The Jewel in the Lotus: The Heart
Can you think of a better entry to share on the aftermath of Valentine's Day than a blogpost on the role of the (spiritual) Heart??? We couldn't, so here is the result!
There is a reason why, in almost any language you can think of, the heart is the one organ with a million idioms yet one main meaning: love. Regardless of what language we speak, we are regularly encouraged to "follow our heart," do things "in a heartbeat," "get to the heart of our problems," or "set our heart to something" with different variations to the wording. We rarely find idioms about the liver, the lungs, or the pancreas, but we do have tons of them about the heart. Ever wondered why?
Love: the Universal Language
Anatomically speaking, the physical heart is in and of itself a pretty important centre; so much so that, up until relatively recently, cardiologists were considered to be the ultimate 'gods of medicine.' Only of late have neurologists come to challenge their superior standing. Charged with the task of pumping blood through the entirety of our venous system, the heart fulfills a very important circulatory function; and with the help of other organs ––notably our lungs–– it manages to power the entirety of our very sophisticated human machinery. It's linguistic prescience, however, has little to do with anatomy and more to do with symbolism.
Indeed, since long before the times of Descartes, the heart has always been metaphorically connected to our feelings while our mind has been linked to reason. We owe this, in part, to the kind of Christian heritage that a great part of the nations of the western world share, for Christianism did kind of get off on separating mind and body, reason and emotion, and elevating the former over the latter. But traditions far removed from Christianism such as Buddhism, for example, place a similar emphasis on the role of this most spiritual of bodily organs.
Indeed, for the Buddhist, as for the world of Classical Yoga in general, the heart remains a safe house for all things timeless and important. Known as 'the jewel in the lotus' to the former, the famous mantra of 'Om Mani Padme Hum' is said to speak of how compassion is naturally born once the jewel of the mind is nested in the tender lotus of the heart.
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
In the world of Yoga, the heart or its Sanskrit term 'Hrid' has, in fact, several possible translations. Hrid can be translated literally as 'heart,' but the same word is also often translated as either 'mind' or, more important still, 'soul.' This is actually the same for the Buddhist who use the form 'citta' to refer to both mind and heart simultaneously.
In light of the drastic division between mind and heart typical of modern western thought, this may seem slightly paradoxic ––to have the same term used for heart being also used for mind or soul. But the truth is that, there is a wealth of Classical Yoga practices ––from meditations, to kriyas, to Yoga Nidra–– and scriptures ––the Yoga Sutra, the Yoga Taravali or the Shiva Sutras–– that have the spiritual heart at the center. And what is the spiritual heart? It is the resting point, the reservoir, and abode of our undivided center of consciousness before it actually becomes 'you' or 'me.' Put differently, the place were 'we' and our soul meet.
Indeed, in many traditions, the spiritual heart is the actual seat of the soul: that place situated slightly right and above the literal physical heart, where time does not exist, and where one may eventually be able to glimpse what it is like to live in true union, to live in actual sync with everything around us. Most experiences of connectedness, union, bliss, compassion or wholeness are, in fact, experiences granted by the grandiosity and depth of feeling of the spiritual heart. Yet, this spiritual center is not the same as the heart Chakra, even if many texts conflate them sometimes.
The Spiritual Heart
Classical Yoga texts speak of three main tirtha or gates for us to practice meditation. That is, three main points or spots we can rest our attention into during the practice meditation. The heart is, alongside the navel and the eyebrow center, one of such three resting points. And so, those of us who practice mantra japa, for example, are encouraged to offer each and every bead, each and every repetition of our mantra, to that particular gate. For the spiritual heart is a subtle 'organ' able to pick up their specific vibration and reverberate it and amplify it within our field ad infinitum.
Indeed, by resorting to a metaphor, many different yogic scriptures speak of 'the cave of the heart' as that precious place we must all try to find, in order to light its fire up from the inside. That place is within us and light serves metaphorically to dispel any and all darkness ––the darkness of ignorance, wrong judgement, envy, even wrath–– so as to elevate us above our current standing and into a more compassionate and comprehensive way of seeing and doing life. In other words, we practice whatever it is that we practice in order to bring more light into our spiritual heart (which stands for both our heart and our mind). And by so doing, bit by bit, a more refined (even divine) way of understanding the world and ourselves unfolds within us.
Once we manage to rest our awareness at that gate for good and permanently inhabit the space where ego meets soul, true love, true unconditional love ––a love that knows, forgives, understands, and comprehends everything and everyone–– is born. And that is the true 'jewel in the lotus of the heart': the possibility to experience a love that in its expansiveness and limitlessness 'lightens our darkness,' and makes us wiser about things before and beyond what the mind can imagine.