Love is a feeling.  You cannot even put it in words.  You will know what love is if you really want to know.  Wanting to love itself is the beginning.  And then if you want to love you should know how to love.  Now, what is the meaning of love?  It’s not just attachment.  Real love means you think of the welfare of the beloved; you do everything for the sake of the others.  You keep on doing things for others.  If others do something for you in return, it’s all right, accept it gratefully.  But don’t look for it or have the expectation that you should be getting something.  Because if you look for it you are not loving unconditionally.  You have put a condition:  “Only if you love me in return or only if you do this and this and that and that I will love you.  Otherwise I will not.”  That is conditional love.

All that we ever need to know about unconditional love can be learned from observing the nature.  Everything in nature truly loves you.  It doesn’t look even for a thank you or a thank-you note from you.  Sometimes we exploit Mother Nature and yet she still loves us.  Look at what we are doing to the earth when we cut down all the trees and forests.  Even when we dig underground and explode bombs, the earth continues to support us.  Look at our skies and the ways in which we pollute the air.  Instead of being thankful to Mother Nature for giving us pure air to breathe we pollute the air.  Look at all the sewage and chemicals we dump into our waters.    And yet, given all the ways that we pollute our environment and our lack of gratitude to our Mother Nature, still she gives and gives.  If you throw a stone at a tree will that tree stop giving you fruit?  Have you heard any tree saying, “No, I will not give him or her fruit because they threw stones at me?”  There is a beautiful book that is called, “The Giving Tree.”  We can learn a lot from this book and from the nature.  Constant giving—that is what we see in nature.

Look at the sun, the wind, the water, the entire nature loves you without having any of its own expectations.  Nature is the pure expression of that unconditional love.  If you could really observe them, the trees seem to be saying,  “All right, you do whatever you want—throw a stone, or pour some water on me—that’s your business.  I will love you no matter what you do or who you are.”  That’s nature’s way.  A fruit loves you, a flower loves you, a plant loves you and it does so unconditionally.  If all the fruits are going to say, “I am going to be eaten only by the person who planted my tree and who poured water,” then none of us would get oranges, nor apples, nor bananas.

But thankfully that is not the love we see in nature and in so-called inanimate objects.  They are all love personified.  They don’t even consciously think that they are loving you.  They just are love, that’s  all.  I can give you the example of a lit candle.  The candle doesn’t think that it is giving light.  It is light.  The people who see the candlelight might say, “We are receiving light,” but the candle doesn’t even know that it is giving.  That’s what you call love.  It’s impossible to put it in words.  It’s a matter of feeling.

Mother Nature’s love is unconditional and that is what true love means.  No conditions whatsoever.  Can people really love that way? All other species do that. All God’s creation is the example of this true love with one exception: human beings.  We have that capacity, but we don’t see it expressed much in our world today.  We seem to have forgotten our identity as the image of God; we have lost our culture.

Long ago, the great South Indian sage Thiruvalluvar explained what it means to be a cultured person:  “If somebody hurts you, does any harm to you, in return do good to them.  That will make them realize their fault.”  The cultured person is someone who is able to love unconditionally and feels:  “No matter what you are, how you are, I enjoy loving you.  I will keep loving you because I have tasted the joy of loving and I don’t want to lose that joy.”

How do we recapture this kind of culture and this unconditional love? You can constantly watch your mind and ask yourself,  “Do I have any kind of expectation behind this love?”  Honestly search your heart and mind.  If your answer is,  “No, I am just loving, that’s all,” then your love is pure.  I would say that we should not call anything that has an expectation tied to it as “love.”  I have another term for that:  business.  Why?  Because you give something to get something in return.  What else would you call that?  When you give something in order to get something in return that is called, “business.”

Real love is something that you express in your life and actions.  You cannot convince someone that you love them by constantly repeating, “Honey, I love you.  Darling, I love you,” because mere words are not enough.  Everything that you do should express your love.  The flower doesn’t say,  “I love you, sweetheart.”  It’s there being itself or I should say expressing itself as an offering of beauty and fragrance for all to enjoy.  Like a flower, we can live the life of love.  That means we offer our love unconditionally.  When you give purely for the sake of giving love, that’s real love.  It is possible to do and we can gradually learn to love that way.

Do you know my love story?  Let me tell it to you.  Once upon a time there was a very nice, sweet couple.  One day the husband looked at the wife and said, “Honey, I love you.”  He waited for a moment, but his wife was just sitting quietly.  He wasn’t sure, perhaps she didn’t hear him?  When she was still sitting quietly after a minute or so, he again said, “Honey, I love you!!”  This time he added a bit more emphasis.  But, still his wife sat quietly staring straight ahead.  Immediately, the husband felt his heart racing; he started having palpitations.  He reached over and put his hand on his wife’s shoulder and began shaking her exclaiming, “Honey, didn’t you hear me?  I said that I love you!!”

Slowly, his wife turned around to look him right in the eye and as she did she exclaimed, “ Well darling, I hate you!”  That was her answer, “Darling, I hate you.”  Can you imagine?  Oh, the poor man, what did he do?  Immediately, he got up, ran to the garage, took out his car, and sped away with the tires screeching.  Where was he headed?  Straight to the  lawyer’s office where he shouted, “I can’t live with her anymore.  I want to divorce her.”  Why did he get so upset like that?  If I ask you for the answer, what would you say?  “Because he loved her and he wanted her to love him back.”  But is that what you call love?

I want to tell you that this is not love.  It is mere business.  That husband is doing business with his wife.  He is saying, “Honey, I give you my love, you give your love back to me.  If you don’t give your love back, I won’t love you anymore.”  So, to get love he gives love.  When you give something to get something that is called business.  It’s not love anymore.  We are all experts in making everything into a business.  We train children to do business by telling them, “My sweet child, if you do such-and-such I will give you a chocolate.  If you pass this exam I will buy you a special gift.”  We are teaching them how to do business.

That’s why the world is like it is today.  Everything is based on the question:  “What can I get in return?”  We should be asking ourselves, “How can I think of this person’s welfare or that company’s welfare, or the welfare of that country?” But instead we demand, “What can I get?”  The late President John F. Kennedy said this beautifully:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  That kind of love, concern, compassion, and caring will do a lot to improve the situation in our world today.

Essentially, love is one-way traffic.  You just pour out love, love, love.  Love everything.  That is real, unconditional love.  True love doesn’t put conditions. Even if someone does something wrong to you, you can still love the person because as a person they are fundamentally lovable.  Maybe that person has some bad habits or some kind of negativity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love them and accept them. True love never bargains.  It’s just one-way traffic.  Love knows only to give.  It doesn’t look for any return.

Everybody should know what real love is.  The moment you are born you experience love from your mother and father.  Among the human beings, if you really want to see true love,  you can probably see the true love primarily in the relationship between mother and child.  Mother’s love is the real, selfless love.  Sometimes the child kicks the mother in the womb.  Does the mother punish the child?  No.  She may even be delighted by those kicks in her womb.  She loves, nourishes, and nurtures her child without expecting anything in return.  That is the purest form of love;  she enjoys caring and giving.  There’s no business relationship there.  Mother doesn’t feel that only if the child does as she wants she will love that child.  There is an unconditional acceptance without demands or judgment.

Love for the sake of loving.  Everyone should learn to live that way.  Live to love.  Because its only in unconditional love that you will never face disappointments.  Even though it sounds like a selfless act, it is a most selfish act, because you don’t want to get disappointed by expecting something in return, by making your love a business deal.  The motive behind loving someone or being of service to someone should not be in getting something in return.  But that’s the kind of love we see normally.  Always we want to know what the payback will be; what will we get in return?  That’s why we face disappointments.  Making appointments creates a lot of dis-appointments I always say.  Why?  Because conditional love can never make you happy.

Please understand that I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get anything in return for all the love you give.  If there is giving, there should also be receiving.  You should know how to gratefully receive the love that is given to you.  The one problem in giving and receiving comes when you expect something in return.  Some people may get confused and think, “No, I cannot receive anything at all because I am only supposed to give and only then I am really loving and serving humanity.  That is not correct.  You also should be a receptive person but don’t be a demanding one.  “I gave this and now she or he should do that for me!”  That is where the problem is.  The anxiety, the anticipation, the worry about what you are going to get or not get is what spoils the pure joy of  unconditional love.

Then there is also the fear of losing what you may get.   After you get the love you want, you are afraid of losing it.  “Look at that other girl looking at him?  I wonder if I am going to lose him?”  Soon your own conditional love makes you miserable.  What began as a beautiful, free-flowing love develops into  possessiveness, jealousy, envy, deceit, and so on.  So many of our problems are caused by our expectations, fears, and lack of trust.  Then we become miserable by our own business love.  If you have to constantly worry about the person you are loving then you can be assured that you will never be happy.  Whether it is love between husband and wife or even between two friends, if your friendship is based on some gain from that person, you are never going to be happy. If you want to be always happy, you just love.  Don’t worry about anyone or anything else.

The Bible teaches us to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  What a wonderful precept.  That’s all we really need to have peace on earth.  If each of us loved the next person, and the next person, and the next we would all be one loving and harmonious family.  The Bible doesn’t say to love only the person who is just like you, or is a member of your same community, country or religion.  All are our neighbors and all are to be loved as we accept and love ourselves.

To love your neighbor as yourself you must first love yourself.  We can see how that is possible by looking at our daily lives.  We already seem to have that self-love.  We would love to have a lot of money but we are ready also to sacrifice the money—any and all our money—to save ourselves from some disease.  If someone is ill and needs an operation, they will sacrifice their money, then perhaps parts of their body, why?  Because they love themselves more than the body, than the money, than everything.

Ultimately what it all boils down to is that what you love most is your own Self.  You will sacrifice and renounce anything to save yourself.  When you understand this self-love and the drive for self-preservation in its basest form then you will experience that you are love.  Then your entire life will be permeated with that kind of love.  When you love with this kind of love, as you would love yourself, certainly you would give everything that you can to another person.  Love means being generous, offering all you can for the welfare and for the sake of others.  When you really love somebody, you are ready to give up everything for that person.  Likewise, when you love the humanity, you are dedicating your life for the welfare of the world.

I am reminded of the life of the great Indian sage Yagnyavalkya.  He had a very happy family life and at an old age he wanted to leave the family and spend more time in meditation in the forest.  So he called his family together and said, “The call has come.  I have to go and take care of my spiritual pursuits.  You have all the property, everything is there for you to be provided for so let me go to the forest.”  His wife told him,  “I don’t need any of these material things.  Do you think these things will save my life, or will make me happy?”  He replied, “No.”  So his wife asked, “Then why are you giving them to me?  What will ultimately make me happy, tell me that for that is the only thing I truly wish to know.”

In response to her sincere wish, Yagnyavalkya gives a nice, big discourse.  In that discourse he says, “A wife loves not for the sake of the husband but because she loves herself.  A husband loves the wife not for the sake of the wife but for his own sake.”  Ultimately love comes back to you, your own spirit, the pure Self.  We are born of love, we continue in love.  Love never ceases to be. And ultimately the end of love is loving yourself.  All the love is based on loving yourself.

And that is what God meant by “Love thy neighbor as thy Self.”  You must first know who you are, and love the pure Self in you.  Then you can see that same Self in your neighbor and love everyone as the true Self—the image of God.  So, why don’t you try this meditation:  Sit and close your eyes and think for a minute, “Do I love the whole world?  How many people do I love?  How much have I given and how grateful am I?”  Ask yourself these questions, reflect upon your life as if it was your last moment on earth.  What have you given?  How compassionate have you been?  What more can you give?  How much more can you love?

And then you will know how healthy you are, how happy you will be in your life.  And that is the essential teaching from all the scriptures.  God is love.  And if you want to experience God, we should express that same love in our life—just as God would love everything and everybody.  God loves a rat, a cat, a dog, a donkey, a pig, a sinner, a saint, an idiot, a scholar, the most beautiful, and the most ugly, a good dancer, and the one who doesn’t even know how to walk.  No matter what you are, how you are, you see that unconditional love from God.  God never said, “If only you do this, if only you are like that, then you are loved.”  That is what you call “universal love.” And that is what is called God.  We come across people who say, “I don’t believe in God.”  They think God is something or somebody.  If only people know who God is, or what God is, nobody would say, “I don’t believe in God.”  That’s why we say God is love.  And if you want to experience that God in your life, love everything and everybody as God would love, unconditionally.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda