In chapter VIII, The Mythology of Love, Joseph Campbell discusses the five degrees of love, as set forth in the Indian tradition. I think you will be surprised by his conclusions.
The First Degree: Servant to Master
Joseph Campbell suggests that the way that an individual realizes identification with God goes through five stages of understanding. The first is as a servant to his master.
“O Lord, you are the Master; I am thy servant . Command, and I shall obey!” This, according to the Indian teaching, is the appropriate spiritual attitude for most worshipers of divinities, no matter where in the world.
It is also the basis of all prayers to the deity.
The Second Degree: Friend to Friend
We all have friends. Some are closer to us than others. We share our truth with them, and they do the same with us.
The second order of love, then, is that of friend to friend, which in the Christian tradition is typified in the relationship of Jesus and his apostles. They were friends. They could discuss and even argue questions. But such a love implies a deeper readiness of understanding , a higher spiritual development than the first. In the Hindu scriptures it is represented in the great conversation of the Bhagavad Gītā between the Pandava prince Arjuna and his divine charioteer, the Lord Kṛṣṇa.
One of my favourite hymns says, “What a friend we have in Jesus”.
The Third Degree: Parent and Child
All of us know what it’s like to love a parent, but only those who have the responsibility of raising a child could know the inverse of this relationship.
The next, or third, degree of love is that of parent for child, which in the Christian world is represented in the image of the Christmas Crib. One is here cultivating in one’s heart the inward divine child of one’s own awakened spiritual life— in the sense of the mystic Meister Eckhart’s words when he said to his congregation: “It is more worth to God his being brought forth spiritually in the individual virgin or good soul than that he was born of Mary bodily.” And again: “God’s ultimate purpose is birth. He is not content until he brings his Son to birth in us.” In Hinduism, it is in the popular worship of the naughty little “butter thief,” Kṛṣṇa the infant among the cowherds by whom he was reared, that this theme is most charmingly illustrated.
This level of love is demonstrated by any animal when protecting its young.
The Fourth Degree: Partner to Partner
Can there be any closer love than for the one you choose to spend the rest of your life with? Marriage-style relationships shows us how to put another person first.
The Catholic nun wears the wedding ring of her spiritual marriage to Christ. So too is every marriage in love spiritual. In the words attributed to Jesus, “The two shall be one flesh.” For the “precious thing” then is no longer oneself, one’s individual life, but the duad of each as both and the living of life, self-transcended in that knowledge. In India the wife is to worship her husband as her lord; her service to him is the measure of her religion. (However, we do not hear there anything like as much of the duties of a husband to his wife.)
A son is a son until he takes a wife…
The Fifth Degree: Passionate Illicit Love
The Troubadours of the Middle Ages understood this concept well, for they sang many songs describing the concept of Courtly Love.
The underlying thought here is that in the rapture of love one is transported beyond temporal laws and relationships, these pertaining only to the secondary world of apparent separateness and multiplicity. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, in the same spirit, sermonizing in the twelfth century on the Biblical text of the Song of Songs , represented the yearning of the soul for God as both beyond the law and beyond reason. Moreover, the excruciating separation and conflict of the two orders of moral commitment, of reason on one hand, and passionate love on the other, have been a source of Christian anxiety since the beginning. “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit,” wrote Saint Paul, for example, to the Galatians, “and the desires of the Spirit, against the flesh.”
The ‘ideal’ version of this love would never be consummated in this world, however.
As shocking as this final degree of love may seem, it is intended as a reminder that love is the divine spark in each of us, and whatever sets it afire is good, even if it appears wrong from an earthly point of view.
Indeed, the very idea of a descent of God into the world in love to invoke, in return, man’s love to God, seems to me to imply exactly the contrary to the statement I have just quoted of Saint Paul. Implied, rather, it seems to me, is the idea that as mankind yearns for the grace of God, so God for the homage of mankind, the two yearnings being reciprocal. And the image of the crucified as both true God and true man would then seem to bring to focus the matched terms of a mutual sacrifice— in the way not of atonement in the penal sense, but of at-one-ment in the marital. And further: when extended to symbolize not only the one historic moment of Christ’s crucifixion on Calvary , but the mystery through all time and space of God’s presence and participation in the agony of all living things, the sign of the cross would then have to be looked upon as the sign of an eternal affirmation of all that is, ever was, or shall ever be.
What more can I say? “All you need is love: Love is all you need.”