People outside spiritual life sometimes criticize Lord Krsna’s devotees and other spiritual aspirants for having renounced the material world. Spiritualists, the critics say, have abandoned loving relationships and therefore suffer emotional disturbances. For example, Bertrand Russell wrote of “gloomy saints who abstained from all pleasure of sense … denying themselves meat and wine and the society of women . . . [and in whom] dark terror and misfortunes in the life to come reached their full development.” And as the parent of a devotee of Krsna once expressed, “[The devotees] act as if parents don’t exist. It’s as if the love and care we showed our son mean nothing to him.”
From the Krsna conscious viewpoint, these attitudes are misguided. The religious and philosophical practice of Krsna consciousness not only allows for love but is constituted of nothing but love. In fact, by practicing Krsna consciousness, one gradually comes to realize that supreme love which permeates all beings and objects throughout the universe.
In Sanskrit, Krsna consciousness is called bhakti-yoga, “the yoga of love.” Through bhakti-yoga, one comes to realize that love of Krsna, or God, includes within it love for all created beings. Srila Prabhupada explains this point in his Preface to The Nectar of Devotion, a summary study of Srila Rupa Gosvami’s sixteenth-century devotional classic Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu:
In the primary stage a child loves his parents, then his brothers and Sisters, and as he daily grows up he begins to love his family, society, community, country, nation, or even the whole human society. But the loving propensity is not satisfied even by loving all human society; that loving propensity remains imperfectly fulfilled until we know who is the supreme beloved. Our love can be fully satisfied only when it is reposed in Krsna . . .
The Nectar of Devotion teaches us the science of loving every one of the living entities perfectly by the easy and sublime method of loving Krsna.
Since love of God includes love for all living entities, how have some people come to feel that spiritual life does not accommodate love? The confusion has arisen because they have mistaken lust for love. All major world religions distinguish between lust and love, and in the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (another sixteenth-century devotional classic), Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja describes the distinction as follows: “Lust and love have different characteristics, just as iron and gold have different natures. The desire to gratify one’s own senses is kama [lust], but the desire to please the senses of Lord Krsna is prema [love].”
What we usually consider love, then, is actually an affair of personal sense enjoyment pursued by someone who takes his material body to be himself. Unaware that he is not his body but rather the spirit soul inside the body, he tries to discover love in either the body itself or in a vague, theoretical combination of body and soul. In this way he cheats himself and others by losing sight of the real object of love—Krsna—and his relationships become those of lust alone.
Such is the case not only for illicit sexual encounters but for legally or religiously sanctioned sexual relationships as well. Regardless of where or how sense gratification takes place—whether in the name of personal comfort or public welfare, altruism or nationalism, religion or morality, or even in the name of liberation from material bondage—the root of all sense gratification is lust alone.
But we hold our bodies dear only because the living principle, the soul is within them. And the soul is dear to us only because of its intrinsic relationship with God, the Supreme Soul. Real love, therefore, is the act of giving ecstatic pleasure to the supremely worthy object of love, Krsna. Whatever else passes for love in this world—whether for one’s master, friend, child, or partner—is but a pale reflection of the original love for God lying dormant in all of us and covered by our ignorance. Even the most selfless kind of love in this material world—that of a mother for her children—disappears in time as the children grow up and the mother grows old and dies. But spiritual love is eternally fresh and blissful. When we love God as our friend, lover, or master, we are never cheated.
Real love begins within spiritual life, and spiritual life contains the highest standard of love in all relationships, including those of the family. In fact, true family life begins only when the husband and wife share mutual God consciousness. By performing their family duties in the spirit of service to Krsna, devotees renounce the lustful materialistic side of their relationships while allowing that part which is sanctified and true to blossom fully. Thus the loving relationships between mother and child or husband and wife become perfect when based on love of Krsna. And if a family lacks Krsna consciousness, then alienation between family members, child abuse, divorce, and other problems are inevitable.
Krsna is the supreme father, and He extends His love to all living creatures, regardless of their karma or bodily situation. The devotee, through practical, realized knowledge of his eternal identity as the servant of Krsna, sees the spiritual equality of all Krsna’s creatures and loves them as His sons and daughters. Thus the devotee becomes situated in the consciousness of the universal yet personal family of all living beings. Out of this higher, spiritual love, the devotee thus spares the lives of the birds and the beasts who, like him, are children of God’s creation.
Yet we often meet those who acknowledge the existence of God and even profess love for Him while at the same time claiming to “love” the taste of animal flesh. They will sometimes even invent theologies in which God supposedly forgives their lust provided they express “love” for Him. In truth, however, it is simply a demoniac perversion to call by the name “love” that by which God’s creatures suffer extreme pain and violent death so someone can gratify his tongue. And the fact is that after our present material bodies die, we must transmigrate into another body according to what we actually love. This is the law of karma, which is God’s law, and which is based on His love for us. As St. Bernard of Clairvaus wrote in his Love of God, “[Love] is the very substance of the Godhead; and my assertion is neither novel nor extraordinary, since St. John says, ‘God is love’ (John 4:8)…. Love is the eternal law whereby the universe was created and is ruled . . . and nothing is left outside the realm of [that] law.”
So, if we don’t love God, we must love something less. Therefore everyone should take at least the first steps toward developing his love for God. The ultimate goal of life should not be left in the hands of a few rare saints.—SDG