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«  I follow my heart  »
March 21st, 2015

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

« I follow my heart »

   Among the random excuses used not  to practice the Dharma, not  to follow the path laid down for our benefit, not  to follow precepts or instructions, we've recently seen the « I know (myself better than the instructor) » (, the « my circumstances are special » ( and the « I'm not bound by scriptures » (
   Another classical copout is « I follow my heart. »

   The goal of the dharma is not  about following your  heart!

   People's heart is naturally ignorant: the « heart » is the 'seat' of emotions (i.e. phenomena strongly biased by one's appropriated past or individual narrative), preferences (i.e. biases) and intuitions (some are wise… but others are flawed! Discernment isn't optional).
   While discernment and rationality can constitute root-causes of ignorance, i.e. can get in the way on the ineffable and introduce distortions (notably "partial views" treated as "encompassing views", and "perspectives" treated as "truths"), discernment also constitutes a root-cause of wisdom (either when highlighting the flaws in wrong views, or when making clear the scopes and limits of correct-but-partial views).

   The practice of the Dharma often starts with mindfulness: of body, of speech, of thoughts, of intentions…
   To say « I listen to my heart » is no different from « I follow impulses that I've not enquired into enough to discern the causes. »  Even if you start naming and acting upon the heart, that's not "mindfulness" yet.

   Mindfulness is a specific way to relate to reality.
   Most importantly, it is not  limitable to a fixed picture (like a photograph) of reality. No matter how accurate and precise the fixed picture might be, that's not mindfulness: any fixed picture of here&now is extremely partial, a very limited perspective, a particular angle, a specific point of view. It's actually so  specific that it might be grasped as 'unique' and become a root for individuality, i.e. for a 'self'; that's not what the Dharma points towards.
   A much more 'complete' or 'encompassing' or 'right' view includes not only all the elements of the fixed picture but also many other 'angles' of the same elements (including "inside out" angles), the dynamics attached, the inter-dependent constraints they impose on each other, the cross-influences! Such a perception still is "just" here&now, but it's much richer than a photograph that gives you no indication of speed and no indication of what's "inside" or "behind" (one object might hide another, even though this other might play a major part in the dynamics… And when was the last time you saw how much fuel was in the car from its photo?).

   Following your heart is  a Dharma practice only if you see how your heart is being influenced (biased) and how it itself influences other phenomena; it's only a Dharma practise when you don't isolate the heart from the rest!
   What your heart says in this moment is only a tiny phenomenon in the whole present scene. If you see what the tendency is, "where it's going", if you see how the context co-creates a particular causal unfolding, if you see which contextual influences are waxing and which ones are waning, if you see how your mind appropriates the scene (i.e. if you don't forget that your own mind and interpretation are integral parts of what's going on, with their own tendencies, e.g. picking some messages from the heart but not others… and its own co-dependent influence on the heart!), etc.

   In a desire to escape saṃsāra, someone might try to simplify apparent conflicts or contradictions between intellect and heart by (rather arbitrarily and self-servingly) picking one over the over: either « don't trust the mental fabrications, listen to your heart » or « don't trust the ever-changing heart, use your head. »  That's not "solving" or "getting beyond" the contradiction, that's merely ignoring it or even denying it, pretending there's an easy solution to it.
   The more advanced practitioner might immediately see how this is the reintroduction of dichotomy, the rejection of some part of reality, the opposite of peace. This is the introduction of « I'm not (what I dislike), I am (what I like); »  this is the confusion of a self with a particular aggregate (either 'feeling' or 'conventions' in the context of this post).

   No more than you want fear to dictate your life for you but you can still treat it as "an information among others" whenever it arises, Dharma practice asks you not to let the heart dictate your life… but you can still treat what the heart says as "an information among others"!
   In more traditional presentations, this is the key to 'equanimity' being among the 'immeasurables' alongside e.g. 'compassion'. Without equanimity, compassion might come primarily from the heart and overwhelm you, drown you even! With equanimity, the dialogue remains open: « this is compassionate, but is this wise? » and « this is without ordinary scheming and plotting, but is this wise? »  A "big heart" is not automatically wise, the heart's perspective is only one perspective, what about the others'? To be free requires you not to let your heart drag you around (cf. also!

   The Dharma invites you not only to take what the heart says into consideration, into account, but also to keep it in its place: you don't obsess with what the heart says to the point of losing sight of the rest, you refrain from clinging to a preference (i.e. you don't maintain priority of the heart over the head, from one moment to the next, solely on the basis that it's the priority you gave a moment back), you maintain the dialogue between heart and head (conventional truths) and mind and context…

   Be "mindful" of the heart: the heart as a foreground only appears in contrast to a background though, it doesn't exist without context, so, to see reality as it is, don't isolate the heart from its context!

   When 'your' heart is seen as 'a' heart, among many and among many other phenomena just as integral to reality as the hearts, then and only then can you follow it when it's appropriate, and not follow it when it's unhelpful… Before such a realisation, "following your heart" is very likely to simply be an ignorant attempt to resolve some discomfort, an attempt to ignore some internal tension by selectively picking an aggregate to identify with.

   « Follow your  heart » is one's of Māra's tricks, to keep you blinded from embodying much wider perspectives, i.e. from realising selflessness. It's a strong trick, as it's enough at times for people to blind themselves from some of their 'own' aggregates, let alone from 'external' phenomena. It's also Mara's trick to veil wisdom, to hide 'needs' behind 'wants', to overwhelm and make people lose sight of what's required (cf. e.g. how Māra tried to push the Buddha not to do the necessary for an injury to heal, tried to veil the wise option for the long-term: Sakalika sutta, SN 4.13).

   You are not limited to your feelings, you do not control which feelings arise and which cease, you're neither creator nor controller nor container of feelings… so refrain from 'identifying' with feelings!
   Instead of absolute 'imperatives', can you simply see them as "conditioned phenomena" (which might embody some wholesome, constructive tendency… but this needs to be enquired into, not decided a priori  by preference or prejudice)?
   « What is this? » Look! Find the Middle Way of the heart!
   The heart might certainly prove useful at times, to reach out beyond plotting and scheming and mental fabrications, to reach beyond limiting conventions and labels… but it isn't some universal solution either! Find the Middle Way of the heart! Like concentration: neither too loose nor too tight, and not separate from the rest!

#Buddhism   #Dharma
Sakalika sutta, SN 4.13: