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How Aphrodite, Buddha and Jesus Developed Their Capacity to Love

3rd September 2002

In this article, first published in Midwifery Today, Vol 58, 2001, Dr Michel Odent looks at the phenomenon that he describes as the "scientification of love" and explores the question of what determines the capacity to love.

Until recently, love was the realm of poets, philosophers and holy scriptures. But at the end of the twentieth century, love also has been studied from multiple scientific perspectives. Because scientific research has become incredibly specialized, however, it is easy to miss the importance of the phenomenon I call the “scientification of love”(1).

One effect of genuine scientific advances is to raise radically new questions. This is the case of the scientification of love, which inspires simple and paradoxically new questions such as: “How does the capacity to love develop?”

Today, by weaving together data from a broad range of scientific disciplines, scientists and others are in a position to conclude that the capacity to love is determined, to a great extent, by early experiences during fetal life and in the period surrounding birth. The first contact between mother and baby, during the hour following birth, is considered critical.

Keys to decode old messages

The scientification of love prompts us to reconsider old messages more than any other modern scientific movement. In the current scientific context, we are encouraged to look at legendary people whose names have been associated with Love from a new perspective. The names of the goddess of love Aphrodite, of Buddha and of Jesus are the first to come to mind. The similarities are intriguing.

The first conspicuous similarity is the way that the circumstances of their conception have become an important part of the legend. Each was conceived miraculously.

Aphrodite was conceived when Cronus severed the testicles of his father Uranus and threw them into the sea. Following 20 years of sterility, Buddha’s mother, Maya, had a strange dream in which she saw a white elephant entering into her womb through the right side of her chest, and so she became pregnant. Jesus was miraculously conceived in Mary after a visitation by the Angel Gabriel.

Evidently these conceptions occurred outside the realm of space and time reality, while the women were in ecstatic states. In the light of modern biological sciences the Holy Spirit might be interpreted as the sense of belonging, being part of the whole, as a state of mind that can be reached when our neocortical computer (and its vision of the universe limited to space and time) is switched off. Being in an orgasmic state is a way to reach a new “wholly” transcendental dimension.

The circumstances of a conception are an indication of what the emotional state of the mother was like during her pregnancy. The pregnancies of Maya and Mary have been clearly presented as a blessing: “Rejoice, highly favored one … blessed are you among women…” (Luke 1:28); “Heaven and Earth rejoiced.” (Luke 2:14 ?)

The similarities between the birth of these three legendary figures, representative of three different backgrounds, are still more striking. Biographers of famous people rarely think of researching about the birth itself. But the births of these three figures are well-known aspects of their legends. If one keeps in mind that, according to modern scientific data, the period surrounding birth is critical in the development of the capacity to love, one can easily grasp how obvious the resemblance is between the births of Aphrodite, Buddha and Jesus. All three were born outside the human community. This is a highly significant detail when we consider how all known cultures tend to disturb the physiological processes in the period around birth, particularly interfering with the first contact between mother and baby. Cultures do that via a variety of peculiar beliefs (such as the belief that colostrum is bad) and rituals.

The kind of message that is transmitted through a story about a birth in a stable, among mammals, suddenly becomes clear in the age of the scientification of love. Like Jesus, Buddha was also born outside the human community—in his case, in the Lumbini Garden while his mother, Maya, was traveling and had taken a rest among the Ashoka blossoms. In delight she reached her right arm out to pluck a branch and, at that moment, Buddha was born. As for Aphrodite, she was born in the sea, from the foam of the waves.

Because I belong to the Judeo-Christian world, I am tempted to present my own vision of the birth of Jesus. Until now the image of the Nativity that has come down to us has usually been restricted to a birth in a stable, between an ox and a donkey.

My vision of the Nativity is inspired by what I have learned from women who have given birth in privacy. It has also been inspired by “Evangelium Jacobi Minori, ” the protogospel of James, the brother of Jesus. This gospel was saved from oblivion in the middle of the 19th century by the Austrian mystic Jacob Lorber, who wrote “Die Jugend Jesu ” (The childhood of Jesus)(2). According to these texts Mary had complete privacy when giving birth because Joseph had left her to find a midwife. When he returned with a midwife, Jesus had already been born. It was only when a dazzling light had faded that the midwife realized she was facing an incredible scene: Jesus had already found his mother’s breast! Then the midwife said: “Who has ever seen a hardly born baby taking his mother’s breast? This is an obvious sign that when he becomes a man, this child will judge the world according to Love and not according to the Law!”

Nativity revisited

On the day when Jesus was ready to enter the world, Mary was sent a message—a non-verbal message of humility. She found herself in a stable, among other mammals. Without words, her companions helped her to understand that on that day, she had to accept her mammalian condition. She had to cope with her human handicap and disregard the effervescence of her intellect. She had to release the same hormones as other parturient mammals, through the same gland, i.e. the primitive part of the brain that we all have in common.

The environment was ideally adapted to the circumstances. Mary felt secure and, because of this, her level of adrenaline was as low as possible. Labor could establish itself in the best possible conditions. Having perceived the message of humility and accepted her mammalian conditions, Mary found herself on all fours. In a posture like this, and in the darkness of the night, she could easily cut herself off from the everyday world.

Soon after his birth, the newborn Jesus was in the arms of an ecstatic mother, as instinctive as a non-human mammal can be. He was welcomed in an unviolated sacred atmosphere and was able, easily and gradually, to eliminate the high level of stress hormones he had produced while being born. Mary’s body was warm. The stable, too, was warm, thanks to the presence of the other mammals. Instinctively Mary covered her baby with a piece of cloth she had on hand. She was fascinated by the baby’s eyes and nothing could distract her from prolonged eye-to-eye contact with Jesus. Gazing at each other like this would have been instrumental in inducing another rush of oxytocin, so that her uterus contracted again and returned a small amount of enriched blood from the placenta along the umbilical cord to the baby; and soon after, the placenta was delivered.

Mother and baby could feel quite secure. Mary, guided by her mammalian brain, stayed on her knees for a short while after the birth. After the placenta was delivered she lay down on her side with the baby close to her heart. Suddenly Jesus began to turn his head from one side to the other, opening his mouth into a round O. Guided by his sense of smell, he came closer and closer to the nipple while Mary, who was still in a very special hormonal balance and still behaving very instinctively, knew how to hold the baby and made the right sort of movements to help her baby find the breast.

This is how Mary and Jesus transgressed the rules that had been established by the human community. Jesus, as a peaceful rebel who defied convention, was initiated by his mother.

Jesus spent a long time sucking vigorously. With the support of Mary he was able to emerge victorious from one of the most critical episodes of his life. In the space of a few minutes he entered the world of microbes, adapted to the atmosphere, separated from the placenta, started to use his lungs and breathe independently, and adapted to the force of gravity and differences in temperature. Jesus is a hero!

There was no clock in the stable. Mary did not try to time how long Jesus was at the breast before he fell asleep. During the first night after birth Mary had only a few bouts of light sleep; she was vigilant and protective, and anxious to meet the needs of the most precious little creature on earth.

In the days that followed, Mary learned to recognize when her baby wanted to be rocked. She was so in tune with him that she could perfectly adapt the rhythm of the rocking movements to the demand of the baby. While rocking, Mary started to croon tunes, and words were added. Like millions of other mothers she had discovered lullabies. This is how Jesus started to learn about movement and, therefore, about space. This is how he started to learn about rhythm and, therefore, about time. He was gradually entering a space and time reality. As baby Jesus grew, Mary began to introduce more and more words into her lullabies and this is how Jesus learned his mother tongue.


1. Odent M. (1999). The Scientification of Love. London: Free Association books

2. Jacob Lorber. Die Jugend Jesu, Stuttgart 1852. Current German edition: ISBN 387495 107 3, Lorber Verlag, Bietigheim/Wurtemberg



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