What's the name of a classic sci-fi short story about a planet where their religion makes people willingly merge with a parasite in a cave and die?

Outsiders can't understand why anyone would do such a thing, and when off-world visitors start joining the religion and committing suicide, two humans (a couple) with psychic abilities are sent to get their impressions.

They discover the reason everyone happily merges with the parasite is that, by merging (and slowly dying), in return they join a joyous mental community of every previous person who has joined, with overwhelming feelings of happiness--ecstasy, really.

All the psychic love is nirvana for the very sensitive female partner. She joins the religion and merges. She asks her partner to join the parasite as well but he refuses.

The male leaves the planet with the realization that their love for each other couldn't compete with the parasite-mediated mass love and happiness on the planet.

After finishing the story it brings up thought-provoking ideas on whether you would join such a community, about the ties of your love to your own family,and does organized religion gain our interest by similar promises of eternal happiness?

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    Hi there. Roughly when would that have been published? Cold you please edit that in? – Jenayah Aug 24 '19 at 8:16

This is "A Song for Lya" by the famous science fiction writer George RR Martin :).

The initiates start out with a little blob of parasite on them and roam the planet ringing bells. The parasite grows and eventually they join a vast mass of it in underground caves.

Also referenced in this old question: Story about living planet linked to skin lesions

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    Thanks so much for the fast response. Good old GRRM--what an awesome writer. – susan4stars Aug 24 '19 at 15:02
  • I liked his science fiction a lot more than his fantasy! Welcome to the site. – Organic Marble Aug 24 '19 at 15:03

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