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Insights into the Heart

Viewed 2325 times 2014-5-31 18:34 |Personal category:intuition|System category:Others| heart, insights, aphorisms, path, dao

In my previous blog Can Your Heart Think I promised I was going to introduce some recent scientific researches about the heart, that I think is going to change forever how we used to think about the heart before. I find that those researches are very significant and they confirm a long Chinese cultural tradition where the heart was always seen as an import center of consciousness. It is amusing to see that most of Western translators when translating Chinese works into English very seldom the character of heart 心 xin actually translate as "heart". Instead they translate it with words like "mind", "heart-mind", but avoid to use "heart" itself. I think that is mainly because of how we usually in the West understand heart, and we don't associate it with thinking or consciousness, we think it is just a physiological organ, so when we read Chinese texts we by default assume that when a heart is mentioned, it is not a physiological heart but mind, emotions, feelings and other sensations. I think that in the light of new findings we should restore the significance of this word, and start using it bravely in our translations.

Before actually talking about those scientific researches, I think it is important first to have a look at some of those aphorisms of wisdom where a heart is mentioned. If we start with Confucius "Analects", we will find out that heart for the first time in that text is mentioned in a famous saying that almost everybody knows here in China without actually reading the text. Confucius said that "At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right." 吾十有五而志于学,三十而立,四十而不惑,五十而知天命,六十而耳顺,七十而从心所欲,不逾矩。To paraphrase I would say that at seventy Confucius was able fully to follow his heart. What is charming here that nowhere he mentions striving to follow his head, but instead he followed what his heart desired.

Another famous saying from "Analects", where Confucius has praised his best student Yan Hui: "Such was Hui that for three months there would be nothing in his heart contrary to perfect virtue." 回也,其心三月不违仁. Again this passage is usually translated as "in his mind", but not "in his heart". Here we also see the importance not only of behaving according to principles of benevolence and compassion 仁 ren, but also following them in our hearts as well. 

If in "Analects" heart was mentioned only six times, Confucius after all was not very much into talking. Then in Mencius this same character of heart is mentioned 126 times. I understand that for them heart indeed meant mental activity and it was related both with feeling and thinking. However, still a beauty and a mystery is that relying on their intuition and life experience they were associating and locating thinking with the heart. Here are just a few of them: "All men have a heart which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others." 人皆有不忍人之心。" There is a way to get the people: get their hearts, and the people are got." 得其民有道:得其心,斯得民矣。This one is really beautiful: "The great man is he who does not lose his child's-heart." 大人者,不失其赤子之心者也。"That whereby the superior man junzi  is distinguished from other men is what he preserves in his heart." 君子所以异于人者,以其存心也。"If you fully explore your heart, you will know who you are." 尽其心者,知其性也。

Let's look what another famous Confucian Xunzi says about the heart: "For the gentleman junzi  to nurture his heart, nothing is more excellent than truthfulness (sincerity, genuiness)." 君子养心莫善于诚。"Question: By means of what a man can know dao? Answer: By means of heart. Question: How heart can know dao? Answer: By becoming pure (encompassing) and concentrated (one) and thus reaching calmness (tranquility)." 人何以知道?曰:心。心何以知?曰:虚壹而静。"The heart is the ruler of your form (body)." 心者,形之君也。

My favorite passage about the heart from Zhuangzi, is where Zhuangzi creates that dialogue between Confucius and his best student Yanhui:

Yan Hui said, "May I ask what is the fasting of the heart?"
Confucius said, "You must concentrate your attention. Do not listen with your ears, but with your heart. Do not listen with your heart but with your subtle energy.”

回曰:“敢问心斋。”仲尼曰:“若一志,无听之以耳而听之以心,无听之以心而听之以气。

When reading all these passages about the heart one can't but remember first of all "The Little Prince" written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, where the fox utters to the little prince: "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. You can also see a lot of resemblance to these ideas in works of French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal. Pascal in his famous book Pensées also expressed his thoughts about the heart: "We know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is in this last way that we know first principles; and reason, which has no part in it, tries in vain to impugn them." "The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things...”. "Men lack heart; they would not make a friend of it."

We could go on and go on, digging deeper and deeper into different thoughts of people who lived all around the world and expressed their most sincere insights into the nature of the heart. Chinese culture among many other here play an important role, because it seems that "heart" was a word of daily language, something assumed by default, something that could not be walked around. But they are not the only ones, and I am sure that all of you who are coming from different countries would be able to contribute by sharing what your culture says about the heart. The beginning of the first book "The Teachings of Do Juan" written by my favorite author Carlos Castaneda, whom I already mentioned in my first blog "The Birds Will Stay Singing", coincidentally also starts with a quote about the heart:

For me there is only the travelling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worth-while challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel looking, looking, breathlessly.

After having this little survey on Chinese and non Chinese insights and sayings about the heart, I think we are ready for my promised talk about the recent scientific researches on heart. I will do that in my next blog.


(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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  • Dreams - Signs of Reality 2014-5-10 07:33

    juliuy: Thanks for the comment! It is not only our brains, hearts also do a lot during the sleep.

    I used to fly and visit some people through the windows in  ...
    "body is afraid of the spirit" will get me thinking for days!

    I didn't know it's bad to go through winows, sounds interesting. I always used the door- slipped in when I see it open ^^

    And when I change places, I can't be sure where I am when I wake up, similar to your experience but doesn't necessarily mean I think of the previous place fondly. After coming back to China, several times I had dreams that I was still back in the house I stayed in Korea, and when I woke up it took me some time to notice that I came back ^^

  • Dreams - Signs of Reality 2014-5-9 23:23

    Maierwei: Sleep is a speed recovery for the body, so of course it has a meaning! But our brains are still unsolved and nobody knows what exactly happens while o ...
    Thanks for the comment! It is not only our brains, hearts also do a lot during the sleep.

    I used to fly and visit some people through the windows in my dreams. Until I was told it is not good to go through the windows in your dreams. It is a bad sign or something like that.

    Somewhere it was said that body is afraid of the spirit. Sometimes we are scared of what is real  

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