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19 May 2012

Comments

Mick

Love without an object seems to miss the point to me. Cultivating an unconditional and universal disposition to be compassionate makes sense to me. Does the perception of objects (including people as objects of our love) always involve desire and therefore self-centered attachment? Maybe, but I don't think you can love someone without experiencing the conflict with self-centeredness any more than you can be courageous without experiencing fear. I don't think people love unconditionally because they don't feel conflicts with personal interests, but in spite of the tendency to be self-centered. Both teach us about our limits.

David Brazier

Dear Mick - thank you for your apposite comment. Seems to me there is an Aristotelian and a Platonic approach to this question. Your Aristotelian approach starts from pragmatic consideration of real love situations and asks who actually learns what and why. There is the alternative approach from fundamental principle and ideals which some prefer. I tend to be on the Aristotelian side myself, but considering the arguments in the abstract also has some appeal.

David Brazier

It has been put to me that unconditional love is an objectless state, that this state is our basic nature, and that it is the experience of this state which gives rise to actual instances of unconditional love indiscriminately toward objects in the world. So how might this work?

It seems there are several separate points that might not all stand or fall together. These are, at least, that:
1. we have a fundamental nature [FN]
2. that our FN is unconditional love [UL]
3. love can and does exist independently of any object thereof
4. our FN can be experienced
5. our FN, when experienced, has consequences for our manner of engagement with objects, namely it gives rise to indicriminate love

Each of these points warrants extensive consideration beyond what I have scope for here. However, briefly,
1. is it true that we have a FN? is such a nature singular or is it diverse, extensive and multitude? Clearly we have a nature in the sense that we are not omnipotent and, as there are some things we can do and some we cannot, we can say that this range of things that we are capable of is our nature. However, this is not quite what is meant because "fundamental" nature implies something unchanging and the range of our capacities certainly changes.
2. If our FN is UL, however defined, then there might be an implication that we are not constantly expressing this nature. So is there something in addition to FN that obscures, obstructes, diverts or detracts from it? This is, presumably, what is called "delusion". But what then is the basis of delusion? If UL in some sense is substantial, what is the substance of delusion? A metaphor commonly used here is the snake-rope. A rope might be mistaken for a snake. When the truth is seen, the snake disappears and there is only the rope. The rope is substantial but the snake was delusion. The problem here is that it pre-supposes an observer. One cannot help thinking that it is not the nature of the snake or of the rope that is fundamental, but that of the observer. So this resolves into saying that we are observers of a world. When we see that world clearly, we experience UL, but when we see it confusedly UL is obscured etc. However, this does imply that UL is experienced through the perception of objects. Further, it implies that the object of UL is the-world-perceived-correctly. This implies that everything in the world is loveable just as it is if viewed correctly. Here we face ethical problems. Is the torture of children loveable just as it is? I think the difficult implication would have to be that this is so. In some way, for UL to be one's FN, one must have the capacity to see all manner of sin and mayhem as loveable. The Christian adage "love the sinner but not the sin" attempts to resolve this conundrum, but I do not think that it works, especially not from the Buddhist perspective in which a person is what they do. Here we would need an extensive digression into being and doing. The Taoists say that the world is a precious vessel and one cannot improve it and it is certainly the case that mystical experiences in many traditions yield a sense of universal perfection, though generally this experience does not endure. Julian of Norwich's "shewings" are an archetypical case of the confrontation with this dilemma. Why is there sin in the world if the world is perfect? The Julian achoress was satisfied with the assurance of her visionary lord that "sin is behovable, all shall be well" - in other words, the Lord moves in mysterious ways and we must love His creation irrespective of its apparent incidental horrors. This is an age old problem. What is perhaps important for modern people to realise is that the question "How can God exist if God is perfect, God made the world, and the world is not perfect?" which seems to lead to atheism, is not solved by interiorizing the locus of perfection. If the person has a FN that is in some sense perfect, the problem of the incompatibility of this FN with the perception of imperfection in the world remains. All that modernism has done in many cases is to privatize the divine, but this just relocates all the same problems into ourselves, which may actually be worse than the former metaphysic.
3. To say that UL exists independent of any object thereof is simply definitional. It is not the definition that I normally use nor that is used in common speech, but one could define it this way if one so chose. However, it is a definition that gives rise to some problems. Is UL with object a different phenomenon from UL without object? What is the relation, if any, between them? etc.
4. Can our FN be experienced? If so, by whom? If by X, what is the FN of X? If by experiencing FN we mean FN experiencing itself, is this a meaningful statement? If it is a meaningful statement, how could FN not be experiencing itself all the time anyway? If FN can be deceived, is it really UL? The best solution to this, I think, would lead us to say something like: it is our normal condition to be examples of UL deceived [ULD]. ULD is our day to day motive. We are little bundles of ULD going round creating trails of good and bad consequences. I don't think that this necessarily, however, implies that either UL or ULD are objectless, in fact, rather the converse. It is objects that both deceive and have the capacity to awaken.
5. If we can solve the above questions, then (5) would have to be our final conclusion. If ULD can somehow be awakened into UL simple, then our engagement with objects will be more joyous. and perhaps sin, blight and mayhem will be seen to be "well" or will disappear. In the condition of the achieved mystic this might then give rise to an unstoppable flow of loving engagement. However, there is clearly enormous scope here for self-deception and for moral error. We are familiar with the lamentable alignment of a number of supposedly enlightened Zen masters with the Japanese wartime Nazi government which they reconciled by the notion that anything (including destroying the enemy or executing the coward, traitor or prisoner), could be perfect action if performed with the correct mind. Again, in the Bhagavad Gita there is the god telling the archer that he does not sin by killing because the victim's real nature is immortal. And so on. This is very slippery ground. Nonetheless, we cannot deny that such states of spiritual all-shall-be-well elation occur and can, but do not always, bring massively positive transformations of character with them.

Where does this leave me? I prefer not to define UL as objectless and I prefer not to distance FN from ordinary nature. Love is love and it always has one or more objects. I do have a sense of it being an intrinsic dimension of life. I agree with Mick. I tend, pragmatically, to assume a pluralistic position. This may not be as satisfying to some who long for "Oneness" and perhaps ultimately they are right, but, for the purposes of the lived life, I prefer the inclusive notion of "wholeness" to the singularity of "oneness". We love and we hate. We are generous and mean. We are humble and proud. There may be much mileage spiritually - in my view there generally is - in experiencing fully the nature of our hate, greed and pride, in knowing the extent of our failure. This is the ground whereon awakening experiences generally take place. It is sange (contrition) that is the way in. Greed is a seed, hate is a gate, pride can provide. Thinking that these do not exist in our FN may so easily lead to self-deception that I prefer not to go by such a risky route. I never did like rock climbing. Like Brother Lawrence, I have more need of a confessor than an instructor. Of course, nowadays, confession is out of fashion and self-improvement is all the rage. All the more reason to beware.

David Brazier

I was sent the following by e-mail...


I noticed recently you were posting on unconditional love... perhaps in tandem with your book...
and the question was about if there was such a thing as unconditional love... so I will wade in :)
YES!
Beyond a state of conditioning there is the beingness of clarity, beauty, grace, love...
It is there like the sun... a natural state unless obscured...
As it moves through us and the conditioned patterns that we are/hold... it can get conditioned as it loves through the lens in place...
If we live from a place of conditioned self, then it is hard to allow unconditioned love... there is subject and object... what i need and what you need, I want, you want....what hurts and what doesn't , what i dont want and what you dont want... and it can seem so little. Possibly if your conditions and my conditions align then more can flow... but only if those circumstances are met... heaven help us if change or impermanence happens :) so on a relative level it is not always happening.
Then if we try to clear or be free of the conditioning.. and we move toward embodiment of the Self... then we can possibly be more loving.... its hard sometimes... to love without conditions attached or forming how we love. But sometimes its easy :)
Holding space....Loving even if you are not loved back.. loving if the love returned is not the same frequency.. loving when hurt, when no logic to how you can love but you do.... It is a pale shadow of the love that I know is there beyond my conditioning... even though I may not be able to allow it through me.... but I do give it my best.. Everything in my being tells me that the Self is unconditioned love.... and so I trust that... and accept that I am not there... but that it is!

David Brazier

Responding to the last comment...

A lot depends how we take the question... is there unconditional love? This comment basically says, yes, there is unconditional love but not in practice. Or, unconditional love is something that exists in a place that we generally do not actually arrive at. From one perspective this is tantamount to saying that it does not exist. Or, alternatively, it means that asserting that it does exist is not a literal statement, but is rather a way of saying that the ideal is an important one. This also raises the question whether we need to believe in an ultimate state in order to do something "along the way" as it were. In order to travel north one does not need to believe that there is a place called ultimate north that exists, for instance. Again, there is a question what "trying to be free of conditioning" means since we are inherently conditioned. We are conditioned by millions of things. There is an important issue around what we are and are not actually capable of. We all can remember situations where we wished that we did not feel angry but still went on feeling it and we can easily envision situations where we do not have the means (time, energy, resources) to do the loving thing for a needy being.

Then again, there is another way of looking at it all. It is possible to see conditional love as what I do/give and unconditional love as what I receive. After all, since I am a highly conditioned being, whatever love I receive is, in a certain way, unconditional, since it is in spite of my state. This does not necessarily mean that the creature that delivers me this love is unconditioned - that is hardly likely - but the love itself can, perhaps, be conceived of as transcending its messenger. Thus in a theistic religion one would say that God's love is agape (unconditional love) whereas ours is eros, philia or caritas which are all conditional. Of course, if one takes this line one can also say that all of "my" love is also unconditional, except that it is not actually "mine". I am conditional with it, but the love itself is pure. This is a transcendental way of viewing it.

If we take this latter view, then there is no merit in my love since the only part that I actually supply is the conditioning. What follows is that karmically I am doomed and must rely for salvation on grace, which I might conceive as deriving from the Buddhas, God or some other transcendent source.

Maitrisimha Kouwenhoven

Happened to read Meister Eckhart, Nietschze and others, just about the same subjects of this discussion.
Eckhart: What a man takes in by contemplation, that he pours out in love.
Or: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.
Nietschze:
What else is love but understanding and rejoicing in the fact that another person lives, acts, and experiences otherwise than we do…?
These citations imply three aspects of love, conditional or otherwise that tend to be fundamental for me at least.
1. the connection between spiritual practice (contemplation) and love;
2. the connection between love and gratefulness;
3. love and (the) other(ness).
Some short notes:
1. I always saw contemplation as a means to widen my heart and subsequently my mind.
This widening is an emptying as well. Eckhart says that one can meet God, (who is beyond existence, he is no-thing and as such not an object at all) in emptyness ('ledigkeit'). The soul has this capacity for emptying itself in contemplation. The practice of Zange is percisely such practice. With this in mind one can understand perhaps this: You may call God love, you may call God goodness, but the best name for God is compassion. And Eckhart thought that it is not so much me loving God, but making God loving me, just by contemplation and Zange. And it is the nature of God to not be able to resists an empty soul, a soul in its full receptability. And what God gives is such an abundance of compassion that the heart has to pour out love otherwise it would burst.
2. Now it is understandable that the most natural reaction on a realisation of this love/compassion is gratefulness. In such a way that I would say, when I somehow feel grateful I love. So a human condition for love is gratefulness.
3. What is given to us, even before our Dasein, (being there) is the other(s) or consequent with 1 and 2 above; the Other.
Now the whole speculative philosophy has to start again. Because it has forgotten the other in all levels of thinking, acting, faith. Zange, metanoia is the phenomenon in which the others take their rightfull place in my thinking and acting and force me to a kind of ethics I cannot deny any longer. This ethics being on the one hand the mystery of me being individual and as such capable for the necessary contemplation and subsequently Zange in order to feel somehow 'the kiss of God in the soul' my heart overflowing and becoming capable of love for the other. That is: rejoicing in the otherness of the other. That means ultimately that one has to abstain in thinking from seeing the other as object.
One can see the other easily in her or his whatness and subsequently as 'thing' I can appreciate or not. But the best condition for love is that one can rejoice in the other as a 'who.'
I tried to escape somewhat from the unconditioned or conditioned love discussion. Not in the least because there are 'concepts' and words that are real for us, manytimes in the consequences of using them, but must be considered not 'being' but beyond that, ultimately perhaps as something unfathomable, like are the soul and the love of God for Meister Eckhart.

David Brazier

Thank you, Maitrisimha - very nice points.

hotel sur paris

I was sent the following by e-mail...


I noticed recently you were posting on unconditional love... perhaps in tandem with your book...
and the question was about if there was such a thing as unconditional love... so I will wade in :)
YES!
Beyond a state of conditioning there is the beingness of clarity, beauty, grace, love...
It is there like the sun... a natural state unless obscured...
As it moves through us and the conditioned patterns that we are/hold... it can get conditioned as it loves through the lens in place...
If we live from a place of conditioned self, then it is hard to allow unconditioned love... there is subject and object... what i need and what you need, I want, you want....what hurts and what doesnt , what i dont want and what you dont want... and it can seem so little. Possibly if your conditions and my conditions align then more can flow... but only if those circumstances are met... heaven help us if change or impermanence happens :) so on a relative level it is not always happening.
Then if we try to clear or be free of the conditioning.. and we move toward embodiment of the Self... then we can possibly be more loving.... its hard sometimes... to love without conditions attached or forming how we love. But sometimes its easy :)
Holding space....Loving even if you are not loved back.. loving if the love returned is not the same frequency.. loving when hurt, when no logic to how you can love but you do.... It is a pale shadow of the love that I know is there beyond my conditioning... even though I may not be able to allow it through me.... but I do give it my best.. Everything in my being tells me that the Self is unconditioned love.... and so I trust that... and accept that I am not there... but that it is!

+1

David Brazier

Thank you. I like what you have written. It stimulates me to write the following...
We are conditioned beings. We only exist in conditions. Having a mortal body makes us so. What lies beyond this conditioning? This is an area of intuition and speculation. I am not using either of these words disparagingly - intuition and speculation are vital parts of our nature that enable us to be creative and relate to what is beyond our conditioned situation. A fully functioning person lives their conditioning, but also reaches beyond it. We have to live in the conditioned self, but that is not our whole story. We are incapable of sustained unconditional love, but it still lives as our ideal and we may even want to think of it as our fundamental nature, even though we do not actualise it in our dealings with others.

The middle way is to avoid falling into a complete identification with either of the extremes. There are many pairs of extremes. One pair is the romantic and and the sardonic. It is important to encompass the romantic notion of unconditional love and at the same time it is important to encompass the real limitation of human nature, vulnerable, conditioned, and ignorant. If we fail to encompass the first we shall live paltry lives. If we fail to encompass the second we shall lose our humility and fall into a false certainty about ourselves.

Some people like to call the ideal nirvana, the going out of self like a fire going out. Some prefer to call the ideal the self, often with a capital letter, Self. I feel a bit queasy about the latter approach as it seems to verge on the kind of arrogance that comes from falling into the romantic extreme. This is why I like the Buddhist non-self approach. At one level it may just be a linguistic difference, but language is not barren - it has meaning and those meanings do affect us. Clearly, nirvana is a kind of unconditional love, but it is an unconditional love lived in the midst of conditions by very much conditioned beings. It is in this contradiction that we have to live and it is by doing so that there is, on the one hand, the possibility of freedom, spontaneity and creativity, and, on the other, of flight into over-attachment to one extreme or the other, excluding half of our nature.

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