Love is a Ladder

Birthday of Jewish Philosopher Martin Buber

Born on 8th February 1878, Martin Buber was a German-Jewish religious philosopher, biblical translator and interpreter, and master of German prose style. Buber’s philosophy was centred on the encounter, or dialogue, of man with other beings, particularly exemplified in the relation with other men but ultimately resting on and pointing to the relation with God. This thought reached its fullest dialogical expression in Ich und Du (1923; I and Thou).

According to this view, God, the great Thou, enables human I–Thou relations between man and other beings. Their measure of mutuality is related to the levels of being: it is almost nil on the inorganic and botanic levels, rare on the animal level, but always possible and sometimes actual between human beings. A true relationship with God, as experienced from the human side, must be an I–Thou relationship, in which God is truly met and addressed, not merely thought of and expressed.

Osho talks about Martin Buber and ‘I-Thou’ Realtion. He says, “A great Jewish thinker, Martin Buber, continuously thought of religion as a dialogue. His famous book is I AN THOU… and he thinks prayer means a dialogue between the `I’ and the ultimate `thou’. In the primary stages it is true, it is a dialogue; but not in the ultimate state. In the ultimate state it is not a dialogue at all, because there are not two persons left. It is a silence, not a dialogue at all. It is absolute silence. The seeker and the sought have become one, with not even an inch’s distinction, difference. Who is going to say `I’ and who is going to address God as `thou’? Martin Buber is right as far as the beginning of prayer is concerned, but this is not the end. He must have remained on the periphery of prayer — a good man, a rare man, but somehow got lost on the periphery, became too much attached to the periphery. And the reason was the Judaic conditioning of the mind. Had he been in this country he would not have written this book, I AND THOU. Or, he would have also written another book to declare the ultimate communion where silence prevails. Prayer is not a dialogue, in the ultimate sense, remember it. It is dissolution, disappearance: you are utterly gone and gone forever and there is no return possible, you have crossed the point from where one can return. But be watchful of the ego.”

Osho says….



Dorothy Kaplan,

love is a ladder, a ladder of three rungs. The lowest rung is sex, the middle is love, and the highest is prayer. Because of these three rungs there are a thousand and one combinations possible. Real compassion appears only at the third rung when sex energy becomes prayer — the compassion of a Buddha, the compassion Atisha is talking about. When passion has been transformed so totally, so utterly that it is no more passion at all, then compassion appears. Real compassion appears only when your sex energy has become prayer.

But compassion can appear on the second rung too, and compassion can appear on the first rung also. Hence there are so many different compassions. For example, if compassion appears on the first rung, when you are living at the lowest level of love-energy, sex, then compassion will be just an ego trip. Then compassion will be very egotistic: you will enjoy the idea of being compassionate. You will really enjoy the other’s suffering, because it is the other’s suffering that is giving you the opportunity to be compassionate. Somebody has fallen in the river and is drowning. The sexual person can jump in and save him, but his joy is that he was so good, that he did something beautiful, something great. He will talk about it with pride, he will brag about it.

Compassion on the lowest rung, that of sex, will appear only as an ego trip.

That’s what millions of missionaries all over the world are doing — serving the poor, serving the ill, serving the uneducated aboriginals, primitives. But the whole joy is that, “I am doing something great.” The ‘I’ is strengthened. That is an ugly form of compassion. It is called duty. Duty is a four-letter dirty word.

The second kind of compassion appears when love has arrived. Then compassion is sympathy: you feel, you really feel for the other. You fall into a harmony with the other, the other’s suffering stirs you. It is not something to brag about. On the second rung, you will never talk about your compassion, never; it is not something to be talked about. In fact you will never feel that you have done anything special, you will simply feel you have done whatsoever was to be done. You will see that it was human to do it. There is nothing special in it, nothing extraordinary; you have not attained some spiritual merit in doing it. There is nothing like merit in it: it was natural, spontaneous. Then compassion is becoming more soft, more beautiful.

At the third rung, where sex energy becomes prayer, compassion appears as empathy — not even sympathy, but empathy.

Sympathy means feeling the other’s suffering, but you are still at a distance; empathy means becoming one with the other’s suffering — not only feeling it but suffering it, actually going into it. If somebody is crying, sympathy means you feel for the one who is crying, empathy means you start crying. You are not only in a feeling space, you become attuned, you become really one: at-one-ment happens.

A man came to Buddha and asked, “I am very rich and I have no children, and my wife has also died. Now I have all the money in the world. I would like to do some meritorious work. I would like to do something for the poor and the downtrodden. Just tell me, what should I do?” And it is said Buddha became very sad and a tear rolled down from his eye. The man was very much puzzled. He said, “Tears in your eyes? And you look so sad — why?” Buddha said, “You cannot help anybody, because you have not even helped yourself yet. And you cannot do anything compassionate, because your energies are still at the lowest. Your base metal has not yet become gold. In fact,” Buddha said, “I am feeling so sorry for you. You want to be of some help to people, but you are not. You don’t exist yet, because awareness has not happened, and without awareness how can you be? You don’t have a real center from where compassion can flow.”

Compassion can have these three categories, and love also has three categories. First, sex, Sex simply means: “Give me — give me more and more!” It is exploitation, it is what Martin Buber calls the I-it relationship: “You are a thing and I want to use you.” The man uses the woman, the woman uses the man, the parents use the children and the children use parents, friends use friends. They say, “A friend is a friend only; a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Use, reduce the other into a commodity. To live in the I-it world is to miss the whole wonder of existence. Then you are surrounded by things — not by persons, not by people, not by life, but just material things. The poorest man in the world is one who lives in the I-it relationship.

Sex is exploitation.

Love is totally different. Love is not exploitation. Love is not an I-it relationship, it is an I-thou relationship. The other is respected as a person in his own right; the other is not a thing to be used, to be possessed, to be manipulated. The other is an independent person, a freedom. The other has to be communicated with, not exploited. Love is a communication of energies.

Sex is only “Give me, give me, give me more!” Hence the sexual relationship is continuously that of war, conflict, because the other also says “Give me!” Both want more and more, and nobody is ready to give. Hence the conflict, the tug-of-war. And of course whosoever proves more strong will exploit the other. Because man has been muscularly stronger than woman, he has exploited, he has reduced women to utter nonentities; he has destroyed the soul of women. And it was easier for him if the soul was completely destroyed. For centuries women were not allowed to read; in many religions women were not allowed to go to the temple, women were not allowed to become priests. Women were not allowed any public life, any social life. They were imprisoned in the houses; they were cheap labor, the whole day working, working, working. And they were reduced to sex objects. There has not been much difference between prostitutes and wives in the past. The wife was reduced into a permanent prostitute, that’s all. The relationship was not a relationship, it was an ownership.

Love respects the other. It is a give-and-take relationship. Love enjoys giving, and love enjoys taking. It is a sharing, it is a communication. Both are equal in love; in a sexual relationship both are not equal. Love has a totally different beauty to it. The world is slowly slowly moving towards love relationships; hence there is great turmoil. All the old institutions are disappearing — they have to disappear, because they were based on the I-it relationship. New ways of communication, new ways of sharing are bound to be discovered. They will have a different flavor, the flavor of love, of sharing. Nonpossessive they will be; there will be no owner.

Then the highest state of love is prayer. In prayer there is communion. In sex there is the I-it relationship, in love the I-thou relationship. Martin Buber stops there; his Judaic tradition won’t allow him to go further. But one step more has to be taken: that is “neither I nor thou” — a relationship where I and thou disappear, a relationship where two persons no more function as two but function as one. A tremendous unity, a harmony, a deep accord, two bodies but one soul. That is the highest quality of love: I call it prayer.

Love has these three stages, and compassion accordingly has three stages, and both can exist in different combinations. Hence, Dorothy Kaplan, there are so many kinds of love and so many kinds of compassion. But the basic, the most fundamental, is to understand this three-rung ladder of love. That will help you, that will give you an insight into where you are, what kind of love you are living in and what kind of compassion is happening to you. Watch. Beware not to remain caught in it. There are higher realms, heights to be climbed, peaks to be attained.


This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune. 

Discourse name: The Book of Wisdom
Chapter title: The three rung ladder of Love
Chapter #19
1 March 1979 am in Buddha Hall


Osho has spoken on eminent philosophers like Aristotle, Berkeley, Bukharin, Camus, Confucius, Descartes, Feuerbach, Hegel, Heidegger, Heraclitus, Huxley, Jaspers, Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx, Moore, Nietzsche, Plato, Russell, Sartre, Schiller, Voltaire, Wittgenstein and others in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. A Sudden Clash of Thunder
  2. Be Still and Know
  3. Dang Dang Doko Dang
  4. Beyond Psychology
  5. The Rebel
  6. Philosophia Perennis Vol.1-2
  7. Isan: No Footprints in the Blue Sky
  8. The Invitation
  9. Just Like That
  10. One Seed Makes the Whole Earth Green
  11. Light on the Path
  12. The Empty Boat
  13. What Is, Is, What Ain’t, Ain’t
  14. From Personality to Individuality
  15. From Death to Deathlessness
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