you even do business with God; that is how we begin to love god. We will think, Dear God, if I pass my exam, I will light 10 candles on the altar. Or, If I get the appointment I want, certainly I will burn 100 candles. That’s business and it is the lowest level of devotion—the very beginning. Do you really think that God will go after somebody to get them to give you a job, just so that God can have a few candles placed in front of the altar and see in the dark? This approach is childish but that doesn’t matter, there is nothing wrong in it because this is where devotion and love of Self begins.

After some time, we will laugh at ourselves, saying, What is this that I am doing? Do I really think that by lighting a few candles, God is happy or that I will get what I am asking for? This is a sort of bribe. As our understanding grows, we laugh at ourselves. And then we raise ourselves higher and begin to think, There is no need to bribe God, let me just pray, God please give me strength, give me one-pointedness, so that I can study well and pass the exam.

Then, you begin to no longer ask for anything in return for giving something but you start to sort of beg: Please give me money for this and that or please help me find a partner and so on. In a way, begging is better than businesses. Begging is a better understanding because you have realized that you can’t give anything to God because it is God who gives everything to you! You realize you have nothing of your own to give so you just ask God to keep giving to you.

And after some more time, the next stage is when your thinking changes again: Do I even have to ask God to give me anything? Am I not God’s child? God already knows what I need. What a fool I am! God, You know what I want, even better than I know. At that point you stop naming what you want, and you say “God, You know what I want, if you would like me to have it, I know it will come. If you don’t think I should have it then you won’t let it come. You know what is beneficial for me and what is not beneficial for me. So anything that you give me, I will accept. But when I don’t get anything, let me also accept that.” This kind of understanding is a little better because it means you realize that God will give whatever will bring you goodness but will not give you anything that is not good for you. With this understanding you no longer demand anything.

After some more time, when you have received material things, you begin to pray: “I am not interested in anything, but if You think I should have something because it will be useful for my work in serving people, then let it be with me, otherwise not. I need not ask anything. Please just let me remember that You are the giver and You are also the one who takes away things. I leave it to You; let me feel that I am Your instrument. Please, work through me. Let me offer myself to You. Do anything You want through me.” That attitude, that understanding is even higher. But you can still go further when you pray: “Who is offering and who is taking? What right do I have to offer anything? Is it not God who gives me the feeling to want to offer anything? Is it not God who is within me as Consciousness, and that makes me think of all these things? So even when I say that I offer myself to God, that very idea is given by God, to me. It is God who is working in me. Please let me realize that You are in me, working through me, doing everything.”

At that point  you realize that God, the divine, or the kingdom of God is within you. You realize: Who am I to do anything? Since God is within me, who am I? I am only an instrument, and how can an instrument think anything. I am not different from God, because I am that Consciousness, I am that Self.  In that experience, all desires, all running after this and that comes to an end. But that doesn’t mean that you stop moving and you become a rock. It’s just that there is no anxiety, there is no desire, there is nothing to keep you from resting in your own peace. When you rest in your own Self, you become a witness of the entire phenomenal world. Even as the mind thinks and the body acts, you know you are the witness. To others, you will appear to be working to be doing something, but to yourself, you’ll be feeling that you are resting, you are witnessing. So there is a doing without doing or in other words, action without action. That is the final stage; you are quiet, still. We come across this in saints.

So, still the mind, rest in your own peace, become a witness, and allow things to happen. In that state, nothing can upset you and in that awareness many things can happen through you. You will be able to inspire people with that awareness, with that peace. That is possible only when you get rooted in your own Self, only when you realize the peace that is in you. If you realize that peace, you need not ever talk about peace, because you will inspire peace; you will make people peaceful. It is something like a candle that gets lit. When the candle burns it just shines. It doesn’t even say, “I am giving you light.” Everyone and everything gets the benefit of the light, but it doesn’t say, “Hey, come on, I’ll give you light.”

Be a light yourself and let people enjoy that light. But before being that light, if you just talk about light, you are not really giving light. You are probably bringing more darkness. So subjective experience is very important. Then, even your words will carry weight, because the words come from your own experience—not that you are merely quoting so and so, or such and such scripture. We should set examples in our very own lives. That is only way to see a better world.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda