Journals

Whence the Heart of Sadness

In Shambhalla, the Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa observes again and again that the softening of the heart leads the warrior into sadness. Initially, I understood that this sadness was attributable to weakness due to lack of exercise, and I expected Trungpa to promise, ultimately, that the path of the Great Eastern Sun would lead the warrior's heart into joyfulness. While there is that in part, Trungpa talks about the sadness of the softened heart throughout. Ultimately, it appears to be an inescapable part of the warrior's condition.

While I am familiar with this contradictory joyful sadness, I thought that it arose from my lineage, and had expected that it would not be equally part of the Buddhist experience of spirituality. That Trungpa testifies otherwise gave me pause, and brought me to look more deeply at the problem.

There is indeed that initial pain, our realization of how much our heart has been abandoned by our fascination with the mind. As Trungpa observes, there is this enormously sensitive and powerful instrument at the core of our selves that we have been ignoring. It's energies are turned and twisted into the ways of reason, where by nature they run more gracefully down the path of intuition.

But once we learn that path, why should the pain persist? One answer, familiar to us from Majorana teaching, is that in opening our heart we come to understand how much those around us are suffering from the same deficit. There's a beautiful little book called "On Kindness", in which I read David Hume's response to Hobbes' characterization of reality as a pragmatic struggle "red in tooth and claw". Hume simply observed that Hobbes had "forgotten the workings of his own heart" - not just that it feels for himself, but also joins us to one another with threads that bind our conscience and tame our aggression.

But let us say that we enter into that true community of common sympathy - would we expect to find joy only in that setting? And I would guess not, because the heart is the instrument of intuition. We are faced with choices all about us. Some of those choices lead down paths of peace and fulfillment, and some into conflict and pain. Our heart senses those eventualities for us, and guides our choices according to the degree that we surrender to its dictates.

From this perspective, the sadness is an essential part of the operation of our intuition. Without it, we would not have the insight that a choice that seems best for us will create disproportionate harm to others. We would not have knowledge of the possibility of pain as a guide to our will.

And so I am led to the conclusion that the sadness is right and good - it is a condition of the power held by the heart that only the ignorant mind would hope to avoid. And therefore it is in itself a cause for great joy!

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