Our subject—the intellect versus the heart—is a very important one, because it’s the heart’s ability to understand that brings us true wisdom. Western culture has been almost entirely one-sided in the direction of the intellect, teaching us to mistrust the feelings of the heart because they lack scientific objectivity. Yet in Paramhansa Yogananda’s first lecture in the West, he stressed the importance of our feeling nature to finding real happiness.
He said that the entire motivation of human behavior is two-fold: to avoid suffering and to achieve happiness. This is so simple that it sounds almost childish, and yet isn’t that really what everybody is trying to do in one way or another?
What is happiness?
Yogananda’s definition of happiness was based on the great sage Shankaracharya’s description of Satchitanandam—ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss. We want a joy that won’t diminish and that can’t be destroyed. We want a joy that we’re conscious of, not just something vaguely present in the back of our minds.
It’s not enough to think, “I’m not in the hospital, I don’t have the flu, I’m not hungry. I guess I’m happy.” You don’t need reasons to be happy when there’s such a powerful, conscious joy inside you that it’s always filling your heart with song.
Yogananda also spoke of this joy as being ever-new, because with most kinds of happiness you need to keep reminding yourself of it. You buy a car, for instance, and you’re happy for a week. Then that feeling starts to fade, and you try to get your friends to admire your car so that you can feel a lift from their enthusiasm. But by the end of a month, you no longer have that same sense of happiness and fulfillment.
By contrast, the joy of God is something that’s always present, constantly bubbling in your heart. As Master’s great disciple Rajarsi Janakananda used to say, “I wake up in the morning, turn over, and just float on an ocean of bliss.”
Obstacles to bliss
What keeps us from experiencing this bliss? There are many things—one, for example, is laziness. By this I mean the sheer thought: “God, I don’t know if I could stand being that happy.” Someone actually said to me once, “I don’t know that I want to advance spiritually, because I don’t know if I could take it.”
Every spiritual growth, however, brings with it the power to adapt to that growth, every increase in understanding the power to accept and absorb that understanding, and every expansion in happiness brings the power to live in that expanded state.
All of the saints who’ve found this joy have never complained about it. They’re all so convinced that this is the goal of life that they’re perfectly willing to give up their lives to help others to find it. At that level of God-consciousness, there’s really no pain, but rather the complete forgetfulness of pain in the absorption in that joy.
To find this kind of joy, we need to be centered in our heart, and to refer every thought and feeling back to this point. I’ve found that this is also true in writing. Sometimes I’ll get an absolutely delightful idea, but if it doesn’t come from the heart or from intuition, I find that eventually it just doesn’t work. Then I’ll have to throw it out and start all over again. But this doesn’t happen very often, because over the years I’ve learned that when I write either words or music, I first offer them up to God. I ask, “Does it resonate with my heart? Does it feel right?” If the answer is “yes,” then I know it’s the right choice.
Feeling vs. emotion
How do you know if it feels right? There are two directions the heart’s energy can go—upward or downward. When it goes downward, it’s toward emotion. Emotional energy can be described as the state of mind of somebody at a football game whose team is going for the winning touchdown. With great excitement the person will scream, “Go! Win, win, win!” It’s as though his shouting and desire are going to push the runner over the goal line. Emotion is that which wants or doesn’t want, likes or rejects, according to our desires.
Intuition, on the other hand, is simply knowing what will be. This calm feeling rises upward and is very different from emotion. True calm feeling is directed to the point between the eyebrows, and from that center you can know clearly whether something is really true or not.
I’ve been amazed over the years to see how, often, when I’ve tuned in to that, it was right. You could have given me a thousand reasons why a certain decision would be wrong, but in the end, if it came from the calm feeling of the heart, it proved itself right. I’m certain that every one of you has had the experience of knowing whether or not a thing would be so, and you were correct. But you have to keep referring your feelings, your actions, your decisions, back to the calm feeling in the heart. This you might say is the anchor note of true wisdom.
The spiritual eye is your center of real wisdom, but it needs to be tied in with the heart as well as the intellect. Unless the heart agrees, don’t trust the intellect alone, because it’s too capable of blindly following a line of reasoning in many different directions. Things can make admirable sense to the mind and still be wrong.
Trust the heart
As you deepen in your search for truth, don’t try to figure it out with your intellect alone. I know, because I went down that path. I remember as a young man just thinking, thinking, thinking to try to find the answers. Fortunately, I also knew that the heart was important because without the heart I couldn’t have found what I was seeking.
Don’t trust these long-winded philosophers who give you all sorts of rational explanations that leave you cold. Always ask your heart, “Does it make sense? Does it resonate within?” And if it does, you’ll feel it and know. This should be your guide.
So, love God. This is much more important than knowing God intellectually. In truth, you can’t know Him except with the heart, because God is love. You have to love Him to understand Him. Often the simplest people are the ones who are closest to Him. Don’t go to those books that give you lots of philosophy, but go to those simple books that talk of the need of the heart for love and joy. When you understand that, then you will know God.