"Wherefore love is of immortality."
- "Symposium", Plato
Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov (1853 - 1900) was a significant representative of Russian symbolism. He studied many religions, lived as a vegetarian and was best known, for his syncretic religious thoughts and for his personal, spiritual experiences with Sophia. Because of these experiences, Solovyov tried to return Sophia - the merciful unifying feminine wisdom of God, similar to Jewish Shekinah and other goddess traditions to the Orthodox Christian thought. His idea was deemed heresy by the Russian Church Outside Russia and unorthodox by the Patriarchate of Moscow.
One of Solovyov's most notable and influential works was "The Meaning of Love" in which he brings love at the center of the transcendental experience - however, unlike many individuals who gravitated towards religious, theological or metaphysical thought, he did not put the love of something transcendental at core - it is erotic love he put there.
The Self in the Other
"There is only one power which can from within undermine egoism at the root, and really does undermine it, namely love, and chiefly sexual love. The falsehood and evil egoism consists in the exclusive acknowledgment of absolute significance for oneself and in the denial of it it for others. (...) Recognizing in love the truth of another, not abstractly but essentially, transferring in deed the center of our life beyond the limits of our empirical personality, we by doing so reveal and realize our own truth, our own absolute significance, which consists just in our capacity to transcend the borders of our factual phenomenal being, in our capacity to live not only in ourselves, but also in another." - "The Meaning of Love", Vladimir Solovyov
The automatic reaction of many of those who have grown up in a modern, highly sexualised culture in which sexual images constantly appear and who at the same time, see it as vulgar and inappropriate, is to reject Solovyov's idea. How can sexual love have this role? Is it not the lowest form of feeling, guided by impulse and blood more than anything else? The difference may be subtle but it is important to make notice that Vladimir speaks of sexual love - the reason why we find images of sexuality or sex for the sake of nothing else but climax as vulgar is because it is removed from the act of love. It is the very opposite of which Solovyov speaks of - instead of calming down the ego, the treatment of another person as a mere instrument towards our personal pleasure is giving the absolute significance to ourselves and not to the other. It is, a its core, selfish and we humans, even when consumed by these images, hardly lose our sacred center and, we tend to find selfishness in love disturbing - love is an opportunity to give, to interact and to connect, not to use the other for our selfish whims. Any kind of love and in particular erotic love, demands of us vulnerability - love can hardly be without it. We may be emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically vulnerable before the beloved. The vulnerability that flourishes in the moment of true erotic love is of unique kind - without the garment that tell about our social status, our income, our aesthetic preferences, simply without the whole "character" we play when we go out into the world, we are open to be truly seen. Ego is preoccupied with the narrative and with the story - it constantly desires to maintain a certain imagined narrative of ourselves and it resists almost any attempt for anything to break through this narrative. In our lives we guard ourselves with defense mechanisms, cognitive biases and many other methods in order to preserve "The Great Story of I". Without the identity that comes from the accomplishments, tastes, cultural background and many other reference points - we think nothing will be left and that we will cease to exist. We, however, continue to exist and realisation of the existence beyond the "I" is the transcendental moment of the experience. "That the presence of the other breaks into our own life - this is what no feeling can fully encompass. Human fate gives itself to human fate, and it is the task of pure love to keep this self-surrender as vital as on the first day." - Martin Heidegger The experience of ourselves beyond the "I" and understanding of our true identity is not the end of experience, because like Vladimir said, in transcending the "I" we also recognise the same quality and the real identity of the other. There comes the acceptance of the other in their rawest form and after the initial anxiety fades, we smoothly come into the state of calm. We are a mirror to their true identity and they are the mirror to our true identity, and in recognition of the transcendental, sacred quality of the other, the ability to experience our own being in the other and to experience them through us is the moment of union in which the boundaries between the experience and the one experiencing dissolve. In Hindu Tantra, this unity is called Bindu - white Bindu represents Shiva (the masculine principle), red Bindu Shakti (the feminine principle) and the unity of the two represents the moment kundalini reaches the sahasrara chakra, the reaching of the pure consciousness and awareness. As it is often said for this experience, the meditator, the object meditate upon and the meditation all become one, and there is nothing in the given moment but the experience. Ibn Arabi, in his "Meccan Revelations", speaks of the similar experience of the self through other in the following passage: "When something is a place of disclosure to a viewer, he sees nothing but himself in that form. When he, the viewer, sees himself in this woman, his love for her and attraction to her intensifies because she is his form. It has been clarified to you that his form is the form of the Real, through which he has been one brought into existence. So he doesn't see anything but the real one but with desire of love and taking delight in ecstasy. He dissolves in her with a real annihilation and sincere love. He encounters her with his essence in an absolute correspondence. For that reason, he dissolves in her. There is no part in him that is not in her. Love has suffused all his parts, so his entire being is interconnected with her. For that reason, he dissolves in his likeness with a complete annihilation, in contrast to his love for anything that is not his likeness. He becomes one with his beloved so that he says, "I am the one I desire and the one I desire is I" and at the final point of this station says, "I am God". So when you love a person who is like you with such a love, then your witnessing turns back to God with such a return. Then you are among those whom God loves".
The Little Death & Immortality
"Every kind of love is manifestation of this capacity, but not every kind realizes it to the same degree, nor does every kind as radically undermine egoism. Egoism is power not only real but basic, rooted in the deepest center of our being, and from thence permeating and embracing the whole of our reality - a power, acting uninterruptedly in all aspects and particulars of our existence. In order genuinely to undermine egoism, it is necessary to oppose to it a love equally concretely specific, permeating the whole of our being and taking possession of everything in it. (...) Moreover, in order to really be another it must in everything be distinguished from us i.e., possessing all the essential content which we also posses, it must posses it in another means or mode, in another form. In this way every manifestation of our being, every vital act would encounter in this other a corresponding, but not identical, manifestation, in such a way that the relation of one to other world would be a complete and continual exchange, a complete and continual affirmation of oneself in the other, with perfect reciprocity and communion. Only then will the egoism be undermined and abrogated; abolished, not in principle alone, but in all its concrete reality. Only under the action of this, so to speak, chemical union of two beings, of the same nature and of equal significance, but on all sides distinct as to form, is creation possible (both in the natural order and the spiritual order) of a new human being, the real realization of true human individuality. Such a union, or at least, the closest approximation to it, we find in sexual love, for which reason we attach to it exceptional significance, as the necessary basis of all further perfection, as the inescapable and permanent condition under which alone human can really be in truth" - "The Meaning of Love", Vladimir Solovyov Solvoyov places the sexual love as he describes it above all other loves - including the motherly love. While selfless and self-sacrificing, he does not see in motherly love anything extraordinarily human - a bird, a dog or a cat, will take care of her offspring and even risk her own life to protect it. He sees this kind of love as certainly ego-transcending but not as much as in the act of sexual love in which the person is not related to us in blood and is not a continuation of our own genetic material in the world. In a child, we see someone we take care of but it is not the same kind of vulnerability that opens the door in the moment of erotic love. "La petite mort" (the little death) is a French expression that means "the brief loss of consciousness and it refers to the sensation post climax that is often characterised by the short moment of self-oblivion. Umberto Eco's Franciscan novice, Adso, reflects on it after his experience with the homeless girl: "As if one no longer existed, not feeling one’s identity at all, or feeling lowered, almost annihilated: if some mortal (I said to myself) could for a single moment and most rapidly enjoy what I have enjoyed, he would immediately look with a baleful eye at this perverse world, would be upset by the bane of daily life, would feel the weight of the body of death." As much as we cling to our ego and care to maintain its strength, we long even more to be free of it. To be free of the name we did not choose, of goals and hopes, of memories and expectations, of having this, of not having that is what the soul craves, at least for short moments. It is brief freedom from existence as we know it. In the experience of "little death", we come to see that we live even when everything we know of ourselves dies and fades - that experience is giving us a glimpse into our own immortality, into our own existence beyond the separation.