Aphrodite Ourania: Divine Love

St. Theresa in Ecstasy, by Bernini, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

There is a love that has no object. This love is not a relationship. It is beyond relativity, beyond two, for this love annihilates both lover and beloved. This love falls in love with love itself. This love whispers a new commandment: "Love no one else." But this love is not far above. It is intimate, and very present. It is Presence alone. All creatures are burning up in this love without knowing it.

From Plato's Symposium we have two Aphrodites, two kinds of love: Aphrodite Ourania and Aphrodite Pandemos, that is, the Love Goddess of "the heavens" and the Love Goddess of "the common folk."

For Neo-Platonists, these two Aphrodites became two distinct goddesses, and their distinction had a profound influence on Christian mystics. In fact, Jesus himself made this distinction when he used the Greek word "agape" for love, as distinct from "eros" and "philios." Eros is passion for an object or person. Philios is the biological attachment that unites family and tribe. Jesus pointed to a spiritual love, Agape, that is distinct from the more common types of attachment.

Most humans have no conception of the divine Aphrodite, though we're quite familiar with the ordinary Goddess of love who smites us with Cupid's arrows. The common Goddess is a love that always has an object. Therefor she is always a subject, and possesses the subject. Her love is a form of madness, of possession. This romantic erotic love is short-lived, and all too easily reverses its polarity, turning into the very opposite kind of energy: jealousy, envy, grief, loneliness, and even hatred. She is not only the Goddess of blind lovers, but the Goddess of divorce lawyers.

That other heavenly Aphrodite is quite different. Botticelli portrayed her in Birth of Venus, alone-born from Zeus's oceanic power (Greek, monogenase, "of one parent") The Greek word monogenase occurs in the Nicaean Creed, 325 CE, because Jesus, like Venus, is alone-born of the Father. Botticelli was a mystic artist who intended to portray her as the feminine aspect of Christ. Here he evoked an ancient Gnostic tradition: the Holy Spirit as the feminine form of God.

The Virgin Mother is the creative power of divine love, generating the universe ex nihilo, from nothing, monogenase, without any partner. That is, without any need for the second element which the Greeks called "primal matter."

The earthly Aphrodite, then, is always caught in subject-object relationship, spirit vs. matter. But the heavenly Aphrodite is beyond duality and is, therefor, love without an object. Since she has no object, she is not a subject either. Yet She pervades all forms formlessly, blessing all objects without attachment, sweetening all subjects as consciousness itself, without become an "I."

The early Christian Gnostic, Valentinus, described the true Virgin Mother as "mystical eternal silence." She is the silence prior to creation. Therefor she is neither creator nor creation, neither I nor It. Yet from the mystery of her Womb-Void worlds arise. The modern analogy is quantum physics, where matter emanates as vibrating energy from a vacuum devoid of any inherent substance. Thus the Virgin generates all creatures and souls, subjects and objects, without herself being either. She is uncreated creativity.

Now what does all this have to do with our spiritual practice? I write from the experience of Transcendental Deep Meditation, as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: I can only share my own perspective. Perhaps you would like to add yours...

Most spiritual practices remain enmeshed in the duality of subject and object. Even the sweetest devotional experience of Lover and Beloved remains trapped in the dualistic structure of relative creation. Our tenderest devotion to the Guru is still a relationship: I and Thou. Such a relationship is the subtlest form of Aphrodite Pandemos: sweet as it may be, it does not transcend relativity to taste the Absolute Being of the One at creation's source. Even when we are inebriated with the bliss of devotion to the Master, we remain caught in the sticky subject-object web of the lower Aphrodite, albeit in its subtlest and sweetest threads.

This is why the practice of Transcendental Deep Meditation is so unique, and so ruthlessly loving! Truth holds not only the lotus of Krishna, but the scimitar of Shiva; not only the rose of Christ, but "the sword of the Spirit." Eventually sweet devotional love, like a web of dew, must dissolve in the blinding formless sun of Truth, if we are to soar into the heavens of Aphrodite Ourania.

As daylight transcends the glow of a single candle in a hut, pervading the whole landscape, so divine love transcends the particular relationship of lover and beloved.

The grace of deep meditation gently snaps that silken thread and frees our awareness completely from the field of subject-object relationship. We transcend the exquisite two-ness of Master and Devotee, yes, even the Magdalene's love for Jesus, or Radha's love of Krishna, drawn beyond two into One. We sink into the abysmal unity of Absolute Being, the luminous darkness before God said, "Let there be light."

Do not suppose that the formless invisible power of this unitary divine love is far away. It is near, more intimate than a kiss! When lover and beloved kiss, they lose sight of each other and fall for a moment into exquisite unity, closing their eyes and dissolving their forms, do they not? When we are lost in a kiss, it may only be for an instant, and we are so lost that we do not even notice our complete annihilation.

This kiss is an important symbol in the literature of mystical love. In the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, we are told that "Jesus loved Mary Magdalene most of all, and used to kiss her on the mouth."

Those who worship only Aphrodite Pandemos take this passage literally. But the kiss described here is not the momentary kiss of sensuality; it is the spiritual kiss of which true troubadours sing, Hafiz, Mirabai, St. Theresa: "There is some kiss we want with our whole lives," Rumi whispers, "the kiss of Spirit on the body." So the Song of Solomon yearns, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!" But this is not the kiss of lover and beloved; for where this kiss is given, lover and beloved dissolve in unity.

Divine love irradiates the universe yet clings to no-thing. Aphrodite Ourania tenderly enfolds all creatures in the wings of Presence, yet knows no single one as lover. Her love is beyond knowledge and knower. She cares for a blade of grass as much as a king; infuses a photon with light as bright as a supernova; regards the distance from earth to the center of the galaxy as no greater than an electron's distance from the nucleus of an atom.

All distances are one exhalation to her, and that is the journey from your head to your chest. The cosmic expanse clustered with galaxies is the space of intimacy inside you, traversed by a gentle breath. Here you will encounter her, and nowhere else, in the beating core of your heart! O lover, breathe in, breathe out; surrender to the mystery of your own rhythm; sink from your mind into the abyss of love.
We can define unitary divine love as a state of Transcendental Awareness, prior to the manifestation of any subject or object, prior to the emergence of an "I" or an object of awareness. Pure self-luminous consciousness alone, she is her own content.

Pure Awareness transcends every thought. It is unconditional silence prior to any word or image. It is absolute stillness prior to any act of thinking. Not that our awareness beholds the Prime Mover, but our awareness becomes the Prime Mover. Not that our awareness hears Divine Silence, but our awareness becomes Divine Silence. This unity is the goal of love, and the source of love.

When we say there is no object for this love, we mean no thought as well as no sense-object. For a thought is an object too, an other that creates an "I", a perception that manifests a perceiver. Thus the faintest thought, even the thought of "God," produces a subject-object dualism just like an idol on the alter. This is why the anonymous Medieval Christian text, Cloud of Unknowing, declares, "God can be loved but not thought."

Now one might ask, Could this experience actually be part of the Christian tradition? Indeed. We might assume this is Indian non-dualism, Advaita Vedanta. Few Westerners have any idea that such an experience is essential to the Christian mystics.

Meister Eckhart, in the 14th Century, called this loving union, "the Godhead beyond God." Cistercian mystic, William of St. Thierry, a contemporary of St. Bernard in the 12th Century, wrote, "Not that we become God, but what God is." Saint Catherine of Genoa declared in the late 15th Century, "My me is God, nor do I recognize any other me but my God."

For St. Theresa of Avila, this experience is "the prayer of union." Her autobiography, The Book of Her Life, offers many examples of unitary divine love:
"When the Lord suspends the intellect and causes it to stop, He himself gives it that which holds its attention and makes it marvel." ~Chapter 12
In other words, it is the pure subjectivity of God-Consciousness which becomes the object of Theresa's awareness, the self-luminosity that I Am. In Exodus, chapter 3, God tells Moses that the true divine name is, "I Am that I Am." I Am reflecting on itself as the light of infinite subjectivity.
"Often I had been bewildered and inebriated in this love, and never was I able to understand its nature... for the faculties are almost totally united with God... The intellect is worth nothing here!" ~Chapter 16
"Once while in prayer I was shown in a flash, without seeing any form, how all things are in God and how He holds them all in Himself. How to put this in writing I don't know... The Divinity is like a very clear diamond, greater than all the world... Everything we do is visible within this diamond, which contains all things within itself; there is nothing that escapes its magnitude." ~Chapter 40
St. Theresa sees all eternity in an instant of crystal stillness. She calls it the "diamond." Indian scripture also uses this image for unitary love: "chittamani," the jewel of pure consciousness. "Chit" means consciousness,"mani" means jewel. In an instantaneous flash of silence, Theresa's diamond-like awareness holds the eternal past and future, all possible selves, every lover and beloved, essentialized in a sparkling singularity beyond relationship. This diamond singularity is the One who loves all without a lover.

Divine love is the holographic jewel that embodies infinite facets and faces, yet none is other than the whole, and none is sought out for particular relationship. Aphrodite Ourania is love in love with love alone, burning up everything.

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