Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Enlightenment takes place in the heart

Your heart could lead you; karma could lead you; chance ("luck") might even lead you. You don't need to use your brain. Mental discernment guides you there, keeping you from putting your faith in a fruitless endeavor. However you come to the truth, in order to experience it, that needs to be done with the citta.

In Pali, citta means "heart" since the entire world identified this area as the "seat of consciousness." Only now, after neuroscience assures us that seat is limited to the brain, do we focus on cortical networks and brain chemicals as the answer.

In fact, the whole body cognizes, and the heart and intestines have many neurons. Moreover, most "brain" chemicals (e.g., serotonin) are produced in the lining of the gut, which is why digestive disorders beget depression.

It is quite possible to be conscious and aware unmitigated by judgment, evaluation, and mentation. That is, you can "know" as a direct experience without thinking, evaluating, reflecting. After all, thinking is not the same as knowing as so many of us have come to believe. Some might say it's not really possible otherwise. When we're filtering incoming data through top-down processing, we aren't really seeing what's there. We're spinning it before it arrives.

Meditation (bhavana), then, is not contemplation, rotating an object around in the mind. We would do well to "Think less, know more." Part of meditating means letting go, giving up control, no longer straining and trying to micro-manage the delicate experience of seeing directly. This news won't come as any surprise to successful meditators. But it just might help those struggling with sitting and stillness.

"In the Pali language, there are a number of words that refer to 'the mind.' The predominant three words are citta, mano, and vinnana. Vinnana is that which allows awareness of sense objects via a sense organ. For example, in the discourses it is stated:

'There are these six classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, mind-consciousness. This is called consciousness." Consciousness is reckoned by the particular condition dependent upon which it arises. When consciousness arises dependent on eye and forms, it is reckoned as eye-consciousness...when consciousness arises dependent on mind and mind objects, it is reckoned as mind-consciousness" (Ref).

Aware of the distinction, we can go from neurotic obsession to only "think good thoughts," or at least no bad ones, to opening the heart to compassion, kindness, and sympathy. Knowing and seeing depend on opening the heart and closing down the judgmental tendencies of the mind.

By Seven Jaini (WQ). PHOTOS: NPR heart vigil; X-RAY of human head.

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