"Love is a decision that we can personally make at any time and under any circumstances."
- Bhakti Tirtha Swami
To come into a living, breathing state of compassion, we are faced with the task of loving ourselves first. We hear a lot about self-love these days but what does it truly look like? Where does one start building a healthy connection to and respect of the self -- based in the sacred -- not the selfish? Timeless yogic wisdom directs us to four foundational principles of self-love. But before we explore these foundational principles, it is important to understand the basis upon which they rest, the source of authentic self-knowledge: a definition of the self. Vedic literature and the yogic science therein, define the true identity, the spirit-soul of a person, as Sat-Chit-Ananda; eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss. In our day-to-day lives, how often do we truly feel ourselves to be those three things?
If we let it, life surely tends to get in the way of a deep connection to bliss, eternality, and knowledge; pushing us instead to follow the wild fluctuations of emotion and thought and the often destructive actions that follow. If I mis-identify myself as matter -- my body, which changes as I age, get sick, gain or lose weight; or as my mind, which changes any time the wind blows (!), I am apt to love and respect a small fragment of reality, missing out on a deeper connection. But when we use our bodies and our minds to clear the pathway to the innermost truth, we naturally become more compassionate, conscious, and loving.
The four pillars of self-love are based in respect of the body, mind, and spirit. The first two pillars focus on eliminating the consumption of harming substances including drugs, alcohol, stimulants (yes, caffeine too) as well as meat, fish, and eggs. When we dampen down the mind with intoxicants and cause harm to other living entities to satisfy our own pleasure, whether far-removed, subtly or overtly, we inevitably create an environment of confusion, disconnect, and pain in and around us. Self-love and compassion cannot take root and flourish in such environments.
The third and fourth pillars ask us to eliminating gambling, which encourages a compulsive and unsteady mind overly concerned with winning and possession; and eliminate irresponsible, unregulated indulgence in sex. Our current news cycle is a harrowing reminder that greed and sexual abuse have insidiously caused havoc and hurt in countless lives, both human and animal.
These four pillars are practical boundaries to hold the self in a container of respect and care, and from there, to raise up compassion as a constant possibility. While refining a practice of self-understanding and self-love, we open the door to compassion sourced in a connection with the eternality, knowledge, and bliss inherent in the soul. As we incorporate these regulations into our lives, the true self has a real chance to shine, and by that light, shine the way towards a more loving world.