THE FALSE DICHOTOMY BETWEEN HEAD AND HEART
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NOTE I wrote the article for Sanathana Sarathi (see after introduction) I now consider deeply flawed, as I shall explain:-
Introduction: While I was still in the process of deepening myself fully in the doctrines of Sathya Sai Baba and researching his entire spiritual teaching (mostly an esoteric form of Hinduism). I realise now that it was very premature to deepen the divide between what is often distinguished as the heart and the head. The dualism involved reflects all the dualisms in religious thought and doctrine - the world and the otherworldly, the mind and the soul (or spirit), the profane and the sacred and - in Sai Baba's own specious talk 'the Internet and the innernet'). When I stood back and reviewed my article from a distance, I saw that much confusion about the so-called 'heart', and much conflation of terms altogether in spiritual talk about the heart. It is also referred to as 'the seat of the emotions', 'the seat of consciousness', even 'the golden womb' (Sathya Sai Baba) It is universally said that the human heart is filled with hopes, wishes, desires. The characteristics are what promoters of Advaita call 'ego'. Religious - or more commonly today 'spiritual' - conceptions of the human heart are always vague, never defined in any practical or precise way. The tendency is to identify the heart with positive values like forgiveness, compassion, sympathy and altruism. (as in modern usages like "have a heart", "from the depths of my heart"). Meanwhile this overlooks the common usages like "hate in the heart", people's heart as filled with envy, ill-will, even evil, 'black-hearted' and other emotions or values regarded as negative (mistrust, loathing, revengefulness) which have also long been related to the idea of the human heart. All this is sheer obfuscation of the true state of affairs, which is that the emotions are generated and sustained by neuron connections in the brain and they are virtually inseparably bound up with thought, arising from the brain's neuronic pathways. Therefore, the contention that "sacred qualities" of the heart - as opposed to rationally guided worldly activities - are 'positive in nature' and "cannot be acquired through the study of books" since they reside in our hearts is a confused and out-dated obscurantism. 'The heart' as conceived in religious sentiment is not an entity, the heart is a necessary organ of the body and no more than that. (Continue to read here)
LANGUAGE OF HEAD AND HEART
We can distinguish two approaches to language, two dissimilar 'language cultures', that can arise whatever the ethnic tongue used. On the one hand we have the descriptive and precise type of prose such as is used in science, technology, philosophy, serious journalism and general literature. This is the language of the head. On the other hand we have the language of the heart which relies more on poetic imagery and the sympathy of human feeling.
Societies differ from one another in the relative importance given in their cultures to the head and the heart. The one tends more to emphasize the prosaic and the external, the other more the poetic and the inner life. Such differences are reflected in the way people use words or employ language generally.
The most tangible and concrete words and sentences refer to the things of the sensory world. The more subtle and abstract the ideas to be expressed, the more symbolic and 'supra-sensory' images are needed. Allegorical folk tales or dramatic poetry can convey sublime meanings through the subtleties of metaphor. Less literal and more figurative writings like those of metaphysical philosophy can touch a wider scope of meanings than correct prose can approach. Yet the more general the scope, the vaguer the concepts tend to be, opening for many interpretations - often at variance with one another.
'THERE IS ONLY ONE LANGUAGE, THE LANGUAGE OF THE HEART"
The language of the heart communicates by virtue of spiritual qualities like friendliness, sympathy, understanding of others, good humour, chivalry, emotional honesty, shared wit... summarised in short: the eloquence of a love of fellow men. This language, however, is not necessarily conceptually accurate, for its intention is to move, to help and to provide a spiritual balm rather than to explain, prove or convince.
Words from the heart may often appear to be illogical when their conceptual meaning is dissected. For example, even the sentence 'There is only one language' conflicts in a formal sense with the obvious fact that many different languages exist. Even heartfelt words, being part of no mental system, may thus at times seem outwardly self-contradictory. The language of the heart speaks rather with inner meaning. What matters is the intention, the intensity of the vision in them or the confidence they arouse in the listener. The purely intellectual or 'cognitive' content is then secondary.
Formal contradictions in terms are of no account compared to a negative contradiction of words with actions. Practice and personal experience lend conviction to words which then convey energy and arouse the right feelings. For example, when Swami talks to us we understand the meaning of there being only one language. It is either irrelevant or entirely secondary to analyse the information content of what moves us and quickens the spirit. The impromptu poetry that Sai Baba sometimes sings is 'understood' by the heart without our knowing Sanskrit or Telugu.
"SILENCE IS THE LANGUAGE OF THE REALISED"
Silence can be yet more golden than words. The language of the heart can speak entirely without words. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger, in trying to discover the essence of human existence, reflected that we are at our most 'authentic', most truly ourselves, when we commune in silence.
In her biography of the great Saint Teresa of
So with the coinages of language too... words cannot be invented that are adequate to express consistently the unity of a multiplicity which is itself at once neither and yet both of these. The idea the word 'white' expresses excludes the idea of 'black', as well as a host of other colours. The ideas expressible in language always somehow analyse the real and thus 'divide to rule'. Similarily with the word Atma, God, Sat-Chit-Ananda and so on. How could a word, a physical symbol, embrace and fixate what moves beyond any sort of sensory, mental or intellectual experience?
Only at best might the language of the heart overcome opposites so as to reflect the Truth. Yet to do that fully it must surely require that its speaker is fully realised, as we may intuit from Swami's words when He speaks to us. Or not least when He remains silent! 'Silence can speak louder than words' (but used to manipulating words by the bucketful, I can be deaf-wittedly slow at grasping this silent language).
LANGUAGE IN EDUCATION AND CULTURE
Though of secondary spiritual importance, the cognitive language 'of the head' is still (like it or not) also vital in the modern world, which is evident in the way that the level of language abilities - especially in written language - is related to social achievement in free societies. Vocations in any culture depend on language as an unavoidable necessity, as does democratic government. Much confusion and waste arises through vague, verbose or devious language, especially in the media, law, administration, government and politics.
Precision, conciseness, grammatical and terminological accuracy and consistency etc. are all essential to correct communication through the written word, for these are also a lifeline to all the insights expressed by great thinkers and spiritual teachers of the past. Language being the chief medium by which human culture is conveyed to future generations, it has much significance in education, both scientific and spiritual.
In the theoretical or professional spheres it is required that one express clear meanings very accurately and tailor them effectively to circumstance. System and reason, nicety of phrase and distinctly narrowed-down meaning are standards for the useful 'languages of the head'.
From the mental approach it is true that what one cannot say clearly one cannot think clearly either because, as Sai Baba says: "We cannot think without words; words are the essential material for thought." (Sathya Sai Vahini p. 49). Mental pictures have no meaning of their own, so T.V. cannot replace books any more than it can itself manage without words. Incisive language training is therefore essential to the mind.
A NIGHTMARE SOCIETY 'FREE OF VALUES'
The ideas of scientific 'positivism' have permeated Western intellectualism. This movement, which saw the future utopia as one run by scientists and technologists, has left its clear mark on the West. Many positivists seriously aimed to eliminate from modern society all non-factual, non-scientific language as 'meaningless'. The misnamed 'positivist philosophy' largely supported the 'freedom from values' it saw as scientific neutrality, which has not helped us against the anti-values that characterise our era. All non-materialistic human values were seen as 'intangible' and superfluous remnants of an old-fashioned 'pre-scientific' moralism based on metaphysics (which was deplored) or worse still, on religion.
Positivism introduced language analysis for the elimination of any expressions that smacked of the 'subjective', of emotion or of the heart, as mere romantic vagueness and the supposed cause of individual confusion and political illusions. Positivism's sense-materialism has negatively affected the serious expression of values, of ethical ideals and of spiritual vision in the fields of science and higher education.
THE TURNING POINT
While positivism is now less influential, Western philosophy and education have in its aftermath put increasingly more weight on the 'descriptive' and 'scientific' aspect of language. This has been taken to the extent that much classic imaginative literature, drama and poetry have almost disappeared from modern curricula, along with the formative classical languages. All this reflects the one-sided requirement among many educators and most governments that subjects studied must be shown somehow to stimulate economic productivity and profit.
Visionaries and reformist writers are displaced in higher education by more and yet more prosaic works of literature and philosophy, of history, sociology and psychology... in short, by anything that merely describes and reflects (however accurately) existing realities.
Public debate on education in some Western countries has recently begun to show recognition that the tide of anti-values must be stemmed, that an essential to the education of youth is training in 'human values' (a term sometimes used in Western media now).
It is an energy-reviving inspiration to observe that, in the unique and highly-effective spiritual-cum-secular educational institutions of Sai Baba, the language of both head and heart have their proper places.
Our inherent understanding of the language of the heart and consequently our faith in that of which it speaks, is renewed through Baba's teaching and its application in public education. If the two approaches of head and heart may tend to clash, both have relevant spheres of use and they need not always exclude each other. Both can merge in the one 'language' when there is communication between unified heads and hearts.
(Robert Priddy. May 1990)
|Please note that where I refer to "the
unique and highly-effective spiritual-cum-secular educational institutions
of Sai Baba", I have (unfortunately) since understood
that these institutions are both academically and scientifically very
weak when judged by the standards which apply for colleges and universities
in Western countries. They rely almost entirely on teaching methods
traditionally used in India and produce graduates who - though having
learned a lot - cannot think independently. Open debate and the uncensored
exchange of views is not practiced or in any way encouraged at any Sai
Baba educational institutions.