Friday, July 20, 2007
The Yoga of the Heart in relation to Eastern practices of meditation.
In the West the artist’s inspiration is understood as something separate from the artist’s life. In Eastern Christianity inspiration is the fruit of the artist’s life. His art is not the product of his natural abilities (his natural talents give him only skill) but is the gift of the Divine Spirit to his understanding in prayer. The icon is the Word of God; that is why it is reverenced. The icon is part of Scripture, for Scripture is not limited to an historical canon of books which can never be added to. Scripture is growing: it is the perennial flowering of being into expression, of life into word. Hence the saints, from a life lived in prayer, are able to give expression to something of that state of being which they enyoy, and the artist who is in the process of reaching “purity of heart”, gives expression to this process in his paintings. Further, it must be understood that the very function of the icon is to lead the heart of the worshipper on the way to this inner purity. The icon, like all Scripture, is an aid, expressly permitted by God, to help the worshipper in his interior search. The image must help him, firstly, to turn his thoughts inwards, and secondly, to reveal the action of grace in his own heart, because the “Sat Guru” or Christ, when He takes His seat in the heart, desires the self to be aware of His presence in the heart, and to discover the Way or Tao which leads from the earthly heart towards that heavenly heart which has achieved ultimate realization.
Hindu Yoga of the heart begins with self-realization, that is realization of the personal self, and then leads on to realization of the Ultimate Self. We find this clearly expressed in the teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi, the great modern Indian exponent of Advaita. A number of Christians in India have been very deeply influenced by the ideas of Sri Ramana Maharshi, as was for example the Christian monk Swami Abhishiktananda. In this way, there has emerged a Christian Advaita, rather in the same way that there has been an attempt to realize a Christian form of Yoga. In both these areas of spirituality, there is a tension between an experience of the One, and a realization of duality. For Christians in India an approach to that experience of One-ness that we find described as Advaita (literally non-duality) is through a spiritual understanding of Trinity, what in the Vedanta is spoken of as Sat Chit Ananda; Truth, consciousness and Bliss. It is this triune mystery that is discovered in the cave of the heart.
On one occasion Ramana Maharshi explained to his disciples the text from Ecclesiastes: “The wise man’s heart is at the right hand and a fool’s heart is at the left”. He said:
“So long as a man identifies himself with the body or thinks he is the body, he is advised to see where in the body the ‘I’ thought arises, and merges again. It must be in the heart at the right side of the chest since every man of whatever race or religion and in whatever language he may be speaking points to the right side of the chest to indicate himself when he says ‘I’….”
Ramana Maharshi refers to the heart as another name for Reality, and this is neither inside nor outside the body.
“When a room is dark you need a lamp to light it, but when the sun rises there is no need for a lamp; objects are seen without one. And to see the sun itself no lamp is needed because it is self-luminous. Similarly with the mind. The reflected light of the mind is necessary to perceive objects, but to see the heart it is enough for the mind to be turned towards it. Then the mind loses itself, and the heart shines forth”.
This is similar to the teaching of the Fathers of the Desert, who said we must begin by turning inwards and knowing ourselves, then only the heart begins to shine forth. Ramana Maharshi however holds that self realization cannot be changed to realization of the Redeemed Self without the help of the Guru through whom the seeker receives Grace.
“The Guru is both outer and inner; from outside he gives a push to the mind to turn inward, while from inside He pulls the mind towards the Self, and helps quieting it. That is the Grace of the Guru.”
The Guru leads the personal self towards the Self which is God in us through a process of introversion. (c.f. St Paul: “I live, but not I, Christ lives in me.) The “exterior push” mentioned above is given through Scripture and the Holy Images.
“The moment you get into the quest for the self, and begin to go deeper, the real Self is waiting there to receive you, and then whatever is to be done is done by something else and you as an individual have no hand in it.”
The artist’s work must be seen in the same light. If he is a man of prayer, out of his interior being his picture comes forth as expression, but ultimately it is not his personal expression, but is part of that creative force that is making him, as much as it is making through him the image he is working on. The icon of the religious artist who is truly a man of prayer, would be a crystallization of his contemplation of God, and for the worshipper it would be a window on to the Divine, and the focus of his contemplation.
In this understanding of the creative process, and the work of the artist as a maker of images, the image is something “given”, and in that sense, a grace. The image is not just a product, something that an artist achieves through personal skill. The image itself speaks—it is a manifestation of the Guru. The concept of the Sadguru, or true guru of the heart, is quite complex. The word “Guru” is related to the “guha” which is the mystery, and also the cave. The Guru, according to one idea carries the mystery, and also reveals the light. In fact another way of understanding the Guru, is the Person who is the light-bearer. Sri Ramana Maharshi is very clear that the individual, egotistical self can never be the Guru. The Guru is an inner archetypal Self, and the individual, rather like the image itself, is only a pointer, indicating a hidden Presence, that cannot be “seen” except through a mirror, darkly.
The function of the image then will be to lead the human being inwards and to help in the establishment of a quietness in his heart. When in the Renaissance the spirit of rationalism turned the mind of the individual person outwards, it was natural that artists should try and establish an exterior norm to explain the human vision of objects, as they appear in the phenomenal world. In other words, once vision was no longer directed inwards, ruled by the laws of inner necessity, some rule must be discovered relating the objective phenomenal world with subjective perception. Perception is always subjective; we do not know what the phenomenal world is in itself, but simply what it appears to be. The solution reached by the Renaissance artist was achieved by extroverting what was in fact an age-old inner reality. I am referring to the vanishing point of perspective, which is a projection, as it were onto exterior reality of the point that Yoga knows as existing between the two eyes. This point, well known to all yoga systems, is variously called the “Heavenly Heart”, the “Third Eye” or the “Bindu”.