What Is the Heart Center?
The Cave of the Heart
A Portal to the Divine
In general, the awareness of the chest area is a simple, direct, basic practice. It is an important element in Sufism, Christianity, and Judaism.
What is the Heart Center?
The Heart Center is a sui generis portal situated in the chest area. As Ramana Maharshi said, “The godly atom of the Self is to be found in the right chamber of the heart, about one finger-width from the body’s midline,” and “Here lies the Heart, the dynamic Spiritual Heart. It is called hridaya, is located on the right side of the chest, and is clearly visible to the inner eye of an adept on the Spiritual Path. Through meditation, you can learn to find the Self in the cave of this Heart.”
Similar statements about the existence of this spiritual “portal” can be found in Sita Upanishad, Maha Narayana Upanishad, and Ashtanga Hridaya (an Ayurvedic text which identifies it as the “Ojasa Stana,” or “self-luminous consciousness”). Thus, the teaching about the Spiritual Heart‘s location in the body did not originate with Ramana himself. Ramana’s main argument is not theoretical, but experiential. He recalled experiencing the Sacred Tremor of the Heart, spanda (sphurana), as a continuous feeling of the awareness of Awareness itself (or “I-I”, as he used to say), even while he was a student at Madurai.
Yogi Bhajan describes the Heart Center in a similar way: “Within the body, there is a Center in which the sensation of this All-Pervasive Consciousness is felt. This is the Center where we point when we say ‘I.’ This Center is the Spiritual Heart, which is also called Hridaya. The Hridaya is not one of the 7 psychic centers (chakras); rather it is located in the 1/8th portion of the physical heart, which is to the right of the sternum. It is also known as the pacemaker or synod of the heart, as it provides the impulse that results in the beating of the heart.” (Kundalini Mata Shakti)
The Heart Center Is Not Anahata Chakra
According to the tantric tradition, anahata chakra, the heart chakra, is an important level or dimension of our being and of the entire manifestation. But, the Spiritual Heart is more than that. It is not just a level, but the whole. The Heart Center opens us to the infinity of the Spiritual Heart.
The Limitlessness of the Spiritual Heart
Ramana taught that focusing on the Heart Center is just a relative undertaking. It is a valid technique only as long as we identify with the physical body. We should understand the Heart as omnipresent Reality. Therefore, all descriptions of it are merely mental concepts. This revelation is called the Dahara Vidya, or “Knowledge of the Heart.”
Ramana further clarified the importance of the Heart:
“The Heart is the center of the Self and the Self is the center of centers.”
“Just as the subtle force of electricity travels through wires and does many wonderful things, so too the Heart imparts sentience to the senses.”
The Heart is limitless and, because it has no form, it can contain the totality.
It is important to note that relating something infinite, atman, the Divine Self, to something finite, such as the physical body or a point on or within the physical body, can only be a relative undertaking.
Ramana stated that the awareness of the Supreme Infinite cannot be localized in a certain place in the body and that in the state of divine expansion, of diving into the divine ocean of Consciousness, we can no longer speak of a head, arms, body, or other areas.
“I ask you to see where the ‘I’ arises in your body, but it is really not quite correct to say that the ‘I’ rises from and merges in the Heart in the right side of the chest. The Heart is another name for the reality and it is neither inside nor outside the body. There can be no in or out for it since it alone is.”
“The Heart is not physical. Meditation should not be on the right or the left. Meditation should be on the Self. Everyone knows ‘I am.’ Who is the ‘I’? It will be neither within nor without, neither on the right nor on the left. ‘I am’–that is all. Leave alone the idea of right and left. They pertain to the body. The Heart is the Self. Realize it and then you will see for yourself. There is no need to know where and what the Heart is. It will do its work if you engage in the quest for the Self.”
However, Ramana says that at the moment of returning to the consciousness of the physical body, when we regain the awareness of our body, a memory outlasts that state and appears to be connected to the area of the physical heart, in the middle of the chest, slightly to the right. That Divine Infinity can easily be found again by bringing awareness to the Heart Center. Christian mystics also speak of bringing the mind down to the Heart.
The Spiritual Practice Recommended by Ramana Maharshi
This pure feeling of “I am”–related, at least at the beginning of the practice, with the middle of the chest, a little to the right–has a privileged role in revealing who we really are. If we accept this idea, then, as Ramana noted, it follows logically that this is the main aspect on which our minds should focus while practicing concentration and meditation techniques as well as in daily life.
Where Should the Natural Place of the Witness Consciousness Be?
Of course, the Witness Consciousness is not limited to the physical body or to a part of it. The Witness Consciousness is not the mind or a product of the mind, but the vastness, the radiance-awareness of the Spiritual Heart (which can be associated with the chest region, at least while we are still identified with the physical body).
Placing the seat of the Witness Consciousness in the brain is a sterile attitude. The ultimate witness is not the mind or a particular thought. In the mind, we can imagine a witness of our thoughts and then we can easily imagine another witness of that first witness–this would be the witness of the witness, and then a witness of the witness of the witness and so on…The mind can play the game of witnessing ad infinitum.
Only if we associate the Witness Consciousness with the Heart Center, with this place of deep intimacy–of the intuition of who we are–can we realize the presence of the ultimate Witness.
Remember, it is not mainly about focusing on a point in the chest, but about a proper attitude of surrender, of “coming home.” This issue is not to be argued theoretically by the mind. It is revealed in meditation.
The Feeling of Truth
The awareness of the Heart Center in itself reveals an intuitive evidence, a feeling of Truth, of Love. It brings a natural fulfillment, a blossoming of love, harmony, of being perfectly in tune with the Whole. The openness of the soul, feelings of freedom, joy, and love are natural expressions of the awareness of the Heart Center. There is an inherent freedom and happiness in the awareness of the Heart Center. It is a simple way to tune ourselves to the infinite dimension of our being.
Thus, suffering diminishes and the consciousness of the beauty and splendor of life is enlarged.
Diving into the Heart Center using Ramana’s recommendations helps us go beyond sentimentality, individual emotions, and attachments. It is a first important step in the revelation of our Divine Nature.