Non-dual awareness is without attributes. But what about love?

There seems to be an entrenched view among certain groups of spiritual practitioners, that “love” is a “four-lettered word” that needs to be discarded. One such worthy took refuge of “in-door” buddhist and daoist teachings to claim that yuan shen (which is the daoist term for primordial spirit or pure awareness aka Atman in Hindu terminology) cannot possibly be “colored” by an emotion like “love” because it is free of any properties or is “nirguna”.

In the Advaita Vedanta parlance, we often refer to Brahman/Atman as “nirguna” or attributeless. Since it is attributeless, how can one conflate an emotion such as “love” onto it? Yet at the same breath, we also hear that Brahman is Satchidānanda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss). Doesn’t it make you wonder, dear reader, whether Brahman truly is nirguna then, or perhaps, that love isn’t really an emotion (ie state of mind)?

The testimony of realized masters (and direct experience) will clearly show that love is not an emotion. It is a fundamental quality of Being. For those who haven’t had the direct experience yet, the testimony of masters is the only recourse.

Many nondual (advaita) masters across various traditions have said emphatically, that the Self/Being IS Love. We can start with the Brihadārańyaka Upanishad, where the great sage Yajnavalkya expounds the true nature of love to his wife Maitreyi.

Verse 2.4.5:

स होवाच: न वा अरे पत्युः कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवति । न वा अरे जायायै कामाय जाया प्रिया भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय जाया प्रिया भवति । न वा अरे पूत्राणां कामाय पुत्राः प्रिया भवन्ति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय पुत्राः प्रिया भवन्ति । न वा अरे वित्तस्य कामाय वित्तं प्रियं भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय वित्तं प्रियं भवति । न वा अरे ब्रह्मणः कामाय ब्रह्म प्रियं भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय ब्रह्म प्रियं भवति । न वा अरे क्षत्रस्य कामाय क्षत्रं प्रियं भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय क्षत्रं प्रियं भवति । न वा अरे लोकानां कामाय लोकाः प्रिया भवन्ति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय लोकाः प्रिया भवन्ति । न वा अरे देवानां कामाय देवाः प्रिया भवन्ति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय देवाः प्रिया भवन्ति । न वा अरे भूतानां कामाय भूतानि प्रियाणि भवन्ति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय भूतानि प्रियाणि भवन्ति । न वा अरे सर्वस्य कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति । आत्मा वा अरे द्रष्टव्यः श्रोतव्यो मन्तव्यो निदिध्यासितव्यो मैत्रेयि, आत्मनो वा अरे दर्शनेन श्रवणेन मत्या विज्ञानेनेदं सर्वं विदितम् ॥ ५ ॥

sa hovāca: na vā are patyuḥ kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati | na vā are jāyāyai kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati | na vā are pūtrāṇāṃ kāmāya putrāḥ priyā bhavanti, ātmanastu kāmāya putrāḥ priyā bhavanti | na vā are vittasya kāmāya vittaṃ priyaṃ bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya vittaṃ priyaṃ bhavati | na vā are brahmaṇaḥ kāmāya brahma priyaṃ bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya brahma priyaṃ bhavati | na vā are kṣatrasya kāmāya kṣatraṃ priyaṃ bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya kṣatraṃ priyaṃ bhavati | na vā are lokānāṃ kāmāya lokāḥ priyā bhavanti, ātmanastu kāmāya lokāḥ priyā bhavanti | na vā are devānāṃ kāmāya devāḥ priyā bhavanti, ātmanastu kāmāya devāḥ priyā bhavanti | na vā are bhūtānāṃ kāmāya bhūtāni priyāṇi bhavanti, ātmanastu kāmāya bhūtāni priyāṇi bhavanti | na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvaṃ priyaṃ bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya sarvaṃ priyaṃ bhavati | ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyo maitreyi, ātmano vā are darśanena śravaṇena matyā vijñānenedaṃ sarvaṃ viditam || 5 ||

  1. He said: It is not for the sake of the husband, my dear, that he is loved, but for one’s own sake that he is loved. It is not for the sake of the wife, my dear, that she is loved, but for one’s own sake that she is loved. It is not for the sake of the sons, my dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of wealth, my dear, that it is loved, but for one’s own sake that it is loved. It is not for the sake of the Brāhmaṇa, my dear, that he is loved, but for one’s own sake that he is loved. It is not for the sake of the Kṣatriya, my dear, that he is loved, but for one’s own sake that he is loved. It is not for the sake of the worlds, my dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of the gods, my dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of the beings, my -dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of all, my dear, that all is loved, but for one’s own sake that it is loved. The Self, my dear Maitreyī, should be realised—should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. By the realisation of the Self, my dear, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.

Let us ponder that for a while. Is it possible that Love is really not how it appears to be, an emotion one might feel for another due to certain attributes of the “other”?

The challenge of the world we live in is that love is often mistaken to be a possessive attachment more than the detached acceptance it really is. Really, I would argue that love is not even an emotion, it is a state of being. The great advaita master Nisargadatta Maharaj has been recorded as having said the following

Awareness is love in action

Awareness is dynamic, love is being. Awareness is love in action. By itself the mind can actualize any number of possibilities, but unless they are prompted by love, they are valueless. Love precedes creation. Without it there is only chaos.


Choiceless Love

True awareness (samvid) is a state of pure witnessing, without the least attempt to do anything about the event witnessed. Your thoughts and feelings, words and actions may also be a part of the event; you watch all unconcerned in the full light of clarity and understanding. You understand precisely what is going on, because it does not affect you. It may seem to be an attitude of cold aloofness, but it is not really so. Once you are in it, you will find that you love what you see, whatever may be its nature. This choiceless love is the touchstone of awareness. If it is not there, you are merely interested — for some personal reasons.


Look at the ‘I am’ as a sign of love between the inner and the outer, the real and the appearance. Just like in a dream all is different, except the sense of ‘I’, which enables you to say ‘I dreamt’, so does the sense of ‘I am’ enable you to say ‘I am my real Self again.


Q: Are there levels of awareness?

M: There are levels in consciousness, but not in awareness. It is of one block, homogeneous. Its reflection in the mind is love and understanding. There are levels of clarity in understanding and intensity in love, but not in their source. The source is simple and single, but its gifts are infinite. Only do not take the gifts for the source. Realize yourself as the source and not as the river; that is all.

Nisargadatta Maharaj about Love

That is the impersonal, open, all-accepting state of being, like the infinite space in which there is room for everything ranging from the blazing stars to galaxy-eating black holes. Only this space is aware. So as Nisargadatta Maharaj puts it, how can you not love that which you are aware of? After all, they are your own manifestations!

In the Daoist tradition too, there is evidence that this “love” thing is meaningful. Take this paper by David Loy (a well known Daoist and Buddhist scholar) —


The reason why we have trouble is that we have a body.

When we have no body, what trouble do we have?

Therefore: he who loves the whole world as if it were his own body

Can be trusted with the whole world.

–Tao Te Ching, ch. 13

I would strongly recommend reading this paper. Additionally, in the paper follows —

This helps us to appreciate the full import of the Taoist (and Buddhist) critique of dualistic thinking: To let-go of such discriminations means to let-go of dualistic moral codes as well. This is not an excuse for selfishness, for the point is that such a “reduction”, if genuine, will also eliminate those self-centered ways of thinking which motivate selfish behavior. Deeper than the imperfectly-flexible strictures of moral codes is the concern for others that springs up spontaneously within those who have realized the Tao, because such a self-less person no longer feels separate from “others”. That is why the way to get rid of our body (self), which causes us such trouble, is to realize that the whole world is our body, in which case we can be entrusted with the world.

The Taoist critique of Confucianism follows from this:

When the great Tao declines, we have (the teaching of) benevolence and righteousness…

When the six family relations are not friendly, we have (the teaching of) filial piety and paternal affection.

When the state and its families are confused and out of order, there are (the teachings of) loyalty and faithfulness. (ch. 18)

For Taoism, Confucian emphasis on benevolence and righteousness is an attempt to close the barn door of morality after the horse of natural feeling has already run away. As Nietzsche realized, such moral codes are ultimately motivated by fear, which makes us want to control both others and ourselves. The alternative to that fear is nothing other than love, something which, if it is to be genuine, no moral code can legislate. Then what is the foundation or basis of love? The classic example is that of a mother for her child, who was part of her and even after birth cannot survive without her. Then perhaps what we understand as love is the affective aspect of a nondual ontological realization: the experience that I am not-other-than the beloved.

That was David Loy from the Daoist and Buddhist perspective. Now for the Buddhist perspective by Ven. Sonam Gyalsten

The cultivation of compassion is primarily and necessarily a contemplative discipline, together with the notion that perfect altruism is only possible through the healing influence of the compassionate mind. It is the prime motive behind the accumulation of merits and liberation of other living beings is their primary concerns. This is explained in second Bhavanakrama by Kamalasila with his typical terseness, where the cultivation of compassion is no longer presented as a simple preliminary practice rather it is viewed as a fundamental and essential element of the Buddhist path. Moreover, to underline its active aspect still further, he proposes a change in the order of practice of the brahmavihara. Evenmindedness [upeksa] appears now in the first place as a preparatory practice for love [maitri] and compassion [karuna]. The ultimate aim of the contemplative cultivation of it is not only the removal of the barriers, rather, the destruction of the barrier is a precondition for the development of perfect selfless conduct, animated by a compassion, but free of the subtle vested interests of normal human affections.

According to Mahayana texts, the morality of both monks or nuns and laypeople must contain three different kinds of moral acts;

a] basic morality or restraint [samvara], b] active morality of self perfection, and c] the active morality of service to others. The latter embraces the active fruits of compassion, the absence of which constitute specific violation of the Bodhisattva’s vinaya. Thus according to the Bodhisattvabhumi of Asanga; A Bodhisattva should neither remain indifferent nor react to someone of a cruel or evil disposition In such a way as to increase that person’s cruelty or sorrow. The service to others may be interpreted into two different ways but related, as the practical culmination of total detachment: or it may be seen as the moral resultant of the cultivation of compassion. The First is expressed by Santi Deva a great saint of 8th century in the following stanza in his Bodhisattvacaryavatara:

“I must bring to an end the pain of hunger and thirst with the rains of food and drink, I myself will become food and drink during the great famine of the intermediate kalpa”

Asanga considered the active application of compassion to be a continuation of dhyana practice. Karuna is not seen as in his Mahayanasutralamkara, common pity is not true compassion, only pity born of wisdom and free of ill attachments is true compassion. The altruistic mind of enlightenment [Bodhicitta] is the higher form of love and compassion in the Mahayana teaching. This mind can be cultivated through two principle methods as explained in most of the Mahayana sutra or texts. One is the precept  which stems from Maitreya to Asanga which is called the “Sevenfold Cause and Effect Precept” and the other is the system transmitted from Manjushri to Santideve known as “Equalising and switching of self and other.” In the method of the Sevenfold cause and effect precept, ‘to think of living beings as being one’s mother’ is particular important. As Tsong Khapa [1357-1419] explains in his ‘Lam Rim Chenmo’ ” the feeling of motherliness is the ultimate counteragent [to the aversion and indifference to all beings], to think of all beings as mothers, remembering their kindness, being aware of and repaying their kindness, effect friendliness and esteem, and the result is a loving-kindness which sentient beings dear as a mother does her only child. And this leads to Compassion. Thus the true compassion arises only after long and difficult process of spiritual training or cultivation.

Some people might argue that “love and compassion” are the outcome of enlightenment. But then one might counter, if by enlightenment is referred to attainment of a transparent, attributeless and uncolored abidance in and as awareness, then there CAN be no outcome. How can something come out of “nothing”?  So, in order for love and compassion to be generated out of enlightenment, they need to pre-exist therein. Moreover, upon further inspection one can see that they are not phenomena that arise out of an empty “no-thing-ness” that is pure awareness, but rather like heat and light that are the nature of fire.

Samsara, appears to be separate from the nondual reality, but is really not separate at all. The Buddhists would say, Samsara is Nirvana. Advaita Vedantins would say, the Brahman and Jagat are non-different. The daoists would say, The Void is Form and Form is Void. So inherently, Love and Compassion is the state of being where there is the complete and unequivocal knowledge that subject and object are non-different. That being the case, how can anything be not “loved”? Love is an intrinsic characteristic of Non-dual awareness.


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9 Replies to “Non-dual awareness is without attributes. But what about love?”

  1. My understanding

    na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvaṃ priyaṃ bhavati, ātmanastu kāmāya sarvaṃ priyaṃ bhavati

    Not of the kAma/desire of everything, ‘priyam’ manifests on everything. By the kAma/desire on the Atma, priyam manifests on everything. This verse is the crux of all the previous verses of that sloka.

    In essence, we love some, not because we desire that. We love some because we desire the Atma (in that)

    “ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyo maitreyi, ātmano vā are darśanena śravaṇena matyā vijñānenedaṃ sarvaṃ viditam”

    Maitreyi, Atma is ‘to be seen’, ‘to be heard’ , ‘to be thought’, ‘to be contemplated/meditated’, By seeing, by hearing, by thinking, by vijnAna, Atman in everything is recognized/known.

    So there are two points here

    1. We ‘desire’ the Atman (in others) and our love (on others) arises from that.
    2. We ‘know’ the Atman (in others) by seeing, by hearing (which are interactions), by thinking, by vijnAna.

    So how does this impact us socially..?

    We may know others by seeing, hearing, we discuss, by thinking, by vijnAna, by such interactions. We may debate/diverge on our views with these others. But yet we love (and respect) ‘others’ because we desire that Atman in others.


    1. That’s the first section from Br Up in the article 🙂
      Yes…but this needs to be taken a step further. The Atman is not separate in you and others…it is the same. That’s why everything is “priyam”, because it is your own Self.

      1. Hmm..

        Let me say the same thing in a different perspective.. I translate vijnAna as ‘science’. So let me look at science perspective.

        In science parlance,
        1. kAma are excitations. In social terms, it is lust, a momentary/fluctuating attractions. Call it desire..
        2. priyaM is attraction that binds. In social terms it is affinity, love.
        3. Atman is the ‘virtual’.

        This Atman is the ‘virtual’ present everywhere and binds all. We see, hear, think, meditate, scientifically analyse because of that Atman. Atman causes the ‘priyam’, the binding. This Atman, ‘virtual’, is not separate in you and others. It’s the same virtual all across. The priyam/attraction manifests not because of our excitations/kAma. It manifests because of Atma.

        How does attraction manifest between a positive and negative charge..?

        Positive charge is an excitation in electromagnetic field. A negative charge is also an excitation in electromagnetic field. The attraction (or repulsion) between them does not manifest because of these excitations. It manifests because the ‘virtual’ photon cloud mediates the charges and gives rise to EM potentials.

        The ‘virtual’ is because there is no real photon cloud in the EM force-field. But without the ‘virtual’ photon cloud the charges will remain excitation of a field, with no EM potential between them. This phenomena cannot be explained without this virtual photon. The ‘Priyam’ cannot be explained without the ‘Atman’.

        Socially if we have to learn from above, we have our own temporary excitations/desires (kAma). It is the Atma that mediates and connects us giving rise to the ‘potential’ of love between beings, irrespective of our views, differences and diversities.


        1. Thanks TBT.

          Perhaps we could look at it from the perspective of the 5 properties of any object –

          Asti, Bhati, Priyam, Nama and Rupa. Of these we normally only consider the Asti and Nama the Rupa aspect (which is in the domain of jagat). However Asti which indicates existence, Bhati which indicates the effulgence/illumination by and in awareness, and priyam indicates the desirability of the object (I like or I don’t like). But this “desirability” when understood in the right context leads us through a path as follows —

          Priyam – ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’. Every object has priyatvam, desirability, the status of being desirable. Priyam stands for ānanda hetutvam, the cause of happiness: even though the object is not the source of happiness it serves as the instrument that triggers pleasure, for the ānanada to come up. The word ‘priyam’ stands for fullness, limitlessness.
          (source —

          So, while Nama Rupa are the jagat aspect, Asti, Bhati, Priyam actually lead us to Brahman as they are of the nature of Brahman (Brahmarūpam). So the Prema (which is analogous with Priyam) is an intrinsic nature of Brahman.

          1. Correct. That’s what science says too. Let’s see how.

            asti bhāti priyam rūpam nāma chetyamśapañchakam
            ādyatrayam brahmarūpam jagadrūpam tato dvayam

            Of the five asti, bhAti, priyam, rupam, nAma characteristics, the starting three are brahma rupa and the other two are jagad rupa.

            Brahma rUpam means the form of brahman. Brahman is the process of evolution, which is intrinsic to all forms of matter and energies. It is what is inside. The brahma rUpam does not depend on the ‘quantity’ of matter. Science calls it intensive/intrinsic properties.

            The intensive properties are asti, bhAti and priyam.

            asti is existence or reality. These are real particles, which satisfy the Energy-Momentum relationship, on-shell.
            bhAti means observable. These are observable particles. Some real particles like quarks are not observable.
            Priyam are the ‘virtual’ ones, whose binding/attraction is facilitated by virtual particles.

            The Real, observable and virtual are brahma-rUpa, the intensive properties.

            Jagat means that is born (ja) and moving (ga). Jagat rUpam are forms of those that are born and moving, which are external. This is what is outside. The jagat rUpam depends on the ‘quantity’ of matter. Science calls it extensive properties.

            The extensive properties are rupA (form/shape), nAma (name, identification). These are ‘volume’ (rupa/size/shape/form) and ‘mass’ (nAma/identification).

            At a very fundamental level matter particles being Real, observable and virtual are intrinsic and particles have some ‘mass’ (interaction with Higgs field) and ‘volume’ (cross-section of their interactions) are extrinsic.

            Ofcourse one can see it in the way they want. The point I was trying to make here is this. The sloka says ‘by vijnAna’ everything is known. I see vi-jnAna as science. Someone may see it as ‘self-realization’.


  2. Hi TBT,

    Because the Vedic/Vedantic work is Shruti, and works at a level beyond mind/intellect, any attempts to theorize about “things” based on any categorical framework will seem correct. But that leaves us with a long rope, and we can use it to climb down a deep rabbit hole, or even hang ourselves (as the proverb suggests).

    The right way to understand this material is therefore based on study of the material under the tutelage of someone (Guru) who has been transmitted the right teaching and has realized it him/herself directly (aparokshanubhuti). If we don’t have a guru in person, we have their commentaries etc.

    I think you have a very sharp intellect, but that’ll not take you to a direct experiential knowing of Brahman. I’m being honest with you here (as I’ve always been).

    1. Dear Dwai

      I understand and agree what you say from your perspective. You may be a swimmer and I may be commenting from the shore.

      My plain view is that for too much time, we have dug philosophies out of science, masked true understanding of our texts and have ended up with ‘hordes’ of philosophies…

      Easwaro Rakshathu.


      1. Dear TBT,

        I don’t think there is any justifiable reason why the “science” (which I’m not denying) should take precedence over the more immediate need of the human being – freedom/liberation. Why do I say that? Science too claims to liberate, but only manages to enslave the individual further more in samsara via technology. Moreover, until science cannot include consciousness and acknowledge its role in the empirical world, it will remain a very useful distraction.

        Now as far as philosophy goes…the role of philosophy should not be limited to just mentations, but rather, by understanding the nature of the world, make it so that the individual’s life is improved. By improvement I don’t mean technological enhancements or entertainment, but true resolution of the psychosis that governs the world today. Only way I see that being possible is when we stop being patrons of wanton materialism, and start understanding our true nature (and it’s relationship with the world).



        1. Dear Dwai,

          Philosophy, in my view, in particular in what I understand from Upanishads, started as learning from nature/science and applying it to social living, so that we can benefit from those learning.

          But from that people started building castles of their own, with their own understanding and we have ended up somewhere. We stopped learning from nature, we stopped studying nature as we ended up building on top of the philosophies. We have come far away from nature. We started seeing the philosophies as the foundation.

          We have to be like our Rishis and Munis. Which Rishi or Muni indulged in philosophies..? In my view they were observing nature, learning from it and breaking the symmetries of society to evolve it further.

          Science today is much more closer to nature than any philosophies. It brings us back to what’s happening around us and not what we imagine as what’s happening inside us. It makes us study more of our nature and learn from it. The nature around is the effect of that brahman and that’s where we have to search.

          This is my view. If you find this discussion not interesting or primitive, feel free to stop it. I won’t say I am right. I am just expressing what occurs to me now.


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