published in Lights of Irfan, Volume 10, pages 107-130 Wilmette, IL: Irfan Colloquia, 2009
The “Heart,” and the “City of the Heart,” are central concepts in the Bahá’í Writings; and this presentation attempts to review a certain aspect of it. The title of the paper is taken from a prayer of `Abdu’l-Bahá; and another text from the Master about the Sympathetic Nervous System will induce us into the idea of the heart being the site where the spiritual and the physical meet:
The powers of the sympathetic nerve are neither entirely physical nor spiritual, but are between the two (systems). The nerve is connected with both. Its phenomena shall be perfect when its spiritual and physical relations are normal. … When the material world and the divine world are well co-related, when the hearts become heavenly and the aspirations grow pure and divine, perfect connection shall take place. 1
It has to be noted that there are two distinct meanings for the concept “heart” in common use. One is the physical heart, studied by medicine, and the other is a metaphorical concept of heart, traditionally used in poesy and common discourse. This use seems to be common to most cultures and is expressed in the Holy Scriptures as well.
Until now the centrality of the heart in the body is used as a metaphor, a figure of speech, using the term heart for the center of spirituality and meaning in life. When the full function of the heart is known, the metaphor becomes richer and indicative of a spiritual reality central to the understanding of the human condition.
First the distinction between the physical heart and the metaphorical heart will be explored and then some verses of Bahá’u’lláh about the functions of this heart will be presented. Bahá’u’lláh speaks of a “wise and understanding heart” (ESW 65). Bahá’u’lláh places the function of memory into the heart as well, when He lets us pray: “to make my heart to be a receptacle of Thy love and of remembrance” (PM 56). He further instructs us to think, meditate or ponder in our heart, saying “Ponder this in thine heart” (ESW 74). A most intriguing word of Bahá’u’lláh is the following statement:
Say: Spirit, mind, soul, and the powers of sight and hearing are but one single reality which hath manifold expressions owing to the diversity of its instruments. (SLH 154)
Bahá’u’lláh in this statement explains that the spiritual powers animating the human body are one single reality that is known through its expression in the diversity of its instruments. The brain, the senses and the organic heart are the instruments in their physical diversity that allow the spirit, mind or soul (i.e., the one, single, and central spiritual reality of the human person) to express itself in the physical world. According to modern neurocardiology there are newly discovered aspects of the physical heart that make the metaphorical use of this concept much more appropriate, it can be compared with the concept of brain versus mind. A very important question is the understanding of the physiology of the heart and of its nervous system, “the little brain of the heart.”
These new findings of neurocardiology can extend the metaphor heart and bring it closer to the understanding of heart in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Additionally, some of the functions of the biological heart, which have come to light only recently, such as the intuition of future events and the recognition of distant events, can only be explained with findings of Quantum Mechanics and the theories that have been developed around this branch of physics. These findings of Quantum Mechanics will round up the picture and help us to understand aspects of the heart that have been ambiguous, when seen in the light of a materialistic and mechanistic medical science.
The following scientific findings are attributing to the heart that “heart is a sensory organ and a sophisticated information encoding and processing center.”… “Its circuitry enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the cranial brain” (Rollin McCray, Ph.D. and Doc Childre). It is obvious that the use of heart in a metaphorical sense can be much better explained after these functions of the physical heart are known, creating a new basis for our understanding.
These functional decisions of the heart come to our awareness only in the mind, and cannot be directly understood in our consciousness; therefore they often remain unchecked and not clarified by reason, often overriding reasonable concerns. Nevertheless, they are frequently followed and executed by the conscious mind in the life of people, demonstrating their good or evil intentions; therefore, ethical decisions seem to be based in the heart as well, demonstrating the pure or evil quality of the heart, as described in the Writings.
From these considerations the conclusion follows that the heart is the organ, or better the instrument for spiritual experiences and therefore can be called the seat of the Revelation not only in a metaphorical but also, and much more appropriately, in a spiritual understanding of reality.
The Divine Physician, who has been sent to cure the problems of mankind, is the initiator, the originator, and the sustainer of this creative process. The universality of this new message, the catholicity of this new religion, and the spirituality of the human reality, as promoted by this Faith of Divine origin – and nothing else – is the future of humanity.