When I was a teacher of young children, the headmaster of the school used to remind us frequently that the key to education was love.
He would often say that the only important factor is the meeting of the teacher and the children, and in that meeting, love had to flow. Then all the practical parts of teaching—lesson planning, delivery of the curriculum, classroom management, interactions with the parents—were made a lot easier.
Love, in a practical way, makes the world go round. It is the not-so-secret sauce.
What guidance does Sanskrit give us to the discovery of the true meaning of love, and how to make it real in our lives and in the lives of others?
The Sanskrit word for pure, universal love is Prema. This word includes joy, completion, affection, kindness, and delight. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Yes, and no.
If Prema is pure and universal, it is present everywhere, throughout all time, and in all circumstances. This gladness and kindness and joy are ever-present. Something universal and pure doesn’t just show up in some places, and only some of the time, and is absent at other times and in other places.
When a parent looks at a newborn baby, when a couple commits to a lifelong relationship, when a soaring piece of exquisite music captures your heart and takes you to another plane of being, all these are examples of Prema. They are the easy ones.
But what about when the music is discordant, or when a colleague undermines you at work, or when that relationship turns out not to be lifelong? Where is your experience of Prema then?
In teaching, the eager pupil, the supportive colleagues, the friendly parents made it easy to give and receive Prema, universal love. But, sometimes, you will be amazed to hear, the children were not so wonderful, there were times of stress when the staff at school was not so harmonious and the occasional parent took issue with something I did.
Did the Prema take a break? Did the universal joy, kindness, and love suddenly become not so universal?
Not according to the teachings of the timeless wisdom traditions. Prema is still there—pure universal love never goes away. It never sleeps; it is never hiding. It is ever accessible, available, and always at our elbow to lend a hand, give support, and fill us with the energy needed to see every situation through to a beautiful, successful end—even in those situations where we might believe otherwise.
Sometimes, however, it just needs a little clarity and, yes, work—to see and experience it.
To receive the experience of universal abundant love, the trick is to give first. We give our love, our support, our joy to others first. We make others glad—we make the world beautiful and complete for others first. It is then that the doors open for us as well. And the wonderful part is we don’t have to worry about that second part, the flow back to us—the universe looks after that.
I used to do this every day at school. One of my teachers once advised me to see each child as a pure and universal being every day as a matter of spiritual discipline. I followed this advice and made sure I took a moment with every child in my class to acknowledge this fundamental truth. The result? A flow of Prema, universal love, often despite surface behaviors. And the fruit of that daily act of love all those years ago is a wonderful deep relationship with these children who have grown into fine and admirable adults.
So the practical path to experiencing Prema all the time is to connect with it when it is obvious and easy—think of those easy times, that family celebration, that meetup with old friends, that music. Feel the Prema, the pure universal love. Let it flow to others.
Then widen your experience. Acknowledge that love at other times, when life is ordinary. On the commute to work, let your love flow. When doing the weekly shopping, let your love flow. When dealing with those business emails, let your heart open and let your love flow. For no reason other than that Prema is there and the flow is healthful for everyone.
Make this a habit and, if tragedy or hurt strikes, you will find yourself strong, confident, and awake, and you can be the vehicle whereby Prema, pure universal love, soothes and heals and brings strength and peace to all who need it.