What is the difference between lust and love?
Question: What is the difference between lust and love?
Answer: The difference is huge, but is hardly understood. Mistaking lust to be love can be said to be the essential tragedy of modern society. Lust sees the other person as an object for one’s own enjoyment, whereas love sees the other person as a person to be served and pleased. The sixteenth century devotional classic Chaitanya Charitamrita compares love to gold and lust to copper. If copper is gold-coated, the uninformed mistake it to be gold. Similarly, if lust is covered with smiles, flatteries and gifts, the undiscriminating mistake it to be love.
Lust originates from the fundamental ignorance of our own identity. When we mistake ourselves to be physical bodies, whether male or female, we naturally come under the control of bodily drives for lusty pleasures. Lust creates within us a hunger for matter, which we struggle to fulfill by exploiting another person’s body for our pleasure. But lusty pleasures are treacherously anticlimactic; fantasies cherished for years fizzle out in minutes. So, when relationships are formed based on lust, as happens often in so-called “love” marriages, those relationships are soon wrecked by the selfishness inherent in lust.
True love begins with a clear understanding of our spiritual identity. The Bhagavad-gita describes that we are spiritual beings, beloved parts of the Supreme All-Attractive Being, Krishna. In our pure state, we innately love Krishna and delight eternally in that eternal love. When Krishna – the source and pivot of all love – is at the center of our heart and life, then we naturally love all living beings, for we see them as beloved children of our Lord. When our relationships are thus divinely-centered, then we can relish and share true love.
But when we turn away from Krishna, we forget our spiritual identity and misidentify with our temporary bodily coverings. That misidentification perverts our natural love for Krishna into an unnatural lust for matter. Often this perversion sabotages our intelligence so thoroughly that we start mistaking carnal lust to be natural and spiritual love to be unnatural. Only when we come in touch with saints who have transformed their lust into love can we recognize and remedy our unnatural predicament. Lust being a perversion of our original, essential nature, can be reverted to love for Krishna through the scientific process of mantra meditation. Krishna being omnipotent is fully present in His Holy Names like the Hare Krishna mahamantra. Meditatively chanting the Holy Names therefore connects us immediately with Krishna, who is love personified and so awakens our divine love. By saintly association and mantra meditation, we can transform lust into love and thus reclaim our original life of endless love.