by Ziv Porat
Is there a difference between love and knowledge? At first glance this appears to be a rather silly question, since it seems to compare apples to oranges. The personal experience of loving, on the one hand and of knowing on the other, are so very different, how could they be the same, or even similar? One might assume that the more reasonable question should be – is there any thing in common between the two? This might be so if we are satisfied with a superficial understanding of these two facets of the human mind. Yet, if we search a bit deeper into their origin, motives and aim a broader comprehension may emerge.
Essentially, the desire for love arises from the spiritual impulse to come back to our True Nature, which is Oneness and Wholeness. This truth is so very beautifully expressed by the 15th century Sufi mystic, Jami, who wrote, “Love becomes perfect only when it transcends itself – Becoming One with its object, producing Unity of Being”1. These statements may become clearer by reflecting on the desire for love and its fulfillment. When one loves another, one actually expresses a desire to become one with them. The more intense is the sentiment of love, the stronger is the wish for unity.
When a lover longs for his beloved, he wishes to be so very close, never to be apart from to her; any hour that the lover spends apart from his beloved seems to him, as if lasting an eternity. So many love songs were written about the agony of separation from the beloved. When a mother loves her child, she feels no distinction from the child; the child’s joy is her happiness and the child’s pain is her suffering. Love is such an intense motive force in the human mind that it often overrides the impulse for self preservation; this is called selflessness, or altruism. In altruistic sentiments and actions the love for a fellow human causes the person to completely identify (unite) with the other, considering the other’s well being as one’s own. At times this leads to acts of self sacrifice, in which individual well being is subsumed in the care for the other.
The desire for knowledge arises from the same deep source in the human psyche as love does, i.e. the desire to realize the essential Oneness of one’s being with the universe. For what is knowledge? At its core, the desire to know is the desire to have intimate access to the object of knowledge. As one becomes interested in knowing anything or any subject, the process of learning about it brings more and more information, clarity, focus, details and a familiarity with it. This process of knowing saturates the mind until it becomes close and connected to the object of its study.
A physicist investigates the physical universe, because she wants to gain intimate access (knowledge of) to the subject of her research. What was once far away and obscure to her mind becomes in the course of her research and discovery process, clear and intimately known to her. A yogi meditates on the object of his interest; as his meditation deepens, the distinction between the observer and the object of his observation diminishes. The yogi becomes one with the object of meditation. This process is described in the classical text of Raja yoga, The Patanjali Yoga Sutras, and it is the ultimate way of gaining knowledge. This kind of knowledge does not require any intermediary agents, meaning the senses and the intellect. It is a direct knowledge, which cannot be explained in words, but it can be experienced by those who are interested and practice meditation.
Upon further observation, it may become clear that these seemingly disparate aspects of our mind are actually intertwined. The lover is very interested in his beloved; he wants to know everything about her: what flowers does she like, what restaurants does she prefer, what are her interests and so on. In short, he wishes to gain knowledge about the object of his affection; his desire for intimacy naturally includes a desire for knowledge. On the other hand, it is common to hear scientists talk with great joy and affection about the subject of their study. A scientist’s interest in the object of her investigation may become so profound that she will get as consumed by it, as the lover would in his beloved. The scientific interest turns into fascination, which becomes a burning desire to gain knowledge, to be filled with and united with the understanding of the object of knowledge.
If so, then what is the distinction between love and knowledge? Why do they appear to us as so very different and unrelated? The answer to this lies in the difference between the aspects of mind that are employed in search for Oneness; in the case of love it is the human heart and in the case of knowledge it is the head (intellect). When a particular facet of mind is utilized, it would yield a specific result. One’s experience of fire is heat when it is sensed by the skin and light when it is seen by the eye. A search dog on a rescue mission will most likely find that which it was trained to seek, human survivors and not a stash of gold. In the same manner, the tool that is utilized to seek for our spiritual essence will yield results that are conditioned and limited by that specific tool’s scope and ability. In the case of the intellect it will yield results that are confined to reason and knowledge; when it comes to feeling the search will yield results defined by the abilities of the heart, e.g. care, compassion and love.
As the true motive behind all human desires, whether of the heart or of the head, is found a deeper understanding emerges. This understanding is that all the aspirations of mind are but desires to ‘experience’ our True Essence. Because the mind is conditioned to think and feel in limited terms, it finds only a relative and limited scope of knowledge and a small measure of love. Only when the mind is sufficiently refined by spiritual practices, it becomes a clear mirror reflecting our essence. Both the head and the heart need to be developed and refined, and eventually transcended by the intuitive realization that is beyond the function of both.
Therefore, there is no actual distinction between the desire to know and to love. They are but manifestation of our insatiable spiritual hunger to return to who we truly are, our original Being. The yogis call that being, our True Self or Atman. In the realization of our True Self the search for anything and everything comes to its fruition. The search does not yield any new results of knowledge or love, but rather it allows us to realize that we are at all times a Wholeness that was never lost. That Wholeness is simultaneously absolute Being, Knowledge and Love.
1 Fitzgerald, Astrid (2001). Being Consciousness Bliss: A Seeker’s Guide. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, Page 115
About the author:
Ziv Porat has been studying and practicing yoga as a physical, mental and spiritual discipline since he completed his yoga teacher’s training at the Sivananda center in Tel Aviv in 1983. He taught ongoing hatha yoga classes and at teacher training courses, while living at various Sivananda centers and ashram.
He has educated students on the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga throughout California, in Israel, and in Spain. He teaches weekly yoga and health classes at retirement communities in the SF Bay Area, coaches individuals, conducts workshops and writes about spiritual development. Ziv strives to make the great teachings of Yoga and Vedanta accessible, interesting and inviting.