The physical heart is a fist-sized organ located in the left side of our chest cavity. It circulates oxygenated blood through our bodies and keeps us alive. We also associate the heart with feelings and emotions, with depth and honesty and other fine qualities.
Up until about 50 years ago, we trusted our hearts more than our brains. But when information systems and new technologies began to overwhelm our senses, we shifted our trust from our hearts to our brain/mind complex. Today, wisdom is more closely associated with the mind than the heart. These are thinking times, and our thoughts are telling us that we may not be able to completely rely upon an open feeling heart. Recently, I read that this trend began in earnest after heart transplants became commonplace. The first heart transplant was performed over 50 years ago. Today, over 5000 transplants are performed per year, with 3000 more people on a waiting list at any given time.
Somehow, our fascinating and mysterious heart became just another organ – an automotive part to be switched out for a new one by a mechanic or a doctor, with arteries that can be unclogged and flushed by a plumber or a surgeon.
What else changed? New discoveries in neuroscience, genetic studies, and other medical advances have made the brain more interesting. Attention overload has taken mindfulness mainstream, and a worldwide addiction to technological gadgets continues to reinforce that this is the direction we are moving in.
But wisdom elders from time-honored living traditions tell us that our physical heart has a spiritual twin located an echo’s breath away, on the right side of our chest.
Here is a quote from Ramana Maharshi, the great Advaita master, “The godly atom of the Self is to be found in the right chamber of the heart, about one finger-width’s distance from the body’s midline. Here lies the dynamic Spiritual Heart. It is called Hridaya and is clearly visible to the inner eye of an adept on the Spiritual Path. Through meditation you can learn to find the Self in the cave of this Heart.”
Although we cannot see it today (mostly because we barely believe in it) it can still be perceived. And if we care to, we can find our way there In Sanskrit, one of the world’s oldest languages, Hridaya is a composite of hrid and ayam, meaning “center”, “heart” and, “this.” The area that conceals and protects the Hridaya is sometimes called the ‘cave of the heart’.
Hridaya is the Spiritual Heart. It is Source and it is also What We Are. The Spiritual Heart is not just a spark of God; it is God. Everything that is real rises and sets here. If we are fortunate enough to trace whatever we might be back to Source, we will find it here. Our thoughts might begin in our mind but this is where they end, because this is where the ego and its thought-words finally vanish. It may be difficult for us to believe that the Spiritual Heart exists within the frame of our body, but why shouldn’t it? What could be a more appropriate place?
The Upanishads say, “Tat tvam asi,” we are Ultimate Reality. So the Spiritual Heart is not just a reflection of everything we are, it is the essence of pure existence. There is no your Hridaya or my Hridaya. We all share the same Spiritual Heart. Whether we are awake or asleep, good or bad, there is still only one Spiritual Heart that connects us all. Hridaya is coherence, resonance, and wholeness. The Heart of Man and the Heart of the World are a single Heart.
In our times, the connection between intuitive intelligence and the Spiritual Heart has mostly been forgotten. Even if we generally accept the idea of the existence of a Spiritual Heart, we tend to do so symbolically. But wouldn’t it be great if our evidence-based journey led us to the discovery that our Spiritual Heart is real and not merely a symbolic gesture of times gone by? The Spiritual Heart is an organ of direct knowledge. And when the borders of individuality fade away, we will recognize it as a familiar threshold to permanent, infinite love.
The Desert Fathers, predecessors of Christian Mysticism, described an organ of contemplation known as “the eye of the heart” or “the intellect of the heart.” They called this spiritual center within the human being a living sanctuary and noted that it could only be entered through the sacrifice of individuality; only this way could the mystery of the union between the divine and the human be consummated. The Sufi tradition also refers to “the eye of the heart,” urging pilgrims to eliminate the human tendency toward self-cherishing, which only encourages the “citadel of individuality”.
The heart is a subtle organ of wisdom. It is holistic and undivided (non-dual). It heals and reveals through deep awareness. The heart radiates wisdom (like the sun) and the mind reflects knowledge (like the moon). The mind’s knowledge is based upon sequential accumulation of information. It is designed to help us adapt to our challenging and changing world. But over time, our over-worked (and currently stressed) rational mind lost its original ability to understand and relate to the Spiritual Heart, which does not reach conclusions through deductive reasoning.
Today, we mostly ignore or even deny the existence of the Spiritual Heart and its unique contribution to our development. More often than not we become mired in discursive thoughts, stuck in doubt, and unsure of decisions and directions. When we focus on reason alone, the warm illumination of the heart dims and the more sterile brain/mind complex becomes more active. As the mind considers the possibility of the Spiritual Heart, questions arise. Here are three of the more common questions:
Q. If Hridaya (the spiritual heart) is formless, how can we know its physical location in the body? Good question! The spiritual heart is limitless, and because it has no form or boundary, it can seem to contain infinity. Resonance, or the relationship between the infinite and something finite, like the Self in this example, can be said to intersect somewhere that is relevant to both, like the human body. Sages point out that (divine) awareness is not easy to locate or place within the body. After all, awareness is not like arms and shoulders and legs. However, sages also say that when we embody pure consciousness, or regain awareness after attaining higher states of consciousness, a reciprocal memory remains, which appears to emanate from an area near the physical heart, but slightly to its right. And once found, it can be found again.
Q. How can I discover the Spiritual Heart (Hridaya) for myself? It helps to accept the existence of this area of the body as having a privileged place in revealing what we really are. If possible, remove the ‘who’, the ‘I’, the ‘me’ and any subject/object awareness, even the once-removed, ‘witness’. These parts of us can’t go there, because they are parts. They belong here. They belong in time rather and cannot yield to timelessness. Rather than imagining a second heart in your chest, consider a pure, radiant Sun in the middle of your chest. Begin each day here, and return as often as possible. Work to steady the breath, which also steadies and slows the usual onslaught of thoughts. When thoughts begin to melt away, merging with Hridaya is accessible.
Q. Are there physical sensations associated with the Spiritual Heart? A sudden fear, joy, or a shock makes the physical heart vibrate very forcefully. The same is true of the Spiritual Heart. In this regard it can be felt by anyone who pays attention to it. When we trace ourselves back to our source, and when thoughts vanish from the forefront, it is said that a noticeable throbbing arises. That is not an end to aspire to; it is considered only a beginning. This throbbing (called sphurana) is often a predecessor to deeper awareness.
In our rush toward modernity, have we overlooked the timeless teachings that may save us, perhaps from ourselves? Are we over-invested in beliefs about the wonders of technology and over-burdened in thinking that our minds alone can conceive of solutions to the problems we currently face? The future of the earth and its many citizens is linked to our ability to remember who we are. It is time to restore the teachings and treasures of the wise traditions that have gone before us, to bring them to the forefront of our awareness. The Spiritual Heart is said to be smaller than the smallest head of a pin, yet more radiant than the greatest sun. Surely wisdom and love are here too.
“God is born in the Heart and the Heart is born in God.” ~ Meister Eckhart