Ram Dass on Love
“To possess the key is to lose it.”
By Maria Popova
When you love, truly love somebody, there is no version of reality in which what is good for them is bad for you, no choice they could possibly make that is right for them and wrong for you, nothing they could give you that could make love more complete.
This is a difficult notion for the Western mind to grasp — too easy to mistake for the psychopathology of codependence, too quick to slip into the tyrannical Romantic ideal of merging.
At its heart is something else altogether: a kind of transcendent ego-dissolution under which the self ceases to be and becomes Being.
That is what Ram Dass (April 6, 1931–December 22, 2019) explores in his landmark 1971 book Be Here Now (public library), largely responsible for introducing ancient Eastern teachings to the modern West.
He considers the paradox of our ordinary experience of loving:
When we speak of falling in love, we might find that a slight restatement of the experience would help clarify our direction. For when you say “I fell in love” with him or her you are saying that he or she was the key that unlocked your heart — the place within yourself where you are love. When the experience is mutual, you can see that the psychic chemistry of the situation allows both partners to “fall in love” or to “awake into love” or to “come into the Spirit.” Since love is a state of being — and the Divine state at that — the state to which we all yearn to return, we wish to possess love. At best we can try to possess the key to our hearts — our beloved — but sooner or later we find that even that is impossible. To possess the key is to lose it.
A remedy for this paradox comes from a central concept in bhakti yoga: the non-dualistic merging of lover and beloved into a single totality of being, a great universal One — a notion best articulated by the Indian spiritual master Meher Baba (February 25, 1894–January 31, 1969), whom Ram Dass quotes:
Love has to spring spontaneously from within: and it is in no way amenable to any form of inner or outer force. Love and coercion can never go together: but though love cannot be forced on anyone, it can be awakened in him through love itself. Love is essentially self-communicative: Those who do not have it catch it from those who have it. True love is unconquerable and irresistible; and it goes on gathering power and spreading itself, until eventually it transforms everyone whom it touches.
Complement with the great Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s abiding wisdom on how to love, then, for a Western counterpart, revisit the humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm on our greatest obstacle to love.
Published December 20, 2022