Eye and Heart Doctrines
REGENERATING THE INSPIRATIONAL MIND:
HPB ON THE EYE AND HEART DOCTRINES
Every thoughtful human being knows firsthand the difficulty of coordinating and integrating the head and the heart. Whether described as a battle or a debate, a truce or an estrangement, we all recognize this essential difficulty. Many stories portray a hero who hearkens to the call of the ‘still small voice’ in defiance to custom, comfort and seeming reason. “The heart has its reasons,” wrote Blaise Pascal, “which reason knows nothing about.” Alternatively, many stories illustrate the slide into decline and ruin, when rationalization overtakes moral vision, or shallow values trump clear thinking. And never is restoration accomplished (I can’t think of a single instance—whether from Star Wars or The Mahabharata) without the heart taking the lead. In India, the summit of personal and spiritual cultivation is the mahatma—a term which means “greatness of soul.” In the English language, the virtue of magnanimity derives from a Latin root which literally means the same thing: “magna” meaning great, and “animus” meaning soul. The 17th Century English poet and clergyman, Thomas Traherne, saw in magnanimity the summit of virtue. He wrote:
[Magnanimity] includes all that belongs to a Great Soul; a high and mighty courage, an invincible Patience, an immovable Grandeur which is above the reach of injuries, a contempt of all little and feeble enjoyments, and a certain kind of majesty that is conversant with great things.”
This inspiring and sanguine affirmation of human goodness is a significant departure from emotionally desiccated theologies of guilt, unworthiness and meekness. William Blake’s vivid lines come to mind: “And the priests in black gowns/ were walking their rounds,/ and binding with briars/ my joys and desires.” To speak of the heart is to discard the black garments of fear and ignorance, and instead release the light of magnanimity.
The problem of coordinating the head and the heart is not new or unique to modern civilization. The problem is central to The Voice of the Silence, H.P. Blavatsky’s translation of very old Eastern precepts. The mind is likened to a mirror that must be dusted daily by the breezes of soul-wisdom. “Seek, O Beginner, to blend thy Mind and Soul.” Here is a clear appeal to the whole person, and to holistic development. There have been footpaths left for us, by greater minds and hearts. The effects of the estrangement of mind and soul, no doubt, are greatly magnified by the anomie of modern materialism, but the essential problem is constitutional to man himself.
Much of the second fragment of The Voice of the Silence addresses this issue. Discernment must be exercised from the very beginning of the Path.
“Before thou takest thy first step. Learn to discern the real from the false, the ever-fleeting from the everlasting. Learn above all to separate Head-learning from Soul-wisdom, the ‘Eye’ from the ‘Heart’ doctrine.”
The passage goes on to liken the soul to a songbird. Although the soul requires “breadth and depth and points” to live and reap experience, ignorance confines the bird within a darkly sealed vessel, where it can neither sing nor extend a feather, “and of exhaustion dies.” But then comes a surprising and sober warning: “But even ignorance is better than Head-learning with no Soul-wisdom to illuminate and guide it.” Clearly the Wisdom Religion does not take lightly the prospect of intellect running amok untethered. Turn back to the very beginning of the first fragment of The Voice and read, “The mind is the great Slayer of the Real. Let the disciple slay the Slayer.” Reason is itself a neutral faculty, but bent by the wrong feeling or motive, and it destroys. It elaborates, multiplies and embroiders illusion. It builds its own prison and weaves its own shroud. Logic can render true or false conclusions, depending on its premises. The effect and direction of head-learning depend on moral premises. If the heart begins with deep-seated feelings of separation, illegitimacy and unworthiness; or with pride, selfishness and aggression—no theosophical idea can be rightly apprehended. Without a radical conversion or metanoia of heart, the metaphysical and esoteric teachings of ancient wisdom may be distorted, even dangerous. No wonder The Voice of the Silence instructs, “O Lanoo, be of clean heart before thou startest on thy journey.”
If my task in this talk is to suggest how the ‘Heart Doctrine’ is key to a regenerated or re-inspired mind, I would like to first lay bare the concept of the heart. It seems to me, in the context of wisdom as taught by H.P. Blavatsky, the heart has five aspects, like a pentagram. Let me first name them for you with five words:
So now, let me, with the time remaining, move point-by-point around this pentagram.
First and very generally, the heart is literally the “core.” The physical heart is the center of our physical body, not the brain with its pictures and arguments. Ramana Maharshi, the 20th century Indian sage, who taught the path of self-enquiry, noted that when you point to yourself, and say, “Me, myself,” you do not point to your head, but to your heart. We all intuitively understand this. It would be very strange, almost comical, for someone to say, “me, myself,” and point to his head. The English word ‘core’ comes from the French ‘cœur’, which means heart. And so, too, the virtue of ‘courage’. The brave are those who have not deviated from their center. We prove our commitment to values by cherishing them at the core of our being. Where your treasure is, there will be your heart, says Jesus in the gospel.
This, then, is the second point. The common meaning of ‘heart’ is tied to the human capacity to cherish, to perceive value. When we metaphorically speak of the head and the heart, we refer to powers of thinking and feeling. The Wisdom-Religion, echoing many spiritual traditions, is very clear that we cannot merely ‘think our way’ out of error and bondage. “The whole nature of man must be used wisely by the one who desires to enter the way,” says the mystic book, Light on the Path. The heart, in other words, is shorthand for the desire principle, and the imperative ‘make clean thy heart’ means to consciously sort, sift and challenge one’s values. The potency and stability of love is inseparable from the truth and reality of its object. The transmutation and elevation of love is integral to the quest for self-knowledge. As a man thinketh, so he evolves, and his thought is energized and constrained within the magnetic field of his desire. “Great Sifter is the name of the Heart Doctrine, O Disciple,” says The Voice.
This brings us to the third point: the way of love (which Plato depicts as a ladder in The Symposium) leads the aspirant gradually from mortal desire to charity immortal, the compassion of the Bodhisattva. This is the Heart Doctrine in its deepest and truest sense. In a footnote from The Voice of the Silence H.P.B. explains that in Mahayana Buddhism, the ‘Head Doctrine’ refers to the exoteric teaching for the masses, who require basic moral precepts. The ‘Heart Doctrine’ however, is the esoteric teaching for the elect, who are ready for instruction in the Bodhisattva Path. This Path is repeatedly called ‘the path of woe’ because the heart is held open to feel the sorrows of all sentient beings, while at the same time fortified by a solemn dedication to serve their true needs ‘to the endless end’ of time. From the standpoint of a limited ego, this may appear to be the path of “self-immolation;” but from the perspective of the spirit, this is the way of the highest Self-fulfilment.
The declarations of equality and brotherhood enunciated in many democratic constitutions today are traceable to the principles of the European Enlightenment. We ritualistically and reflexively defer to these ideals and sentiments. But if modern history reveals anything, it reveals how inadequately we have assimilated these principles into the pith and marrow of our lives. In this sense, the head has outpaced the heart, and our lives have not incorporated the finest insights of the Enlightenment philosophers. Thus, have we learnt that spiritual culture cannot be legislated. Universal brotherhood does not automatically follow founding political documents, any more than Christ-like living necessarily follows declared creeds. Oxford divine, Alister McGrath, wrote of a commiserating conversation he recently had with a fellow divinity school professor regarding the ennui of today’s students who graduate “knowing more about God, but seemingly caring less for God.” To declare and mean the words, “All men and women are brothers and sisters,” requires some measure of spiritual culture. The political revolution in the United States in 1776, as radical as it was, remains incomplete, because a system of law is not yet a system of love, a coercive collective is not a society of volition. The truly radical step is to turn around and within, as Plato illustrates in his allegory of the cave. Ninety-nine years after the founding of the American republic, the Theosophical Society was founded in New York City with the essential aim of the formation of a nucleus of universal brotherhood. That is, the sharing of theosophical ideals and the living of the theosophical life so as to stimulate collective spiritual vision and a feeling of universal fellowship. For spiritual vision sees beyond apparent and accidental differences of race, creed, and gender to affirm the essential and the real. As Antoine de St. Exupery memorably wrote in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
H.P. Blavatsky, early in The Key to Theosophy¸ extensively quotes an address to the 1889 Theosophical Convention. Dr. J.D. Buck declared that the T.S. was organized on one principle, the essential Brotherhood of Man. That “its transcendent importance” was seldom recognized, may be seen by the diversity of opinions and misinterpretations of the T.S. Yet, as Buck goes on to illustrate, the T.S. was merely the most recent theosophical impulse of its kind. “With these societies, one and all, the essential doctrine has been the same, and all else has been incidental, though this does not obviate the fact that many persons are attracted to the incidentals who overlook or ignore the essentials.”
This brings us to the distinctive emphasis on living the theosophical life as the essential means for the spread of the theosophical spirit. Intellectual culture, of course, has its place. But the heart unfolds through the hands and feet. “Such ever was love’s way,” wrote Robert Browning, “To rise, it stoops.” H.P. Blavatsky spared no pains articulating this point again and again. “Shalt thou abstain from action?” we are asked in The Voice of the Silence. “Not so shall gain thy soul her freedom. To reach nirvana one must reach self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is of loving deeds the child.” Again, in the Key: “The [Theosophical] Society is a philanthropic and scientific body for the propagation of the idea of brotherhood on practical instead of theoretical lines.” And a few lines later she enunciates the motto, “Theosophist is, who Theosophy does.” Near the end of the book [Key 230], she returns to the same theme. “[N]o Theosophist has the right to this name, unless he is thoroughly imbued with the correctness of Carlyle’s truism: ‘The end of man is an action and not a thought, though it were the noblest’—and unless he sets and models his daily life upon this truth.” H.P.B., like Leo Tolstoy, had deep distain for the mass hypocrisy of Protestant Christianity, its betrayal of Christ’s teaching, and its failure to practically transform its adherents. If Theosophy is to do better, then the mouth of the Theosophist must not outrun his feet. “The profession of a truth is not yet the enactment of it,” she continues. “. Cant is the most loathsome of all vices; and cant is the most prominent feature of the greatest Protestant country of this century—England.” That was then; this century, I am quite sure, the laurels would go to another country.
Finally, although the purification of the heart may feel at times like a constrictive, second-guessing affair, and there are sure to be periods of confrontation with the ‘knots of the heart’, we must never forget that the heart is the symbol par excellence for vitality itself. In the farewell discourse of John’s gospel, Jesus emphasizes the inseparability of joy and love.
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. [John 15].
To release the heart is to live a sanguine, affectionate, spontaneous and joyful interpersonal life. Theosophical charity, H.P.B. writes, means “personal mercy and kindness; personal interest in the welfare of those who suffer; personal sympathy, forethought and assistance in their troubles or needs.” This is to transform the feeling nature, and merge it seamlessly with the intellect. “In every case,” again H.P.B writes in the Key, “[the theosophist] himself must be a center of spiritual action and from him and his own daily individual life must radiate those higher spiritual forces which alone can regenerate his fellow-men.” The Theosophical movement cannot flourish without the elixir of enthusiasm, a word which descends from the Greek mysteries, and suggests an efflorescence of energy and expression by one possessed of a god. H.P.B. fondly quotes Bulwar Lytton: “Enthusiasm is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it;” and Emerson: “Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is the triumph of enthusiasm.”
A Theosophical student
Printed by permission of the author.