(Excerpts from How to Cultivate Divine Love By Paramahansa Yogananda)
At its most idealistic, conjugal love can be one of the greatest expressions of human love. Jesus implied this when he said: "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife."( Matthew 19:5) When man and woman genuinely and purely love one another, there is complete harmony between them in body, mind, and soul. When their love is expressed in its highest form, it results in a perfect unity. But this love, too, has its flaw; it can be tainted by the abuse of sex, which eclipses divine love. Nature has made the sex impulse very strong so that creation might go on; therefore, sex has its place in the marital relationship between man and woman. But if it becomes the supreme factor in that relationship, love flies out the door and disappears completely; in its place come possessiveness, over-familiarity, and the abuse and loss of friendship and understanding. Though sexual attraction is one of the conditions under which love is born, sex in itself is not love. Sex and love are as far apart as the moon and the sun. It is only when the transmuting quality of true love is uppermost in the relationship that sex becomes a means of expressing love. Those who live too much on the sex plane lose their way and fail to find a satisfying marital relationship. It is by self-control, in which sex is not the ruling emotion, but only incidental to love, that husband and wife can know what real love is. In this modem world, unfortunately, love is too often destroyed by overemphasis on sex experience.
Those who practice a natural—not forced—moderation in their sex life develop other enduring qualities in the husband-wife relationship: friendship, companionship, understanding, mutual love. (…)
But conjugal love is tricky, and most people leave this world with an unsatisfied heart. They have not sought marital love in the right way. Attracted mostly by pleasing appearance, they look for their soul mate in a graveyard of beautiful, nicely dressed forms, unmindful that a devil may be housed within. I am not condemning man and woman for responding to the God-created law of attraction; I am condemning the perversion of that attraction through lustfulness. Every man who looks upon a woman as an object of lust, and who abuses woman to satisfy his lust, commits self-destruction: Continued sex-abuse impairs the nervous system and affects the heart, eventually destroying peace and happiness. Mankind must realize that the basic nature of the soul is spiritual. For man and woman to look upon each other only as a means to satisfy lust is to court the destruction of happiness. Slowly, bit by bit, peace of mind will go.
The abuse of sex is comparable to running a car without oil; the body cannot stand it. Each drop of vital essence lost is equivalent to the loss of eight drops of blood. But the important point to remember is to learn self-control. This comes with control and purification of the mind, and is far superior to abstaining outwardly from sex when the mind is yet dwelling on it. Mere suppression can be harmful.
Man and woman should look upon one another as reflections of the Divine. I find it very sweet when a husband calls the wife "Mother," or when she calls him "Father." Every woman should look upon man as a father. My attitude toward woman is as toward a mother, in my eyes she is not merely a woman, but an expression of the Divine Mother. It is Divine Mother I behold speaking to me through woman.
Women should not strive to attract men with "it" (At the time, a well-known catchword for sex appeal). One should always look neat, and it is not wrong to make oneself attractive, if it is done with good taste. But it is wrong to strive purposely to attract the opposite sex through sex appeal. Attraction between man and woman should come from the soul. Those who have sex control and do not flaunt themselves as sex symbols have a much better chance of attracting the right kind of mate. So many young girls have come to me and complained that the boys want sex first or they won't take them out. Sex experience is ruinous to youthful lives. In India, young people never touch or kiss until they are married. Love comes first. That must be the ideal. When two people feel an unconditional attraction for each other, and are ready to sacrifice for one another, they are truly in love. Then only are they ready for an intimate relationship in marriage. Mere possessiveness won't do. When one marriage partner tries to control the other, it shows a lack of real love. But when they express their love in continual thoughtfulness for the true happiness of the other, it becomes divine love. In such a relationship we have a glimpse of the Divine.
Many wives come to me and say, "My husband doesn't want me to become interested in spiritual matters." This is extremely selfish. If the wife is trying to make herself more spiritual, the husband should cooperate with her. He won't lose her; on the contrary, he will receive a part of her virtue. This same principle applies to a woman's attitude toward her husband. The greatest thing a husband or wife can wish for the spouse is spirituality; for soul unfoldment brings out the divine qualities of understanding, patience, thoughtfulness, love. But each should remember that the desire for spiritual growth cannot be forced on the other. Live love yourself, and your goodness will inspire all your loved ones.
After a few years of marriage, thousands of husbands and wives ask themselves, "Where has our love gone?" It has been burned on the altar of sex abuse, selfishness, and lack of respect. When these qualities enter the relationship, love turns to ashes. Woman nags man when he strives to enslave her, or when she feels he has neglected her. However, tongue lashing is one of the worst treatments one can inflict on another. It is said that a woman's three-inch tongue can kill a man six feet tall. When man and woman mistreat each other, they destroy forever their happiness together. Man should strive to see the God in woman, and to help her realize her spiritual nature. He should make her feel that she is with him not merely to satisfy his sensual appetite, but as a companion whom he respects and regards as an expression of the Divine. And woman should look upon man in the same way.
Another wrong attitude is fear of the opposite sex; abnormal aversion, like abnormal attraction, is an unhealthy attitude. From my master, Swami Sri Yukteswarji, I learned to regard woman, not as an instrument created for the entrapment and moral destruction of man, but as a representative of the Divine Mother of the Universe. If and when man begins to look upon woman as a mother symbol, he will find in her a loving protection he has never seen before. Through God's grace, I have been able to change the consciousness of many men and women with this spiritual thought: Every man should look upon woman as a symbol of the Mother of the Universe, and every woman should look upon man as a symbol of the Father of the Universe. When those persons left my presence, they felt that the Divine Mother and the Heavenly Father had spoken through me, because I addressed them from that divine consciousness.
I wonder if there would be any conjugal love at all, if there were no such thing as sex attraction. Ordinary persons would not have the capacity to feel such love, but those who are spiritually developed would, because they are not attracted on the basis of sex. Those who have cultivated their soul qualities know that sex has nothing to do with true love. If you develop the perfect love of your soul, you will begin to get a glimpse of the Divine. Jesus Christ manifested that love, which is pure and grand and wonderful. This love found expression also in the lives of many great saints. (…)
The relationship that exists between friends is the grandest of human loves. Friendly love is pure, because it is without compulsion. One freely chooses to love his friends; he is not bound by instinct. The love that manifests in friendship can exist between man and woman, woman and woman, man and man. But in the love of friendship, there is no sexual attraction. One must practice celibacy and absolutely forget sex if one wants to know divine love through friendship; then friendship nurtures the cultivation of divine love. Such pure friendship has existed between saints and between others who truly love God. If you once know divine love, you will never part with it, for there is nothing else like it in the whole universe.
Love gives without expecting anything in return. I never think of anyone in terms of what he can do for me. And I never profess love to someone because he has done something for me. If I didn't actually feel love, I wouldn't pretend to give it; and since I feel it, I give it. I learned that sincerity from my Master. There may be some who do not feel friendly toward me, but I am a friend to all, including my enemies; for in my heart I have no enemies.
Love cannot be had for the asking; it comes only as a gift from the heart of another. Be certain of your feeling before you say to anyone, "I love you." Once you give your love, it must be forever. Not because you want to be near that person, but because you want perfection for that soul. To wish for perfection for the loved one, and to feel pure joy in thinking of that soul, is divine love; and that is the love of true friendship.