What is the difference between lust and love?

Lust involves the selfishness of serving one's own senses, while love involves selfless service to God's transcendental senses. Lust is that selfish desire that passes as love for as long as, and to the extent that, God is not present in the human equation. Krishna represents the transcendental senses of the Godhead. He is the incarnation of the act of love devoid of any selfish desire. He is also known as kama (cupid), but he is kamadeva, the God of amorous desire. Thus he conquers all desire, not by extinguishing it, but by redirecting it to himself. The canvass on which his love play is drawn is the Vedanta of Srimad Bhagavatam. The love play of his lila itself is thus the fullest expression of Vedanta, revealing the most secret esoteric implications of the sober utterances of the Upanisads.

Is sex before marriage acceptable according to Hinduism? (The sexual relationship need not be with a confirmed future wife). Is it written in any of our scriptures that sex is not permitted before marriage? I am a good Hindu and always want to follow what Hinduism says. I believe that God created men and women for enjoying. Is sex before marriage a moral crime?

The material world is not about enjoyment. According to Patanjali's Yoga-sutra (2.15), the wise understand that sense pleasure begets suffering either as a direct consequence (parinama), in the form of anticipation (tapa) of its inevitable loss, or in the form of new craving (samskara) for sense pleasure that arises from impressions of it imbedded in the mind. Thus sense pleasure is mixed with suffering in all three phases of time.

Real joy comes from the culture of selfless action, in which one acts for the satisfaction of God and not one's material senses. Everyone acknowledges that sex life must be restricted in some manner. This sense arises in human life. Marriage is an important part of the culture of selfless action, and sexual indulgence should be confined within marital commitment for those interested in religious and spiritual life, in which real joy can be found.

In Bhagavad-gita 7.11, Krsna also identifies himself with love that is in accordance with scriptural law. While love by nature is lawless, Krsna advocates the taming of material love. The effect of this is the awakening of the soul and its prospect for love on the spiritual plane, real love arising out of self-sacrifice. Although love is lawless, in material life its unbridled pursuit amounts to ignoring obvious laws of nature, which in the least render such love unenduring. Scripture points this out and advocates that material love be redirected in order that it be fullfilled. When love is fully spiritualized, it transcends scripture.

Hindus may submit questions for the swami to editor@swami.org. Non-Hindus with questions on Hindu basics or etiquette (such as "What do I wear to a Hindu wedding?") are invited to submit them to columnists@staff.beliefnet.com.

Is it morally wrong for a Hindu girl to fall in love with a Muslim or any boy from a different religion?

Our hope is that all Hindus and Muslims will one day love one another. Otherwise morals are relative. What is good is that which helps one progress in spiritual life, and what is bad is that which hinders one's spiritual progress. At the core of both Hinduism and Islam there is some common ground. If a Hindu/Muslim couple find that common spiritual ground and base their relationship on it, it is possible that they can live a spiritual life together. Infatuation passing as love, on the other hand, may make this difficult.

How can I know the soul and how can I develop spiritual love?

By logical conjecture, we will only get so far. We cannot know the soul by that, because the soul is superior in nature to intellect, as intellect is superior to the senses. In the hierarchy of material nature we have objects of the senses, then we have the senses, then the mind, then intelligence. Categorically different is consciousness, which gives life to these things. So intelligence, or reasoning power, cannot guide the soul because it is inferior to the soul. So we have another means of knowing; beyond sense perception with imperfect senses, beyond exercise of our rational faculty. It is said that humans are different from animals because humans have the capacity to reason. But Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu wants to say something else to human society. He wants to tell us that human society is best, not because we can reason but because we can love.

In human society you can love, and the deepest love means love of God. In actuality, we learn to love. That statement that requires some explanation, because how can we 'learn to love'? It is not something that we can teach. We can talk about it in so many ways, theoretically, but you have to 'fall in love' in order to 'learn to love'. Yet, when we fall in love then learning is retired. Love knows no reason, it is said. In loving, there is a kind of knowing that is automatic. When we love another, then automatically, naturally, and spontaneously, we know what is to be done. So, although love retires reason, it is a kind of knowledge also.

In this world, in this plane of experience, when our feeling gets the better part of our reasoning it is a problem. But in the spiritual dimension it is the perfection, where feeling and love rises over knowledge. So, we are really moving by feeling. We need only come in touch with that feeling which, when expressed, will not get us into difficulty. It will retire knowledge and knowing, but it will not be a problem.

That is the idea of Krishna. And sadhu means saintly person, one who represents Krishna. So from such a person we can learn about Krishna. We can learn about loving.

Devotional practitioners try hard to control their sexual desire in order to achieve spiritual purity. The ultimate aim is to go to Krishna's abode. But sex is also there; however, only Krishna is the enjoyer. I am confused by this.

There is a principal difference between mundane sex that makes the material world go round, and the spiritual interaction between Krishna and the gopis in the highest spiritual plane. The former involves satisfying one's material senses. This is called kama, or lust. The latter involves satisfying the supra-mundane senses of Krishna. This is called prema, or love.

Does sex exist in bhakti? If it does, what is its purpose and how is it different from mundane relations of a husband and wife?

We must transcend the body and sexual desire to love Krishna in purity. However, sometimes the highest love of Krishna is compared to mundane eroticism in terms of the consuming nature of this kind of love, by which one is overwhelmed. We want to fall in love with God with the intensity that a young woman falls in love with a young man. Otherwise, there are no mundane elements in conjugal love of Krishna. Lust is selfish, and love of Krishna selfless. Lust involves satisfying one's own senses whereas love of Krishna involves satisfying the senses of Krishna.

I have heard that different gurus have different standards with regard to sexual relations within marriage, some being more restrictive than others. Is this so? And if so, why?

There may be differences but everyone agrees that sex must be regulated. This sense develops in human life. The only argument is where to draw the line. In some scriptures it is stated that a devotee is one who engages in sex only for procreation. Yet in spite of this, I believe there is scope for restricting sexual activity to marital relations (and not to only the act of procreation within marriage) and still remain within the parameters of the dynamic culture of love of Krishna. If the restriction of this act is progressive in terms of moving away from self-centeredness, that is what we are after. Let any particular guru decide on a standard for his or her disciple in pursuit of this principle.

Hindus may submit questions for the swami to editor@swami.org. Non-Hindus with questions on Hindu basics or etiquette (such as "What do I wear to a Hindu wedding?") are invited to submit them to columnists@staff.beliefnet.com.

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