“Attachment is egoism in love.”
This is how Sri Aurobindo once defined attachment (The Synthesis of Yoga, CWSA, Vol. 23, p. 329). Perfect definition, if we deeply, seriously and sincerely think about it.
Attachment, egoism and love — these three have an intimate connection. Let us start with the most immediate, the first circle of our love – love for the family. We are attached to our families and we think it is love. It may be something like love, but it is not really Love. At best, it is a rehearsal ground for us to practice love.
Sometime back I probably couldn’t have said it this confidently, maybe because back then I had only read some wonderful words about love and ego and attachment and had not really experienced some of the truth of those words, had not really felt the intensity of the force of those words. But life has its own ways of making us sit up and learn some important lessons, for real, by making us live the truth of things. Today after going through some life-experiences over the past several years, I have realized how difficult it is to truly love.
[Speaking of love, let me digress for a bit. These days the word ‘love’ is thrown so casually that one might even get a (false) idea that everyone is so full of love for everyone and everything – their friends, families, books, artworks, nature, expensive holidays, hobbies, coffee, designer dresses, fancy hairdos, cool sunglasses, songs and musicians, comedy shows, political satirists, movies and movie stars, — did I miss anything or anyone? I admit I am also guilty of using the word ‘love’ carelessly many times. But at least I never said I love my new sari or the new brand of biscotti I tried today with my morning tea. And I am also quite confident that I never said I love this or that film star — not even the ever-charming Dev Anand (of course, he’s the best)! So I believe I have some sort of right to say that all this overuse or misuse of the word ‘love’ has added to our deep, deep ignorance about love.]
Coming back to the point….
Our minds refuse to accept the truth of the statement “attachment is egoism in love” and our hearts refuse to admit that what we ordinarily speak of as love may be nothing but an attachment because we have long forgotten what Yanjnavalkya said to Maitreyi thousands of years ago, about loving another person for the sake of the Self. Of course, we have forgotten the Self too, otherwise we wouldn’t be in this confused state regarding love, attachment and everything else. We have forgotten, and now only remain in love with ourselves, our ego-selves. And all the love that we say we feel for others is nothing but the love for our egos!
““Not for the sake of the wife,” says Yajnavalkya in the Upanishad, “but for the sake of the Self is the wife dear to us.” This in the lower sense of the individual self is the hard fact behind the coloured and passionate professions of egoistic love; but in a higher sense it is the inner significance of that love too which is not egoistic but divine.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 23, p. 107)
Human love, says the Mother, “is not a need of the soul, but rather a concession it makes for a time to the ego.” (CWM, Vol. 14, p. 120). It may sound startling, even disturbing, to our ordinary intelligence, given that our ideas about love are almost entirely shaped by what our popular culture and popular romantic literature and films tell us about it. We throw the word ‘soulmate’ so casually, without even realizing that we don’t know what is this thing called soul! It is perhaps the false soul of desire in us which creates this illusion.
Love is a thing of the heart, people say. In ordinary parlance, what people generally refer to as the heart is simply an emotive heart, full of emotions more or less similar to the animal’s, but more variously developed, says Sri Aurobindo. [Yes, let us read that phrase again – “similar to animal’s”.]
“Its emotions are governed by egoistic passion, blind instinctive affections and all the play of the life-impulses with their imperfections, perversions, often sordid degradations, — a heart besieged and given over to the lusts, desires, wraths, intense or fierce demands or little greeds and mean pettinesses of an obscure and fallen life force and debased by its slavery to any and every impulse. This mixture of the emotive heart and the sensational hungering vital creates in man a false soul of desire…” (CWSA, Vol. 23, p. 150)
This false soul of desire colours the movement of love with its petty instincts of clinging to its object of desire, which it sees as its object of love. And when there is desire, there is bound to be expectation; in this instance, expectation of being loved in return for loving the other. This is often the beginning of much degradation in love. The degradation continues with the insistence of the vital ego to possess the object of love entirely for its sake. With possession comes attachment, because why would I ever want to lose something for which I have craved so long! And the fall continues….
But why does it happen like this? The answer again lies in our ignorance. For the most part we are ignorant of the truth that ego is an instrument of nature which gives us a sense of separate existence. It is this separate existence in us, this individuality in us that seeks its own separate love, exclusively for itself. This love is coloured by all the different forms in which ego expresses itself, which may be understood as egoism.
Let us first be clear that because ego is essentially a separative instrument, it therefore naturally becomes a hindrance when we try to connect with another individual, in any relation. This is why there must be some control over the various tendencies through which ego imposes itself, otherwise life with others would be impossible. It has been observed that even among animals who live in groups, there are strict rules about imposing a control on the play of the ego.
We often hear and also say – that person is so egoistic, or she is so ego-centered. Some even go to the extent of saying – it is impossible to love that person because he or she is so egoistic! Okay, so the other person is egoistic and you are not! Such talk again comes from our deep ignorance of how ego and egoism work. As Sri Aurobindo reminds us –
“…the human being is naturally egoistic and ego-centred; all he does, thinks, feels has the stamp of the ego on it…. Even when one tries to get away from it, it is in front or walks behind all the thoughts and actions like one’s shadow” (CWSA, Vol. 31, p. 218).
And as for this thing called egoism, we find a helpful and simple definition in the words of the Mother:
“When you want to pull everything towards you and other people do not interest you, that is called egoism; when you put yourself at the centre of the universe and all things exist only in relation to you, that is egoism. But it is very obvious, one must be blind not to see that one is egoistic. Everybody is a little egoistic, more or less, and at least a certain proportion of egoism is normally acceptable; but even in ordinary life, when one is a little too egoistic, well, one receives knocks on the nose, because, since everyone is egoistic, no one much likes egoism in others.” (CWM, Vol. 3, pp. 240-241)
Selfishness, possession, attachment, vanity, ambition, pride, ingratitude, jealousy, envy, wounded feeling and other such things are the various forms through which ego expresses itself. Through discipline, self-restraint and by becoming more and more conscious of the movements of this ego within us we can exercise greater control on the ego and become less and less egoistic.
With intense spiritual practice and a great aspiration, and of course, with the Divine Grace, as the inmost divine spark, the divine element in us slowly becomes a greater controller of our movements and responses, the hold of the ego is gradually loosened and we begin to experience greater inner freedom. All this has close connection with how we experience this thing called love.
“So long as the ego is there, one cannot love. Love alone can love, Love alone can conquer the ego” (The Mother, CWM, Vol. 14, p. 121).
Granted that getting rid of ego is not an easy task for most of the humanity. All sages and seers have told us so. Even a saint may still have the sattvic ego, so what to say of ordinary folks like you and me! But perhaps something can be done about this thing called ‘egoism’.
And may be the first thing to do is to stop looking at our attachments as love. Because as long as we have attachments to others, we don’t really love; we can’t love another for the sake of loving, we love for the sake of the attachment. We love for this need to be loved in return, because the biggest attachment we have is to our little ego-self.
True love, says the Mother, is something very deep and calm in its intensity. It is not a passion of the ordinary emotive heart, but a quality of the soul, an attribute of the real divine spark within. More importantly, true love finds its delight and satisfaction in itself. It does not need to manifest itself in any exterior ‘acts of love’, sensational or affectionate. It has no need to be received and appreciated, nor to be shared. It loves for the sake of loving, just the way a flower blooms. “To feel this love in oneself is to possess an immutable happiness,” says the Mother (CWM, Vol. 14, pp. 124-125).
Most human love is far removed from this true love. Most human beings in ordinary relations of love — regardless of the relation — speak of (or think of) their right to be loved. But love’s only right, if at all it has one, is the right of self-giving, says the Mother. Without self-giving there is no love.
An honest self-reflection and observation around us will tell us how rare is a true self-giving in human love, which is in actuality full of selfishness and demands. And yes of course, attachments!
So where is love?
Some truths take time to get accepted because of the deep ignorance in which we live our ordinary lives. Maybe it is one of those truths. As I said earlier, Life has its own ways of making us sit up and ponder deeply on our lives, loves and loving.