The simple title of the Beatles’ huge 1967 Summer Of Love hit song says it all. Not only does it stand the test of time, but this modern-day anthem to love also stands the test of eternity. Why? Because love truly is all we need, both individually and collectively.
However, there are different types of love. The ancient Greeks enumerated eight types of love, while twentieth-century psychologist Erich Fromm pointed out in his 1956 study, The Art of Loving, there are five different kinds of love. While the Greeks listed agapē, or universal love, Fromm adds love of God, which the Greeks never mentioned because of their pantheism.
And so we consider these two loves – universal love and love of God – the highest forms of emotional expression of which humans are capable. But is there really a difference between the two?
The Vaishnavites of Bengal developed a sophisticated schema that classifies four progressive stages of spiritual devotion: bhakti, or passionate devotion to God; bhava, or ecstasy; mahabhava, or extreme ecstasy; and finally prema, or ecstatic nondual spiritual communion. Prema is exceedingly uncommon. But these stages represent, essentially, one’s soul falling in love with God, the ultimate reality.
Both Christians and Tibetan Buddhists focus on developing universal, limitless love toward all living things. The Tibetans as well as other Mahayana Buddhists refer to this as bodhichitta. Christians double up on love, following Jesus’ counsel to love God and love one another, which in turn is based on the sublime Jewish teachings in Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18.
But there is a catch. In a proportionate manner, the more one falls in love with God, the more universal one’s expression of love becomes. Like a small pond overflowing with water after a substantial rain, one’s love increasingly grows in magnitude until it cannot be contained. Love then overtakes a person; they become a living embodiment of love. Spiritual love, divine love, selfless human love, universal love: all distinctions melt away as a torrent of radiant, unlimited love emanates unceasingly from their being. God is seen as all, and all as God.
And so, what is needed, not only on this Saint Valentine’s Day, but always? All you need is love.