It’s not death that kills; rather, it’s living without dying that deadens the soul. Love, synonymous with life—constant birth—requires constant death: the death of the unloving self.
“Isn’t that kind of extreme?” my father’s voice choked.
He pointed to the facts: I lived in a nice condominium on a nice island a ferry ride away from a nice city where my nice partner worked at a nice job.
I pointed to my feelings: My nice life was killing me.
Projecting my changeless loving capacity onto temporary things, I was making an extreme effort—in the name of holding onto life—against life. Attempting to cheat death, I was killing myself.
Earlier that year, at a yoga class I frequented hoping to glimpse eternal stillness under the ever-shifting chaos of time-bound life, a practitioner of Bhakti-yoga gave me a copy of Bhagavad-Gita. It’s the story of a warrior, Arjuna, preparing to fight the ephemeral love-ties that bind his heart to the temporary world.
At the beginning of the story, Arjuna stands with Krishna, the eternal embodiment of love, and looks out at the battlefield of his heart, full of perishable, ever-changing objects of affection: his relatives and friends, his teachers. How can he fight these people? He loves them; they trust him. Despairing, Arjuna drops his bow.
Krishna, the eternal source of Arjuna’s innate loving potential, advises him saying, “Arjuna, temporary pleasures are nothing but wombs of misery.” Standing beside Arjuna as I read the Bhagavad-Gita, I looked out over my own transient attachments, my own internal battlefield. I leaned my ear to Krishna’s loving advice, and I left for the monastery.
In the beginning, love—the source of all life—looks like death. Death is the first thing love asks of us: reject whatever inhibits love; accept whatever facilitates it. Taking up this vow, the unloving self, the false self that loves what doesn’t endure, dies. We choose: die to love in truth, or love falsely and never live.
My move to the monastery didn’t feel like a choice—at first. My mind and intellect were silenced by my heart’s necessity. But looking back I understand the move as my first true decision, my first conscious act of inalterable love, which is an eternally unfolding choice.
So what happened to Arjuna? Maybe we should ask the Arjuna tree, the broad-canopied umbrella tree whose strong roots push powerfully into the Earth. His roots are as deep as his towering trunk is high. Arjuna plants himself in unshakable love, then extends himself—high and wide—into the world.
Loving all as potentialities of love, Arjuna shelters his relatives and friends in joy drawn from reality’s heart. Arjuna creates life—love—with every symbolic arrow.
What’s the warrior Arjuna’a deepest secret? His only weapon is love.
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