Yogic literature, starting with the Upanishads, speak of the knots of the heart and the necessity to release, cut or break these in order to free ourselves from ignorance, death and sorrow. This is necessary to realize our true Self that is one with all, which dwells at the core of the spiritual heart. It is not a matter of emotional healing but of the highest Self-realization. Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi emphasizes Hridaya as the seat of the Self. In this article we will explore how to release the knots of the heart and all the implications involved.
Hridaya, the Spiritual Heart
Hridaya starting from the ancient Upanishads, which refers to it many times, is not the heart as a physical organ or emotional heart, but the heart as the central seat of consciousness, beyond body or mind. This spiritual heart is contacted to the right of the physical heart but transcends all physical and temporal limitations.
What are these knots of the heart? They are the bondages caused by our identification with body and mind, our ego identity and the pain it causes to ourselves and others that we all experience in our uncertain human existence. These knots consist of thoughts of “I am that” (ego or ahamkara) or “this is mine” (mamata or mineness), getting caught in the turbulent emotional dualities of the outer world, and all their complications.
This ego identification with body and mind is the cause of karma and rebirth. It proceeds from lack of cognitive knowledge of our true Self (Atman, Purusha) that is one with the cosmic and transcendent reality (Brahman). It forms the basis of the subtle body that continues throughout the cycle of rebirth. Releasing the knots of the heart is also the dissolution of the subtle body and going beyond all karma.
Chakras, Nadis and Granthis
Yogic literature speaks of three important knots or granthis: those of the root chakra or Muladhara, the navel chakra or Manipura, and the third eye or Ajna. The knots of the heart are behind all these granthis and include them.
- Muladhara granthi is called Brahma granthi after the creative force.
- Manipura (or sometimes Anahata), the Vishnu granthi after the preservative and sustaining force.
- Third eye as Rudra granthi after the transformative force.
These knots are connected to the nadis moving out from the central nadi or Sushumna. These knots keep our current of awareness diverted to the lesser nadis and their outgoing dualistic movement of prana and mind. The navel center is regarded as the holding the largest number of nadi connections as these dominate the body, instincts, emotions and ego.
The term cutting the knots of the heart is often used, not simply untying or releasing them. At first glance this sounds extreme. Yet very deep-seated knots, as in a rope that is constricting someone, are best quickly cut. Trying to untangle them can be very difficult. These psychic knots are held by deep-seated karmas and samskaras, not just ordinary emotional entanglements.
The Knots of the Heart, Self-inquiry and Self-healing
What serves to cut or release the knots of the heart? It is direct perceptual knowledge of our true Self, the Atma-vidya. Once we know our true Self beyond all external identifications, then we can let go of all the burdens of thought and emotion because they relate to an unreal entity, the ego or bodily identity, not to who we really are, which is pure consciousness.
For this Ramana recommends a process of introspection, meditation and Self-inquiry, the great quest Who am I?
- If one traces the current of thought back to its origin, one finds that all thoughts are rooted in the I-thought, which in turn is rooted in the heart as pure Self-awareness. This is Hridaya Jnana Yoga.
- If one traces the current of prana back to its origin, one finds it is also the heart. The heart is the source of life. This is Hridaya Prana Yoga.
- If one traces the current of speech back to the heart, it also the heart as the source of sound, the basis of our expression. This is Hridaya Mantra Yoga.
The heart is the original seat of consciousness from which speech, mind and prana arise as three interrelated currents. The sense and motor organ currents are connected to these as well. Our awareness dwells in the eyes in the waking state, in the throat in dream, and in the heart in deep sleep, so the heart awareness is behind these three states that constitute our daily life current.
Healing the Hridaya or spiritual heart, heals the mind, prana and speech, as it is the ultimate source of wellbeing. Healing from the spiritual heart goes to the deepest level our nature and takes us beyond physical, psychological and spiritual (adhyatmic) sorrow. In Ayurveda the heart is the seat of Ojas, the ultimate energetic essence of all the tissues of the body, which sustains immunity for body and mind and holds the power of rejuvenation (rasayana).
The Great Secret of Hridaya
In the Upanishads the heart is described as a secret place (guha), the cave of the heart. It is a small space, dahara akasha, in which the entire universe is held in seed form. Once we draw our awareness there we become one with all. We move from the individual to the universal.
Hridaya is not the same as the Anahata or heart chakra among the chakras of the subtle body, though they are connected. Both are said to be the origin of the unstruck or non-elemental sound, the OM current itself. One could say that the Anahata chakra is the reflection of the Hridaya in the subtle body. Hridaya is connected to the causal body and Anandamaya kosha. It is the source of the entire universe.
The prime Hridaya mantra is HREEM which is the root sound behind the first syllable of Hridaya. HREEM is the sound of the Sun as pure light, Shakti as the prime creative power, and Devi, the Mother of the universe. HREEM is the main mantra for awakening Kundalini as in the famous Tantric Panchadashi mantra in which it occurs four times. We can use this mantra to draw our focus to the Hridaya.
We have knotted our hearts with emotions based upon our bodily identity, notably the fear of death, but also desire, greed, anger, attachment, jealousy, envy and hatred. This is the nature of human life born of lack of Self-knowledge. These dualistic personal emotions are driven by biological, psychological and social imperatives from hunger and thirst, to the need for love and companionship, to social recognition, financial and social status. They are so deep-seated only a radical change of awareness can remove them, which requires tremendous determination and motivation and an intelligence as sharp as the edge of a razor. It requires a radical shift from ego to Self, from identification with body and mind to recognizing our true nature as thought free awareness, for which body and mind are mere transient outer instruments.
Many people today talk about healing the heart, heart-based medicine, heart-based Yoga and so on. But these teachings usually remain at a personal, physical and psychological level, relative to heart disease that afflicts so many people. Change at the much deeper level of the Hridaya requires profound meditation and sustained samadhi. For that we must remove our pranic identification with the body, connecting to the whole of life and all existence. This is an inner spiritual death and rebirth through the space within the heart (Hridaya Akasha) taking us from mortality and sorrow to immortality and bliss.