A Facebook friend asked me about how I would interpret the statement “God is love.” I would like to share my pondering and reflections here, based on my many decades of learning and experience. I will draw on my learning in Buddhism, ecology and quantum mechanics.
“God is love,” like any other religious statements, is just a metaphor. God is not a person. God is not even an object that is apart from us. Instead of calling God “love,” it is perhaps better to call it “inter-relatedness” or “interconnectedness.” The Buddha talked about Dependent Origination (Pratītyasamutpāda). It means everything in the universe arises and falls away based on its relationship with other things. We live in a cosmic “ecosystem.” If one thing is changed, all others will be affected. It is just like we will all have problems if the bees go extinct.
God is love in this sense — the relationship between us and the rest of the universe is a kind of symbiotic relationship. It is like the relationship between the lips and the teeth. If the lips are gone, the teeth will also suffer. Today, many of us are concerned about climate change and the potential extinction of the honey bees and many other species. Without the honey bees, the food chain will be disrupted and we may have food shortage. In this sense, everything in the universe is co-dependent. Without one, there can’t be the other. I see “God” or Brahman as this inter-relatedness.
What about the eating of food? Don’t we eat other lives for our own health and survival? How can this be “love”? Doesn’t the eating of others causes others pain? I find some inspiration from the Taittiriya Upanishad. At the end of this Upanishad, it says:
“I am food (object), I am food, I am food! I am the eater of food (subject), I am the eater of food, I am the eater of food! I am the poet (who joins the two together), I am the poet, I am the poet!”
This makes sense from the perspective of the cyclical nature of the food chain. In the end, we all take each other as food. Humans are at the top of the food chain. But when we die, our bodies are also consumed by worms. This completes the circle. Again, this is inter-relatedness. Everything in the natural world recycles. God is “love.” This is the nature of all things.
The verse quoted above also says “I am the poet.” Poetry is not literally true. What is Truth? Ultimately, we can only speak in metaphors. In our common concepts, we have notions of subject and object, self and others. But the Buddha taught that there is no self. The notion of self is an illusion. This is the logical conclusion of inter-relatedness. And it is not just a religious doctrine. There is no self even in cellular biology. The mitochondria in our cells, so essential for the production of energy, were originally foreign organisms. Today, we also talk about the importance of gut biome (the micro organisms living in our guts) for our well-being. We truly have no self. We are just mixtures.
If we take away the basic concepts of self versus other, subject versus object, then our common language will collapse. The common language is built on these mental and social constructs, which are essentially imagined objects and metaphors. Quantum physicists can tell you that even our basic models of the atom and the electrons too are metaphors. Because human beings rely on a language which makes “common sense,” we cannot stop using poetry.
I am happy living in a world of metaphors and poetry. What is “literally true”? Is there really an Ultimate Reality? What does it even mean? Even if there is some kind of transcendental truth, can we, as finite humans, understand it? I leave these questions as Mystery. I am comfortable living the Mystery.
Instead of visualizing “God” as an old patriarch sitting on a throne, I use the imagery of a knot that ties everything in the universe together. I am comfortable saying “God is love,” with the full understanding that it is poetic language.