As children, one of the first lessons we were taught was how to share. Our parents and teachers impressed upon us that it was not good to be selfish; not to think only of ourselves, as the world does not revolve around us alone. Getting along with others and building friendships required us to be considerate and thoughtful of others.
As we grew older, we became aware of the less fortunate and underprivileged in society. We were encouraged to share not only our possessions but also our time. When Christmas came around, we would participate in charity drives, collect toys, clothing and food items. We would visit children in orphanages and the elderly in retirement homes to distribute these items. It was such a joy to see the gratitude in their eyes; how one small act of kindness could make such a big difference. During times of calamity and natural disasters, we would also do the same – collect the basic necessities and distribute them to the distraught victims. As the circle of life continued, we had families of our own and we too encouraged our children to do the same.
When we embarked upon the spiritual path, we were introduced to the concept of loving ‘oneself’. It seemed paradoxical because all along we were taught to love others more than ourselves. And then, all of a sudden so much emphasis was laid on loving the ‘self’. But the paradox unfolds when we answer the question of which ‘self’ we are referring to.
Your true self is concealed in falsehood,
like the taste of butter is concealed in buttermilk.
Your falsehood is this perishable body;
your truth is the Spirit of the Lord.
Sarmad, Martyr to Love Divine
Time and time again we are reminded by the teachings that we are not this human frame that we are so attached to and obsessed with. Nonetheless, we seem to think we are and, consequently, we have built our identity around it. Our real nature, our true self is our soul – pure in nature, pristine and perfect in every way. Our soul is the true, real and higher self that we are meant to love.
Under tremendous pressure from worldly attachments and desires, our senses have completely overpowered the mind, leading to the covering of several impenetrable layers over the soul. The result – a veil of ignorance blocking the pure and perfect self from the expres-sion of its true nature and virtues.
Seeing our soul’s miserable plight, the perfect Masters initiate us on to the spiritual path, and reveal to us the process of meditation. It is this process of meditation that teaches us to focus upon our highest self – our soul, the God-self in us. The Master impresses upon us the importance of raising our consciousness to the eye centre, the seat of the soul, so that we can once again re-establish contact with our soul and gradually remove the numerous layers that have blocked its radiant light, allowing it once again to shine in all its glory. It is this process of meditation that allows us to love our God-self or our divine self. It is in this respect, that we say it is all right to ‘love oneself’ – when we are loving our divine, true God-self.
This type of love contrasts sharply with typical human selfishness, in which we are preoccupied with our human personality and focused only on fulfilling our endless desires without giving much thought to other aspects of our being.
Being selfish means looking to your own personal interest. When this human birth is given to us to go back to the Father, and it is a rare opportunity which we don’t get so easily, we should also have that selfish instinct to realize that goal during this span of life.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II
A good way to differentiate between the two types of love would be to examine the motive behind each. As we begin to discover, understand, and build a relationship with our higher self, we will learn about love, because love is the essence of our source. Therefore, as we learn how to love our higher self, we will then be able to give and receive this love from another. The extent to which we learn to love our divine self allows more and more love to develop and grow in us. On the other hand, human selfishness is motivated by fear and deprives us of love. It thrives on the plane of the material and the physical.
As we continue to build and grow our love for our God-self through the daily practice of meditation, we will find that it is this love that is, in fact, the cure for our own human selfishness. We will come to realize that we are all drops from that one great ocean of love. We will begin to see our fellow human beings as part of our source, and it will motivate us to show love, kindness and compassion to all.
When I sought within my body
I realized my true self;
By contemplating within
I realized the Lord’s true identity.
By knowing my self, I became lost
In the bliss of divine love,
And then of its own accord
My self merged into Him.
Kabir, The Weaver of God’s Name