Unconditional Love


How to develop unconditional love? There is a lot of talk about it, but I still don’t quite understand what it is and how to achieve it.

—Evelyn, Estonia


Dear Evelyn,

Unconditional love is indeed talked about much on the spiritual path. But the word “love” has so many meanings in ordinary usage that it is difficult to distinguish “unconditional love” from the human experience of love.

In Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda, Yogananda’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, makes the statement that “Ordinary love is selfish, darkly rooted in desires and satisfactions. Divine love is without condition, without boundary, without change. The flux of the human heart is gone forever at the transfixing touch of pure love.”

An example that I find helpful goes like this: when I am feeling generally loving, I find human foibles and shortcomings excusable and as but a small part of an individual’s overarching goodness and soul qualities. But when I view another person from the standpoint of my interests and preferences, I find that I “love” them (that is, accept and appreciate them) only if they conform to what I expect or want or how they treat or view me. I might feel “loving” after a deep meditation, or after a long retreat, or some deeply meaningful experience that uplifts me beyond my own interests.

It’s the feeling of loving without an object or circumstance that generates a state of consciousness that is somewhat like “unconditional love.”

Another example would be how a parent responds to a small child who is having a temper tantrum and shouts things like “I don’t love you, Mommy!” The parent knows instinctively that the child is simply having a meltdown and the parent doesn’t take seriously the words of a toddler-child. The parent still loves the child regardless of the child’s temper tantrum and angry words.

The ability, therefore, to feel kindness, acceptance, and understanding toward other people regardless of their behavior, treatment, or opinion of you is a mark of unconditional love. Our use of the term “love” is saturated with romantic feelings, or feelings of attachment and self-identification (as in my child; my wife; my friend).

But unconditional love is simply loving by its nature. Swami Kriyananda called this godly love: “Bliss in motion!” The innate joy of the soul tends to express itself or feel in itself “loving” towards all Beings.

How to experience unconditional love? By ever-deeper meditation and devotion; by acts and attitudes of selflessness; by courage and perseverance; by forgetfulness of self; by not dwelling insatiably upon one’s hurts, opinions, and concern for the opinion of others; by deep calmness and mindfulness.

May your heart, like that of a saint, expand to be able to feel the “pangs, sorrows, and joys” of all Beings as your very own.

Nayaswami Hriman