What’s Love Got to Do With It?
After reading the comments on the recent comic, “Arranged Marriage” here on the Harmonist, we asked ourselves the very real question, “What’s love got to do with it?” What’s love got to do with romantic relationships in Gaudiya Vaishnavism? After some contemplation and a bit of research, our conclusion was “plenty.”
What we mean to say is that even though one may be a serious spiritual practitioner, it’s “okay” to have normal, loving relationships, romantic or otherwise. Although there is truth in Vedanta’s emphasis on renunciation—which most adherents understand theoretically—in reality most people need companionship in order to be situated well enough to pursue spiritual life in a progressive way. However, neophyte practitioners can tend to misconstrue the teachings of Vedanta and detachment in such a way as to end up becoming callous and even inhumane to their families, who ostensibly represent their “attachments”. Therefore, we are advocating “dutiful” love, a love which constitutes an intermediate phase on the path from lust to the pinnacle of love (prema).
There is a vast gray area between relationships based purely on sensuality and those based on fully awakened love. Understanding dutiful love as a vehicle to assist us in traveling from the former to the latter affords us the ability to live a responsible and psychologically balanced life while making progress towards the goal. This concept of dharmic or dutiful love is a principle that can be applied cross-culturally, Indian or Western, arranged marriage or not. A natural expression of this understanding would be a minimization of many of the unfortunate abuses that have occurred in spiritual institutions in the name of detachment.
Even in traditional Indian arranged marriages, which are often thought of as forced and loveless affairs, love is ideally an essential element. On a walk in 1975 (in the context of discussing the importance of quality chanting) Srila Prabhupada used the example of the quality of love in arranged marriages:
Just like love between two persons, it cannot be forced. ‘You must love him. You must love her.’ Oh, that is not love. That is not love. When automatically you love one another, that is quality. There is no quality in that quality. But gradually, remaining together, that quality of love increases. Then the wife takes care of the husband, and the husband takes care. They become bound up, united in love. That is quality.
It is clear from Srila Prabhupada’s description above that he considered love to be essential even in arranged marriages. He emphasized that in an arranged marriage love develops in a wholesome and gradual way; when that loving bond is established mutual affection arises naturally. To be clear, though, we are not advocating arranged marriage here; we bring up such a traditional example only to illustrate that such situations can be examples of life in the gray area. Regardless of whatever form the union takes, progress in spiritual life is all about becoming acquainted with and, more importantly, comfortable with the gray areas. In our quest to move from the darkness of lust to the full light of prema we must pass through the twilight of dutiful love.