October 21, 2021

What is Love?

Swami Sivananda said that Love is the goal of life.  Love is the law of life.  God is Love and Love is God. To love is to fulfill the law.  We live so that we may learn to love in the eternal.

Love is oneness, union, unity, yoga.

Our human condition is separation. We suffer from separation and we long for union.

Our stories of love are the different stories of our Karmic lessons unfolding, experienced as pain or pleasure. Yoga helps to free us from the suffering coming from this duality and this split we feel between Self and Others, ourselves and our environments. 

Selfless love is to be learned

Our relationships are opportunities to learn selfless love.  Selfless love means to see the Self and divinity in Nature and in others as well as in one’s self.  It means not seeing the differences, but seeing the essence, the commonness that is One, realizing Unity in Diversity.

Love is selfless and unconditional.  Conditional love is selfish and emotional.  Emotions need to be purified to become pure love.   Emotions come from our lower mind and our subconscious mind which carries impressions of the past.  Yoga teaches us to purify the usual, habitual, tainted love, in other words, our lower mind and to activate our higher mind. 

Know that Love is not desire

Happiness comes from love.  True happiness is not just emotional and satisfaction of desire but the fulfillment of our soul longing to be united with the Supreme.

Know that Love is not Attachment

True love is not attached but detached. True love is warm and yet not emotional but is detached.  Detachment does not mean rejection.
It means learning to see the True Self that is Love absolute and bliss absolute and thus feeling fulfilled, not needing anything else.

Seven Practices

1 / Assert Being LOVE

Sometimes we go on and assert different things about ourselves, I am strong, I am powerful, I am rich, I am pretty, I am the daughter of who, I am Vietnamese etc… But now, assert that I am Love. Assert within you that Love is your essential nature. Connect wholeheartedly with the secure and fulfilled Divine Love. It is a question of connection, of feeling secure and fulfilled, very happy. Ask your heart intelligence. Close eyes, sit still, feel the inner voice.
Basically, there are two types of people: the emotional and the intellectual. Of course, we are both but there will be something that is more than the other. For those emotional nature, feel yourself strong and complete, not needy.  Often times your emotions are towards something or somebody. Now feel that you are withdrawing your emotions within yourself. Feel beyond the emotional need and assert I am Love. For those that are non-emotional, they are more intellectual, they need to relax, trust and allow the soft feeling to be towards people. You need to allow it because your intellect will block this feeling.

This is how we practice being love for these two types of people.

2 / Reduce the emotional extremes of the roller coaster of the emotions.

In the roller coaster, there are high hills which drop deep down, then the middle hills and lower hills. Try to ride only lower hills, if you can. Of course, in real roller coaster you have to ride them all. But regarding your emotions, try to keep the emotions calmer.

Recognize within yourself the high extremes. Consciously cut off the extremes. Not too much hatred, not too much love. Free yourself from the opposites.

Same as practice of equanimity or equal vision, now is equanimity of heart.  Free yourself from the duality of pleasures and pains, censures and praises, the dear and the unfriendly, always being moved by joys or sorrows, joy and sorrow, joy and sorrow.

Swami Sivananda said: “Love little but love long” and “you want love a lot and die!” [ laugh]

3 / Cease seeking for happiness but seek for peace of mind.

You will be shocked when I say cease seeking for happiness. But there is a reason. The reason is we have long past history to seek for happiness in a wrong place, so our happiness is often accompanied by pain. Your relationship with happiness is often a faulty one as you follow your emotional patterns of past, your instinctual desires and your inborn prejudices and experiences that you carried with you. Therefore, abandon your search for happiness but rather seek for peace and lasting happiness. In fact, this lasting happiness will automatically be there as you find peace and serenity, contentment. Do not make mistake, sometimes you feel like you are closed off, hard and depressed, not believing in love… that is not peace, it is some kind of resentment. Contentment doesn’t ‘t mean that you are closed. This is not it. Notice that love and happiness that come with fears and anxiety. This is not love. If you love and you feel anxiety and fear, you are going in a wrong direction.

4 / Practice heart opening. There are a few practices:

  • Seeing the divine in all, not just in your friends, your family… but in all. This will open the heart.
  • Seeing the good qualities in people instead of their imperfections and mistakes open the heart.
  • Exchange judgement for tolerance and generosity of heart.
  • Feeling compassion instead, it opens the heart.
  • Feeling forgiveness instead, it opens the heart and allows you to continue to live. Forgiveness unties the knots of your heart. Sometimes it is very hard to forgive. It is not accepting that the wrong has not been done, that the other person is right, but you need to forgive to continue to live your life.
  • Practice of gratitude opens the heart. Write daily 5 things you are grateful for.
  • Being sincere opens the heart. Try to be sincere and honest with yourself, it will help to create good relationship with others.
  • Being charitable opens the heart – giving what you can, give of your time, give a nice word or a nice thought, a silent prayer. You can pray for a lot of people every day. There are a lot of people to pray for. It will help to open your heart.

When the heart opens, it automatically attains purity. This allows true love to happen automatically.

Make sure not to allow your heart to close again because you can open the heart and it closes again. It is like for a door that has a spring system, it opens, and it automatically closed. Put a boulder, a rock in the door.  Your heart needs to stay open. You will not allow your heart to close. It is not like opening it on the weekend and close it during the week [ laugh]. Recognize possible reaction when you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation which triggers defensiveness and fears. Also, recognize that possibility when you are in a situation that brings you to the past. Then you would close your heart because you do not want to experience the same hurt again.  

This doesn’t mean that you are blind, that you will put yourself in a position to be harmed. You need to be aware, and you need to pull in your higher mind, your higher energy that can’t be touched, and pay attention that you do not fall back in the past patterns of defensiveness, fears, hurts.

You see, there are a lot of things to do to open the heart.

5 / Healing emotions

Everyone has familiar patterns of emotions. But these emotions are not really your true nature. They are just habits. How to heal emotional wounds and free ourselves from negative mental patterns and suffering coming from conditional love? That is the problem, the moment that you have these emotional patterns, you love but you can’t have unconditional love. And this will bring you pain. That is why you have to heal the emotions.

Fears (and anxieties)

Fears come from attachment and it can be paralyzing, you freeze. When you are afraid of something you lost yourself. You live your life to gain yourself, to be who you are; you do not want to lose yourself!

There are many forms of fear: Fear of death, fear of being alone, fear of public criticism, fear of losing. Heal the emotion of fear by replacing it with the opposite.


  • Courage
  • Faith
  • Detachment (opposite of attachment), letting go
  • Self-Enquiry: ask yourself questions, why I feel like this?
  • Self-confidence, self-reliance, count on yourself.

You are not being selfish here. You are being yourself, and the moment that you are your true self, it includes everyone.

Hatred is another pattern of emotion that you need to heal from:  hatred comes from love turning in the wrong direction.  It is opposite of love.


  • Practice compassion
  • See the self in others
  • Selfless service for people that you do not like
  • Practice Love in action

This will open the knots of the heart – your heart sometimes is tied up, there is no energy flow. These knots are there because of the past egoistic tendency and past prejudices that corrupt love into hatred. Sometimes you say:” I love everyone, I have no prejudices,” but this is not true.  Please sit down and think then you see that you have plenty of prejudices, you do not love people that are old, you do not love people that are  male, you do not love people that are female, you do not love people that are business people, you do not like people that are black, you do not love people that are white, you do not love people that are poor, you do not love people that are rich, you do not love people that are different than you.  You have a long list of prejudices. So, you need to actively work against it.

Because you want to deserve that love that you feel within you. But if you allow these emotional patterns to obstruct that love, you are the one that is hurt. So, you need to work on these prejudices in order for you to feel the love that comes through when the emotions are pure and when your heart is open.


Greed comes from our desire for safety and fulfillment twisted into insatiable desire for material objects. Remove greed to find safety and fullness inside.


  • Charity and giving
  • Contentment
  • Practice of gratitude
  • Renunciation: you can have but you do not want it, proving to yourself that you do not need it.

Desire, lust.

We talk about the instinctive desire for a mate, sexual desire. We are born in the body and we feel separated, we feel split, and there is a very strong impulse for procreation in Nature. We are part of Nature; therefore, the desire is strong. But You need to replace it with an equally strong desire for Union, Union with your own true Self! You need to become spiritual. You need to elevate your whole Self, so you seek for Union and you become One instead of missing your counterpart, a male is missing a female, and a female is missing a male, a male is missing a male, everyone is missing something. But you need to feel fulfilled, you can’t miss something, you have your Self! Then at that time you are free from this emotional pattern of desire.

6 / Cultivate faith

Faith in your own true Self, your Atman. Second, Faith in God- Goddess, Supreme Being and third, faith in the teaching, in the practice. When you do not feel well, go back to your practice.

In order to cultivate faith, you need to first establish your spiritual ideal of love. For you to love, you need to know what you love. Then cultivate this Divine love in your meditation and in all relationships and all situations around you. When you do this active practice, it will free you from usual patterns and will help you to achieve lasting happiness. In other words, you need to apply devotion in daily life.

Love of chosen Ideal starts from within

Love of our chosen ideal starts from within, from the hidden cave of our own heart. The Atman is residing in your own heart. Scripture said it is like the size of a thumb residing in the cave of your heart.  So, you need to have that love for the chosen ideal from the cave of your heart.  This would bring back the presence of love in our heart which is blocked by our identification with our separate self.  Because of that reason, very often times we have all these problems in relationships, especially close relationships, with your mother, with your father, with your husband, your children etc. that I why we need to actively replace these emotions with Divine Love.

Love of our chosen ideal is a most intimate sacred feeling and not a display or social conformity. The temple is in your heart.

Think of these qualities of your chosen ideal:

Our chosen ideal of love can have the quality we seek: purity, eternity, knowledge, true inner power, beauty, perfection, bliss, righteousness.

To note: Respect others’ way to truth

Remember “Names are many, but God is One. Paths are many, but truth is One”.

Love of Goddess

Love of Divine Mother or devotion to the Supreme helps us to relax, to self-surrender, to become humble, to break through our egoistic limitations, our emotional patterns and our identifications.  It helps us to surrender the ego, to accept and heal our emotions.

Chosen ideal can be Divine Mother Energy

  • You can see the Divine in the energy of Nature or energy of consciousness everywhere, in the food that you eat, in the sun, in the moon, in the stars.
  • Devotion can be to the Divine Mother, the Divine manifestation underlying life. Choose to identify Her as: Saraswati, representing energy of intelligence, knowledge, creativity, wisdom. Brahma is the creator.
  • Lakshmi symbolizes energy of peace, love, harmony, virtue, righteousness, beauty, prosperity, and wealth. Vishnu is the preserver.
  • Durga. It is the core of your inner strength and fearlessness. Siva is the destroyer.

The inner feelings (called bhavas). The feeling of Mother /son; mother daughter bhava is an inner type of connection which gives feeling of safety, trust, respect. We feel that we are protected by the divine mother.            

The other forms of divine connection based on habitual feelings.  

  • Friend-Friend
  • Divine father – son/daughter
  • Husband – Wife
  • Lover – Beloved
  • Servant – Master

In Bhakti Yoga, we have nine traditional ways to cultivate selfless love in daily life. According to the teachings of Bhakti Yoga these 9 practices help to overcome egoism and bring you closer to Union with the Supreme.

  1. Listen to inspiring Divine stories – Develop the capacity to listen to other stories of living, interacting with Nature without judgment.
  1. Sing Mother Nature’s glory – Learn to praise her and look for the amazing qualities of her in Nature sciences (our bio diversity) and one’s own marvelous body. Applying to your relationships, learn to see good qualities of others.
  2. Remember of Her/his name and presence in prayers – Greeting each other with Om Namah Sivaya! Learn to see Divine Mother presence, feel the sacredness of our relationships  with Her.  Be grateful for all beings , trees, plants, animals, food, people whom you interact with in your daily life.

Spiritualize your life

4.   Service with humility –  Learn to actively serve Mother Earth  as Goddess , do gardening, planting , watering, cooking as children of the Mother.

5.   Worship – Learn to see the divine in some rituals. These rituals are very old you have to learn and practice and it brings you immediately to the divine feeling. Offer our time and presence to contemplate Nature and give to others beautiful gifts as if we are doing puja to all.

6.   Prostrations – Learn to give the utmost respect to animals, people you encounter or people surrounding you no matter who they are.

  1. Cultivate the feeling of being a servant of Mother Earth –  Learn to develop an attitude of self-sacrifice and not an arrogant attitude to be the conqueror of earth .
  2. Cultivate feelings of friendship of Mother Earth  – Learn to open your heart equally to all, without ulterior motives and discriminating who is higher or lower than you. Feel that you are the friend of the Earth, you do not want to hurt your friend, enslave your friend, abuse your friend.
  3. Complete self-surrender – Learn to accept all things happening to you and all actions of nature with equanimity and overcome your own expectations or judgment about anything done by yourself or others.

7 / Practice Self Love – Love of your own Atman.

Feel that everyone is your own Atman. There is no other. There is no duality, no separation. We are One.  The practice is to find relationship with Love itself beyond names and forms. Whoever there, you feel the Love. Whatever the circumstances, you feel the Love. So the relationship is the relationship with Love itself. The Atman is Love, so you have relationship only with the Atman.

To heal from emotional scars and patterns we need to learn Self-love. Self-Love and Love of God is the same. It is the love turned towards the Atman, your own true Self.

Self-love brings acceptance and makes the mind turn inwards to find Happiness.  Self-love or turning inwards to find one’s Self will make you stronger to be able to realize the love within that has always been there.

Self-love is not egoistic.  It is the lack of self-love and awareness that creates the patterns of need and dependency leading away from peace and love.  Self- love comes with  self-respect and self- discipline, of the mind and heart.

  • All relationships including relationships with the world of Nature are truly relationships with your own Self.  Do Self-Enquiry.We need to do self-inquiry to become free from past impressions and find our core Self
  • There is no separation. I am with you, I am You. This is Self-Love.

I love you no matter who you are. Show yourself so we have a relationship.

Om tat sat.

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.

Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.