What is Hridaya Yoga? Hridaya Yoga is a spiritual discipline, a path to Liberation or Realization of our true nature through the awakening of the Spiritual Heart. It was brought forth by spiritual teacher Sahajananda, and includes the practice of meditation, hatha yoga and contemplation in order to realize the nature of Reality, beyond the limitations of the subjective mind.
Hridaya is the Sanskrit term for the heart, or literally, “hri” means “to give”; “da” means “to take”; and “ya” comes from “yam” which means “balance,” or “harmony.” Thus the heart is that which “gives and takes in perfect balance.” We may observe that this is the action of the physical heart, giving and taking blood around the body in perfect regulated balance. Yet Hridaya refers not only to the physical heart, but rather to the Spiritual Heart, which has a location a little to the right of the center of the chest, but also a deeper, more esoteric meaning.
Hridaya Yoga follows the principals of Advaita Vedanta, one of the six main philosophical systems of ancient India. Advaita Vedanta is the philosophy of non-duality, that everything in existence is One, and that this One is God, or the Self or Pure Consciousness. Advaita Vedanta states that everything in existence comes from and returns to the same source; thus this source is the unifying essence of all. This essence is most commonly referred to as God – but this term should not be confused with a strictly religious connotation – God is not, in this sense, a great being in heaven, but rather is nirguna, without attributes, beyond description.
When we contemplate the nature of the universe we realize that if one thing is for certain, it is the impermanent nature of all things. The planets were created and will die, just as our bodies were born and will die, just as the leaf outside on the tree… Whatever begins must have an ending. Yet if everything is impermanent, arising and disappearing again, from where does it arise? And where does it go? There must be a permanent source, an infinite background from which all that is transient emerges. This background is God, or Self, and it is the source of everything that arises from it.
There are several contemporary scientific theories that discuss the idea of Open Systems, and allow for a deeper understanding of Reality as the Heart. Open Systems constantly receive and transmit information with their surroundings. We can observe that this is what the physical body does – our cells and systems are constantly speaking to each other in order to keep the body alive: sending information, receiving information and interpreting it to create a response. All of this goes on below the threshold of consciousness. Even the smallest building block of all matter – the atom – follows this principal of receiving and transmitting information. This unifying principal of “balanced giving and taking” that describes the Heart, thus describes everything in the universe. In this way everything in existence is seen as the Spiritual Heart.
The Heart is at once the impermanent nature of reality, and also the permanent background of existence; God or the Self. Thus through the practice of Hridaya Yoga, we are opening to realize that this permanent eternal source of our beings is our very essence; that we are one with all that is; and as God is the essence of all creation, that we are one with God. The Heart, rather than the mind, becomes the organ of knowledge.
As Swami Sivananda says “meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.” Through meditation we dissolve our limited personal consciousness, the ego self, into the infinite eternal Self. Many masters stipulate that on the path to Self-Realization there is nothing new to be attained, but rather the obstacles of false and limiting beliefs to be removed or transcended, in order to allow our true nature to emerge.
Through Hridaya, we come to know the Spiritual Heart as the essence of everything; that everything in existence is “giving and taking in perfect balance” in each moment. It is all that is perceived, the perceiving, and the perceiver; and at once beyond these three. The Spiritual Heart is God, is the Self – the unmanifest source and its infinite manifestations. Nothing is outside of the Self, and thus everything from the atom, to the entire universe, to time and space, to thoughts and bodies, is an expression of the source. Everything is Hridaya.
The word “Yoga” in Sanskrit means union, thus in the practice of Hridaya Yoga we come into union with that which we truly are, beyond the limitations of the ego self. Ramana Maharshi speaks of bringing the “I-feeling” back to its source. He describes the Heart as the source of all and the seed of our individual existence. With the emergence of a physical body, the seed begins to sprout and a trunk grows – this is our fundamental nature, our individual contribution to this world, our karmic path or dharma – we are one trunk in a forest of trees, big and small. The trunk (energetically) grows from the heart and reaches the mind, where it sprouts branches of identification with this and that. Fruit and flowers may grow from the strongest branches. These branches are the identifications that we attach to the “I Am.” For example, I am a woman; I am a doctor; I am a father; I am a teacher, and so on. But in the seed, in the Heart, there is nothing but “I Am,” pure existence without identifications.
The essence of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings is Atma-Vichara, or Self Enquiry – the enquiry into the nature of our true Self. It is thus by returning to the source of this feeling of self, in the Heart, to the pure feeling of “I Am,” that we may open to who we are beyond identifications that the mind has created with the body and the circumstances of our lives. Maharshi prescribes the question – Who Am I? – to be asked in meditation as often as possible, to replace the ordinary thinking. When asking ourselves this question, we quickly realize that there is no logical answer, and we allow our awareness to rest in the silence that ensues. As the mind cannot answer this question it easily falls silent, and it is only with the stillness of the mind that it is able to be transcended. When the mind is still the obstacles in the way of Realization are removed – there is no longer the belief that we are just this body, this mind, this personality – we are open to all that is beyond, open the source, to the Self.
Nisargadatta Maharaj writes “You are always seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, always after happiness and peace. Don’t you see that it is your very search for happiness that makes you feel miserable? Try the other way: indifferent to pain and pleasure, neither asking, nor refusing, give all your attention to the level on which ‘I Am’ is timelessly present. Soon you will realize that peace and happiness are in your very nature and it is only seeking them through some particular channels that disturbs. Avoid the disturbance, that is all.”
As we rest in this pure feeling of “I Am,” beyond the “I am this..” or “I am that..” we come to realize that the essence of our existence is peace and happiness; that we already hold infinite happiness within us, and only become unhappy when we try to seek happiness externally from finite sources. The happiness of the Heart never ends because it never began, it is eternal. When we rest with just the pure “I Am,” we move away from the mind and its grasping for knowledge and knowing, and into the Heart, into pure Being. We open to our infinite nature as Sat Cit Ananda – Pure Existence, Pure Consciousness, Pure Bliss – and rest there in the stillness of the Heart.
As Ramana Maharshi says “What is essential in any sadhana (spiritual practice) is to bring the running mind and fix it on one thing only. Why then should it not be brought back and fixed in Self-attention, this feeling of ‘I.’ That alone is Self Enquiry and that is all that is to be done.” Thus as we ask ourselves this question, “Who Am I?,” and rest in the feeling of pure existence that follows, we transcend the subject-object duality – the object of meditation becomes the subject itself – and we step into non-duality, into the true nature of existence.
Hridaya Yoga is a direct path to this Realization of non-duality. It is an awakening of the Heart into the Heart, to its pure existence and its infinite expressions. To practice Hridaya Yoga is to know one’s ego self as just a part of this limitless self-regulating whole; and one’s Self as the whole, as all that is. It is only in the transcendence of the belief that we are just this body and mind that we open into yoga, into union with our true nature and abide there permanently. Realization is nothing new to be attained, but is ours always, we need only remove the dust from ours eyes to be able to see; blindness is temporary and yet we identify with it. As we move beyond our limiting identifications we know longer believe in our separate existence, we know that separation occurs only in the mind. We are that unlimited Self, we are God, the source of all, we are the Heart that is vibrating all endlessly into existence. We are, and that is all.
By Emma Carruthers