Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Path of the Heart

गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुर्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः
गुरुरेव परं ब्रह्म तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः

Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary.

This question is one that only a very old man asks. Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long long paths, but I am not anywhere. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path. A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.”
― Carlos Castaneda,The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

I was introduced to the phrase "The path with a heart" many many years ago via some books by Carlos Castaneda about his teacher Don Juan. I didn't understand much, the books appeared mostly cryptic and went over my head. Anyhow, the phrase made some impression on me, as later on, it became clear what he was talking about, it was something that I was searching for since the beginning. I have readopted this concept as "The path of the heart" [1]. This version of the phrase is somewhat more clear but less poetic, and we will now discuss what it actually is and why it is so important.

Voice version on YouTube

It has been my experience, that a majority of people live their lives without much thought, half asleep, unaware, almost like zombies. Their lives are nothing but a series of compulsions [2], imposed upon them by their own desires, fears, emotions, social pressures, bodily needs, likes, dislikes and other such reasons. The major portion of their lives consists of survival related activities - eating, reproducing, relating, security, social status and such. That is, they are mostly busy fulfilling their basic needs, often even after these needs are sufficiently met. They have no inkling of what they are doing, why they are doing it and what are they supposed to do. They spend their lives aping each other, oblivious, enslaved, and then they die. Of course, many of these appear to be very happy, "successful" and also acquire a few things of value, mostly material value. However, most live a life of boredom, frustration, conformity, misery and suffering interposed with flashes of joy, pleasure and knowledge. They also live under the delusion of control and free will, inflicted with various habits, in traps of various beliefs, often disguised as a feeling of "superiority" and "worth". Their sense of ethics, morals and aesthetics is borrowed from others in mostly democratic fashion, and a few rare individuals, who dare to deviate from the norms, are branded as rebels, "different" or are simply called crazy.

By now, you must be thinking that I'm being overly negative towards some who are just ordinary and normal people, and perhaps I'm full of arrogance and hubris. This is life, isn't it? Ups and downs, pleasure and pain etc are a part of it, you may say, and just because they happen to live naturally, with all their desires and fears, does not make them "zombies" or miserable idiots. Well, I agree, it is only natural, and such people are not idiots certainly, many are very wise and smart actually. I do prefer to use another word instead of idiots, zombies or sleepers, which is - Ignorant. It describes their condition in a most accurate, inoffensive, and neutral way. An ignorant is a person, who lacks some needed knowledge, however, that person is fully capable of such knowledge and can gain it any time. So in essence, such people are on a path of ignorance, to put it metaphorically.

I, myself, traveled on that path for the majority of my life time, and I'm still not sure if I've taken a diversion to some other better path or if I'm still lost in it.

Anyhow, it does look too negative, so to be fair I'll mention some positive points about the ignorant kind. So, in my experience, such people are often very good natured, polite, helpful, obedient, hard working, devoted to their duties and responsibilities, sympathetic, law-abiding, and do possess a lot of other humane qualities. However, when such a person is tested and tried under difficult situations (such as a famine or a war), these traits break down and we witness the animalistic and instinctive nature in the very same person. Such people cause very little harm anyway, as they are powerless and are on the mercy of external situations. They do not do much good either, for the same reasons.

Then there are these other people, who, having fulfilled their basic needs, come to a place where they find a big void, an emptiness, a sense of meaninglessness, a lack of purpose. They feel as if there is something that is missing. Not knowing what, they struggle, and often try to find it in the same worldly things, albeit in an excessive way. Such people are highly ambitious, such people are entrepreneurs, politicians, kings, high on the ladder of "success", always in the lead in the rat race. They are achievers, they are role models. They are rich and affluent, charismatic and powerful. They live an extraordinary life, all while trying to fill the void they perceive in themselves through objects and material activities.

Now, you might have assumed that such people are finally on the right path, why else am I singing such praises for them. It does look like a perfect kind of life one dreams of having. Well, no... there is a downside. The void cannot be filled by external means, its not there because they lack something materially or socially. The void remains forever, they struggle and struggle and can't fill it. There is never enough, they are never content, never satisfied. Their lives are superficial, they are miserable inside while showing off outside, they are still ignorant. However, they are on the brink. This suffering is often enough to push them on the right path. The realization comes late, often very late, as they are busy getting more and more, busy being "successful".

They have a big fear, the fear of losing it all, they are always on the mercy of others, who else can make them feel "superior", who else can tell them they have it all. A king in a desert is not a king, he needs others whom he can rule. A rich man in a desert is not rich, he needs poor around him to feel rich. A famous person needs others to keep the fame alive. The dependency on others, which overshadows their achievements, is the source of their suffering. They can only use others, they cannot own them, they know this and fear this. They are good opportunists, they are good at taking advantage. Such people become very greedy, violent, arrogant and jealous. Being in powerful positions, they can cause great harm. They have the potential to do great good too, although its seen rarely, there is always some hidden motive behind the humanitarian acts. They mislead, manipulate and justify their deeds with lies. All this for what? They don't know. They can only sense faintly that this is not what they want to do, they feel they need something else. They long for love, true friendship, simplicity and these all escape like sand from their fist.

There are milder versions of this kind also. Such people try to fill the void in them via other things, all external, and not at that grand scale. Some fall into substance abuse or gambling, or have more and more relations, marriages, children. Some eat more and more and become obese. Some hoard stuff, earn more and more money, consume more, buy more of shiny expensive things. They find that, in spite of getting what they desire and getting more than they desire or need, the happiness remains elusive, and transitory. The desires and wants seem to expand endlessly, giving no or momentary satisfaction, they actually become a source of suffering. Some people become depressed and lazy, not knowing how to cure the emptiness. They can't understand why there is still suffering when they have everything they need, and perhaps more than they need.

It has been also my experience. Having done whatever needs to be done for a good life, having gathered all that one may need for a good life and having gotten into as many relations and friendships as I wished, I found no peace at all. I've traveled this path also, for a long long time. I'm still not sure if I've completely abandoned this way of life.

There is no compulsion to leave the path of ignorance, there are no natural laws to prohibit it. There is no need to panic, one can live his entire life traveling on it, just normally. But there are consequences, and we will discuss later what those are, may be. Certainly, one of them is suffering, doesn't sound like fun, the good news is, its avoidable in many cases. Sometimes only a hint is necessary and the person may quickly realize that he was going in a wrong direction. Thus begins the struggle to find the right path.

Now we have reached yet another kind. This kind is rare, I've seen only a few such people. They have either recognized the pitfalls in above paths or have already fallen into most of them, and somehow escaped, then found a better way. The hallmark of such people is their love of freedom. They need to be free, free of everything. They are actually doing something that they love to do, not because they were told to do it, or are not simply copying anyone. They are not bound by anything, not even by the things they love. They do not have much ego, no heaviness or inertia in their personalities. They love change, not fear it. They are adventurous and bold. Free of habits, beliefs and indoctrination of any kind, they stick to nothing and nothing sticks to them.

They are characterized by an intense curiosity, open mindedness, healthy skepticism, and great love of knowledge. They love to learn and teach. They question everything and believe nothing, they are not easy to fool. Creativity is their nature. They are artists, scientists, writers, philosophers and spiritual seekers or enlightened masters [3]. Seeing freedom as the essence of happiness, they prefer not to control others and do not seek power. They shy away from owning too many material things and avoid gathering a crowd of relations around them.

These people know something - something very valuable. They know that they have to follow what their heart says, not what others say. They refuse the ways of ignorance and suffering, and travel the path of happiness. They know that happiness comes from within, from doing what one loves to do. They do enjoy material things, friends, relations, society, entertainment etc, but remain completely detached and undistracted. Their heart pulls them back to their own path again and again.

These people know the key to happiness. They do desire, but are unaffected when these are not fulfilled. They do acquire things for the basic needs, but always draw a line where the need ends and greed starts. They enjoy the luxury, but never own it. Love radiating from them is unconditional, its something that has to be given to all, not taken from others. Their relations are without attachments and non-possessive, they prefer to give, not to take. They never judge and remain stable in all situations. They respect all the rules, but are never tied to them and get out of any situation that curtails their freedom as soon as they can.

The qualities of such people are too numerous to mention here, so I will keep that for another article. What about drawbacks? Do they have any bad qualities? I don't know really, but I've seen people fear them, hate them, ridicule them and see them as dangerous. But such people are ignorants, they hate freedom and fear anyone who is too free to be controlled. I can write a full book on how "society" treats such people and why, but I guess, it will be of not much use.

Obviously, the kinds  described above do not fall into any sharply defined categories, there are all kinds of variations, blends and mixes. It all occupies the full spectrum of possibilities.

So I define the path of the heart as a lifestyle which leads to a life full of peace, happiness and satisfaction. It transforms a person into someone with qualities I mentioned above. [4]

Living is not this tawdry, mediocre, disciplined thing which we call our existence. Living is something entirely different; it is abundantly rich, timelessly changing, and as long as we don't understand that eternal movement, our lives are bound to have very little meaning.
- Jiddu Krishnamurti

An obvious question arises - how can one find the path of his heart? Is it the same for all? Does everyone needs to be a scientist/artist/yogi or whatever to be on that path? That's three questions... and in my experience, there are no definite answers. It seems the path finds you when you are ready. When you have tried various ways and those do not satisfy you, you keep wavering, you become aware of your situation and make some effort to search for a solution, then the path of your heart appears. Its not same for all, but mostly similar, rarely too exotic. There is a certain theme which seems to be common to all such paths, freedom, search for happiness, knowledge etc. It has mostly to do with the self, improvement of the self, and dealing with others only in certain situations where it helps the self. So is helping others and saving the world your path? May be, but I doubt that if you are ignorant and unhappy you will find much success in doing that. It has to start from the self. So if you are suspicious, whether or not a path is for you, check if you, yourself, are gaining something from it. If you are suffering and making others suffer by taking it, its not your path.

Taking the help of those who are already on the right path is recommended. However, you can not merely follow them, they are on their path, not yours. You will recognize such teachers from some qualities mentioned above. (No rules here, you may end up with wrong teachers, so beware). Simply mimicking what they do or say is not going to help, its not what they do, its about what they are. You must see the essence of their being and try to find your own essence by reflecting on your own self. Once you gain something from a teacher let go of him. They won't stay with you anyway for long. They can only show you the path, cannot carry you on it in their arms. You must learn to walk on the path of your heart.

Everyone has a unique path, although there are similarities and telltale signs. You cannot simply follow someone else's path, as that path is of his heart, not your heart. It will lead to nowhere, may be some excitement and adventure, but you may remain unfulfilled in the end. A path is not marked by a profession or a job, a university degree or a skill, it is something that attracts you not because it pays money or brings fame or because your friends are walking on it, but because you deeply feel it is yours. Your path has rarely anything to do with others, it has to be about you. It takes some time, a lot of time, to recognize your path. We are too deeply indoctrinated and brainwashed by others to recognize it easily, especially during the childhood.

Another question arises, how do you know if you are on the path of your heart? Its easy, you will find ever increasing happiness and peace. The moments of suffering will appear, but will disappear soon. There would be a figure-ground reversal. More moments of happiness and peace and rare occasions of suffering and pain.[5] You will find that you are gaining the qualities mentioned above, without intense effort. You may get those qualities by hook or crook or with tiring and long effort, but that's unnatural and does not stand the trials of time. Gaining these traits is not the goal, the goal is to walk the path of your heart, other things are just fruits you may pick from the trees alongside your path.

Does the path end? Will there be a gold pot at the end of it? In my opinion (not in my experience), it never ends, it goes on. Its the journey that is fulfilling, not the destination. There is no destination. On the contrary, if you find that it ends somewhere, and you are facing a big wall, confused, stuck, not knowing what to do next, then you know it was not your path, it was a wrong path! Relax, think and take a diversion. It may happen that such situations arise even when you are on the true path of the heart, but they pass quickly and we learn from them. So some patience is needed before you jump to conclusions about your path. Let it reveal itself.

Have I already found my path? No, I'm still looking. I'm faintly aware of the directions to take and I can see some light at the far end of the tunnel. Hopefully its not a railway tunnel ;-). I'm not a teacher, only a student.

Did I discover all this? Am I making it up? No. There are many who hint towards something similar. I'm merely regurgitating what the great masters teach. Krishna teaches a concept called Swadharma [6], which is interpreted in many ways, I simply understand it as the path of the heart, take your pick. Western philosophy has the concept of Entelechy [7] which I interpret as the "internal end goal", very close to the concept of the path of the heart. Yogic philosophies stress on the Mukti (liberation or freedom) being the end goal of one's life, and freedom being the central theme of the path of the heart, I feel it comes closest.[8] Guatam Buddha recommends ending the suffering as the goal, which leads one to follow a certain path to end the ignorance - the cause of the suffering. I'm not qualified to comment on these great teachings, so please search and read any suitable material. [9] Its all very vast and you may need a good teacher to understand it all. The key is not to simply read these teaching, but to follow them, apply them. You will soon find that all such philosophies and experiences of others, however great, have some limitations, they are their experiences gained via following their paths. You need to follow the path of your own heart.



[1] Not to be confused with "the path of devotion" or Bhakti Marg.

[2] I'm grateful to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev for this teaching - ordinary life as a series of compulsions.

[3] Note that there are many people in mentioned "occupations", for example some "scientists" are just doing a job of a scientist, never discovered or invented anything extraordinary, and some "artists" are just skillful workers, having little creativity. These are not included in the list, obviously. I prefer the term, art-workers or science-workers for them.

[4] Note that the term "heart" is being used here metaphorically, e.g. the heart of a volcano - the hottest center of it. It has nothing to do with an organ pumping blood inside your body. It simply means the center of your being, where you feel you are and act from.

[5] Pain, as in mental pain, not physical. No paths or lifestyles guarantee elimination of bodily pains, although the suffering caused by them can be minimized.

[6]See this link for some interpretations or google it:

A particular type of motivation, need for self-determination, and inner strength directing life and growth to become all one is capable of being; the need to actualize one's beliefs; having both a personal vision and the ability to actualize that vision from within. 

The entelechy is the name given to our inner dynamic purpose. It is the seed of potential that nestles deep within us, containing the fractal image of who we really are and what we can become. The Greek philosopher Socrates first coined the term entelechy, and the great mystic [Pierre] Teilhard de Chardin brought it to public attention. [] The inner sense of purpose that is governed by the entelechy is the driving force behind our lives, helping us to blossom into the fullest expression of ourselves.

- Lisa Tenzin-Dolma, Mind & Motivation: The Spirit of Success

[8] I'm grateful to Sifu Rohit Arya for explaining these concepts very clearly. See
[9] For example see here:

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful post. Keep up the good work. I hope you continue to the path of your heart and help others find it :)