Flavors of Love
During the first stage, love begins as a vague feeling and gradually becomes very specific and clear. The divine love realized in the second and third stages takes the form of a very clear and tangible personal relationship with Krishna. There are infinite flavors of divine love, and infinite varieties of relationships with Krishna, because there are infinite individuals. Still, its helpful to classify the flavors of loving relationships into five broad, main categories.
1. The Peace of Selflessness
The first, most fundamental quality of true love is that it is totally devoid of selfishness. Absence of selfishness is the most basic form of selflessness, just as absence of hate is the most basic form of love, or as absence of war is the most basic form of peace.
Śānta is the Sanskrit term for this type of love. Literally it means “at peace,” because when all selfishness is gone we feel at peace. Yogis who meditate upon the divine within themselves and within all things (paramātmā) can attain up to this level.
If, from this foundational absence of selfish desires, we develop selfless desires to please our beloved – then active personal relationships to him can begin. The remaining four categories represent four depths of personal relationship.
Our beloved is the source of all beauty and joy in our lives, so we feel deeply indebted to him. The desire to express this feeling of indebtedness is the first budding of pure desire and the first of four types of active loving relationships.
Dāsya is the Sanskrit term for this type of love. Literally it means “servitude,” because the feeling of indebtedness makes us very humble and helpful, without desiring anything in return.
Those who worship the Supreme Person (bhagavān) can can dive to this depth of realization. There are depths beyond this, but they are inaccessible to those whose love centers on majestic forms of the Supreme. The intimate forms of love beyond indebtedness are open only to those who fall in love with intimate forms of the Supreme Person, especially the most intimate form, Śrī Krishna.
Our divine beloved is much more than a source of power and authority, he is a person in the truest sense of the world. More than worship, a person wants companionship. If we deeply realize this, our sense of selfless indebtedness will carry us swiftly across the boundaries of formality and reverence and make us Krishna’s confidential companions: his peers, who play and joke with him. The desire to express our indebtedness manifests now as the desire to please him through friendship.
Sakhya is the Sanskrit term for this type of love. Literally, it means “friendship.” Those who develop this degree of divine love can become the young boys of Vṛndāvana, Krishna’s dearest, most confidential friends.
If our love can develop still deeper we will go beyond acting as Krishna’s peers and begin to act as his superiors. Sometimes Krishna’s cannot stop him from doing something unpleasant or difficult, those with very powerful love therefore experience superior, senior and parental towards Krishna. Such persons become Krishna’s elder friends, his aunts and uncles, his guardians, and his parents. Their desire to express their indebtedness manifests as the desire to protect him.
Vātsalya (Literally, “Calflike”) is the Sanskrit term for this type of love. It is so named because Cows are so maternally protective affection towards their calves.
If the desire to express our indebtedness escalates still further we reach the fullest level of loving relationship – the absolute intimacy of romance. In this relationship, we can joke and play like a friend, control and advise like a parent, and also directly delight all his senses.
There are several Sanskrit terms for this deepest stage of divine love. Mādhurya means “honey-sweet” and “intoxicating.” Śṛṇgāra means “passionate” and “sexual.” The meaning of these terms is obviously romantic. Ujjvala is another term for this category of love, which literally means “fully blossomed and brilliant.” It is so named because romance is the fullest expression of love.
Only the most intensely passionate divine lovers can access the extreme bliss of romantic love for All-Attractive Krishna. Those who do can hope to become the girls of Vṛndāvana, Krishna’s beloved girlfriends, the gopīs – the most ecstatically blissful of all living entities.