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Subject and Object in Love (Bhakti)

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Let’s start by clarifying what we mean by “subject” and “object“. A subject is an agent performing an action. An object is an entity affected by an action. Ex:

“Susan eats a cookie”

In this sentence, Susan is the subject and cookie is the object.

Subject Superiority?

We sort of assume that the subject is usually superior to the object, because objects are passive (i.e. powerless) and subjects are active (i.e. powerful). The cookie had no agency at all. It just sat there, got eaten, and ceased to exist. Susan, on the other hand, is in charge! She grabs the cookie, claims it, owns it, and consumes it for her own pleasure.

The truth is, however, that the verb determines whether the subject or object is superior. In, “Susan eats a cookie,” We understand Susan’s superiority not because subjects are superior to objects, but because the verb to eat benefits the subject and is detrimental to the object.

Look at a different verb:

“Susan pays Jane.”

In this sentence Susan is again the subject, and Jane is the object. Who is superior to who, though? Jane benefits, Susan loses an asset, so we can reasonably conclude that Jane (an object) is superior to Susan (a subject) in this sentence.

Mutual Beneficence of Love

“Susan loves Jane”

Unless Susan is very terrible at loving, we can bet that Jane receives affection, support, assistance, and many other benefits from Susan’s love, right?

But it would be rudimentary to stop there. Jane is not the only one who benefits here. Susan herself certainly benefits by loving Jane. Her most definite, immediate, and direct benefit is that her life gains purpose from loving Jane. She gains a source of motivation, a focus, an anchor, a reason to exist. Honestly, it seems Susan gains more deeply than Jane does!

So, it becomes very fuzzy and blurry if we try to determine who benefits more (and therefore who is “superior” to who): the giver or the receiver of love.

Quantum Paradox of Love

To further enrich things, there is a “quantum paradox” in love’s subject and object.

Fundamentally, love is about the way two motes of consciousness (ātma) ideally interact with one another. This interaction is impelled by the māyā (attractive force) implicitly associated with consciousness itself.

Consciousness naturally finds itself attractive …because consciousness finds itself attractive. Maybe this sounds “like the sound of one hand clapping” but it’s not just a word game. It makes rational sense. Consciousness (“Ātma A”) finds consciousness (“Ātma B”) attractive, because consciousness (“Ātma B”) finds consciousness (“Ātma A”) attractive.

What do we love? We love “lovable” things!

Why are things lovable? Well, because they are “lovely.”

What does “lovely” mean? It means “involved in love.”

A little rabbit will probably love me so much if I give it a warm, clean home and nice lettuce and carrots every day. That’s what makes bunnies lovable! We want to love things we think will love us.

Krishna admits that he works on this principle:

ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajāmi.
The way people adore me is the way I adore them.

A cute bunny so easily becomes an object of love because of its capacity to appreciate our love and reciprocate it. It’s more difficult to love a pet rock. An object of love (a bunny, for example) qualifies for that position by its capability to be a subject of love!

But sometimes don’t we love people who don’t love us back?

No, not really. Love is overpowering, and even the feeling of wanting it is so intoxicating that we mistake it for the feeling of having it. This is why we often say “Susan loves Jane” when really, “Susan wishes she could love Jane, but can’t because Jane doesn’t love her back.”

Subject and Object in Uttama-Bhakti

Śrī Rūpa frames Krishna as the object of Ultimate Love (uttama-bhakti). This is because his book, Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu, is all about the way divinity can be experienced by devotees. In other words, if we write a book about Susan’s love for Jane, of course we will specify Susan as the subject and Jane as the object. In that context, Jane’s reciprocal love for Susan would be seen as a “stimulant” (vibhava) for Susan’s love.

The mutual beneficence and quantum nature of subject and object does not disappear, we just shift our focus to one “frame” of it: focusing on Susan’s love for Jane, or in Śrī Rūpa’s case, on the bhakta’s love for Śrī Krishna. If we remain cognizant of the actual complexity of subject and object in love, however, our appreciation for the discussion would perhaps be still more compelling.



One response to “Subject and Object in Love (Bhakti)”

  1. space bug Avatar

    “and only love, can give love “


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