Love - Putting Others First
– by Eknath Easwaran
It is only by giving up this at tempt to put ourselves first that we can find what we really want - peace of mind, lasting relationships, love. Do you remember the children's game "King of the Mountain" - scrambling up the sand pile, pulling and pushing each other to get on top? That may be all right when we are seven years old, but when we are twenty-seven - or fifty-seven? By the time we become adults, we should begin to think of leaving these scrambling games behind.
Eradicating self-will is the means by which we realize the supreme goal of the spiritual life. This is what all the great mystics have done, and done completely, through years of strenuous effort. True, if we set out to do it, we are going to find it difficult and uncomfortable for a long while. But what freedom we experience when that monstrous impediment we call the ego is finally removed! Says Saint Bernard of Clairvaux:
Just as air flooded with the light of the sun is transformed into the same splendor of light, so that it appears not so much lighted up as to be light itself, so it will inevitably happen that every human affection will then, in some ineffable manner, melt away from self and be entirely transfused . . . . The substance indeed will remain, but in another form, another glory, and another power . . . .
In this self-naughting lies the power of life itself, and through it we are born anew. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "If you want to find your life, you have to lose it." It is what Gandhi meant when he said, in response to the suggestion that he was without ambition: "Oh, no, I have the greatest ambition imaginable. I want to make myself zero."
What concrete steps can we take to bring this about? What can we do day by day?
When my grandmother told me about elephantiasis of the ego, I remember I asked her whether there was any cure for this malady. "Oh, yes," she said. "Love of God."
Love of God? Some may say it was natural that Granny would use those words, with her devotional Hindu background. You might even hear them among a few pious people in the West. But what can they possibly mean to us? If the materialistic bent of our culture has not banished such devotion, our intellectual training has. How can we conceivably have a fervent love of God in our times? It is a good question, and I think there is a practical answer to it.
First, we need to ask what we mean by "love." The term has been used so shamelessly in connection with all kinds of things - soft drinks, paper towels, garage door openers. And love between a man and a woman, we are told, means a muscular, tanned fellow running hand in hand through the surf with a stunning, billowy-haired girl, or couples sitting across glasses of wine at a little hideaway restaurant. From such imagery we draw our romantic notions of love.
But listen to Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians:
Love is patient; love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offense. Love keeps no score of wrongs; does not gloat over others' sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance. Love will never come to an end.
That is a love worthy of us. That is a love powerful enough to dissolve our self-will.
When Jesus urged us to love God, he added also: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." The two interconnect. The Lord is present in every one of us, and when we love those around us, we are loving him.
The Hindu scriptures put it memorably:
When a man loves his wife more than himself, he is loving the Lord in her. When a woman loves her husband more than herself, she is loving the Lord in him. When parents love their children more than themselves, they are loving the Lord in them.