The depiction of an emperor, possibly Ashoka
The depiction of an emperor, possibly Ashoka
Wikimedia Commons

'Pyaar har rang mein logon ko sada deta hai
Pyaar ke parde mein hum sab ka khuda rahta hai’
(Love exhorts all in various hues/God exists behind the veil of love).

Just a day prior to the accidental death of the French existentialist Albert Camus on January 4, 1960, he told his daughter Catherine, “Humans don't require the religion of god. They require the religion of love.” So very true. At the moment when the world is ravaged by wars, growing bigotry, widespread discrimination, morbid nationalism and rabid hatred, the need for universal love is even more. Love is an antidote to hatred. It nullifies all that's hard, harsh, horrendous and harrowing in this flawed world. Though we keep talking about love, hardly have we understood its import. Love is a sure sign of human evolution. It's the most sublime of all human emotions.

Have you ever bothered to think why the entire world is steeped, nay drowned, in implacable hatred? The reason is our inability to love our fellow brethren unconditionally and equally. In a letter to Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, the Mexican ambassador to India and the Nobel laureate in Literature, Octavio Paz opined that it's because of the religio-geographical differences, humans are unable to understand the essence of love. The great philosopher-poet-professor and diplomat was spot-on. So many religions, so many gods and so many nations have limited our love and stymied it from blossoming.

An emperor transformed

Love broadens our vision and mellows us. Following the sanguinary battle of Kalinga and the unprecedented carnage it caused, the disillusioned and terribly contrite Ashoka asked the Buddhist monk Rishin Pratibandhu, 'Bhante, what can I do to atone for the blunder that I've committed? ' 'Prichhanam amarsh premashru shreti ' (Wipe out the hatred and all bitterness with the tears of love), the ever-calm and eternally unperturbed monk replied in Pali.

Ashok the Great did what was advised by the monk. He began to spread the message of love and compassion.

Compassion follows

In fact, compassion naturally follows when love reigns supreme. Compassion is a sequel to love. It ensues from the womb of love and emanates from a loving heart.

To be loving is to be compassionate. Genuine universal love begets two natural corollaries: compassion and empathy. 'Prem, Karuna, sahamarmita anusyutam parinita' (Love, compassion and empathy are wedded to each other and are inextricably entwined), wrote Ashvaghosh in Buddhacharita.

Why could the South African legend, Dr Nelson Mandela never hate even those who had hated and incarcerated him at Robben Island for 27 years? The reason was: A loving heart has no place for hatred even for the enemy or oppresser.

Just before the decollation of Sufi mystic Sheikh Sarmad at Chandni Chowk, Delhi, at the behest of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Sarmad's disciple Iqhaam urged: Neez namuradan shud (curse the wretched man, Aurangzeb). Sarmad said, ' I can't. I've learnt only to love, ' and with these words, his blood-soaked head somersaulted on the dust.

Gandhi forgave

Gandhi's most trusted American biographer Louis Fischer wrote that Gandhi had told him on Jan 20, 1948, that he already forgave his would-be assassin/s, as he had a premonition of his assassination! It's worthwhile to mention that Madanlal Pahwa, a young Punjabi refugee, had hurled a crude bomb at Gandhi's prayer meet on January 20 and that made Gandhi sure that he'd be assassinated erelong.

'My religion of love allows no retribution. Forgiveness is its soul,' Gandhi calmly told Fischer and when he was indeed assassinated on January 30, 1948, one of his sons, Devdas, requested the government of India and the judges not to punish Nathuram Godse and Narayan Dattatreya Apte, let alone hang them.

This is love. All these sublime virtues are worthy offshoots and tributaries of love. When Iranian mystic Mansoor Hallaj was being excoriated for proclaiming Un-al-Haq (Upanishadik equivalent of Aham Brahmasmi/I'm the Truth) in 922 CE, the men who were peeling off his skin requested his forgiveness as they were having to commit such a barbaric act at the behest of the head clergy. A dying Mansoor is said to have feebly smiled and haltingly uttered, ‘Don't relegate and desecrate my love by requesting to forgive. You've already been forgiven.' With these words, the great mystic closed his eyes forever.

The world needs this type of exalted love and its sacrificial sublimation. Now when Valentine's Day is around, let's pledge to disseminate love and bonhomie and make this world a far better place to live in.

The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.

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