Love: The Core Value of All Religions
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In 1938, Harvard University began conducting its Study of Adult Development, tracking the lives of 700 men who grew up in Boston in the 1930s and ’40s to study and compare their levels of physical and mental wellbeing throughout their lives.
Psychiatrist George E. Vaillant, one of the directors of the study, explained in his book, Triumphs of Experience (2012), “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points, at least to me, to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’”
This new empirical data supports the very ancient wisdom of love’s supreme importance, recorded as the underlying tenet expressed by all religions. As St. Augustine expressed it, summing up the whole of the religious life, “a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will.”
Love is about much more than just romantic relationships. The classical Greek thinkers delimitated seven types of love: eros (erotic or sexual love), philia (love of friends; friendship), storge (familial love), ludus (playful love), pragma (practical love based on duty), philautia (self-love), and the one that Paul the Apostle uses, agape (universal love).
Across religions, it is clear that we are meant to widen our circle of love as much as possible. The Christian story of the good Samaritan, the South African concept of Ubuntu, and the Hindu concept of Tat Twam Asi (you are that) all highlight the importance of love for all. In their own ways, they each point to the common conviction that we are all transient expressions of the same One reality and that our existence is deeply intertwined, meaning that our individual well-being depends on the collective well-being of humanity.
Once we make this shift in thought, we can potentially feel — and demonstrate — love for everyone in our daily thought and behavior. By loving all we are not just giving, but being open to what we will receive from millions of people whom we may or may not directly know.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
— The New Testament (Luke 10:27), Christian text
“The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Catholic Jesuit priest
“Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘You will not enter Paradise until you have faith and you will not have faith until you love each other. Shall I show you something that, if you did, you would love each other? Spread peace between yourselves.’”
— Hadith, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 54
“This is what the Holy One said to Israel: My children, what do I seek from you? I seek no more than that you love one another and honor one another.”
— Sefer Ha-Aggadah, collection of Jewish writings
“Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures.”
— Baha’u’llah, Baha’i prophet
“She whose heart is full of love
Is ever in full bloom
Joy is hers for she has no love of self
Only those who love you
Conquer love of self”
— Guru Nanak, Sikh prophet
“This supreme Lord who pervades all existence, the true Self of all creatures, may be realized through undivided love.”
— The Bhagavad Gita (8:22), Hindu text
“let all-embracing thoughts
for all that lives be thine,
— an all-embracing love
for all the universe
in all its heights and depths
and breadth, unstinted love,
unmarred by hate within,
not rousing enmity.”
— The Buddha (Sutta Nipata, Book 1, Sutta 8, verse 148–49)
Science, Philosophy, Psychology
“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one ‘object’ of love. If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment or an enlarged egotism.”
— Erich Fromm, social psychologist and philosopher
“My sense of the holy is bound up with the hope that some day my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law.”
— Richard Rorty, philosopher and atheist
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— Akhil Gupta, founder and director of UEF