The Heart Yoga Sutra, by Mark Whitwell
The hridaya is where left merges with right, above with below, front with back, inhale with exhale, outer with inner, female with male, and strength with receptivity; it is where heaven meets earth, the source becomes seen, and spirit takes form. It has a specific location, where all opposites arise and return, and is the source of body and mind; but it is felt only in and as the body’s Life-given relatedness and natural state.
This sutra is a ‘thread’ that weaves together these considerations of the heart. It is written in the traditional way, as short precise statements that summarise the teaching. In the Great Tradition, sutras are used by teachers as teaching manuals to guide students to their appropriate practice and understanding of heart. The Hridayayogasutra may be used in the traditional way.
1 The assumption that truth is somehow absent and needs to be found is culturally ingrained, whether we are religious or not.
2 Our uninspected cultural behaviours of proposing and seeking ‘higher realities,’ known as God or enlightenment, have been spread as doctrine through societies as instruments of political power. They inherently deny the wonder of this present reality and its power, particularly as it manifests as male-female mutuality.
3 Just as the behaviour of seeking denies individuals their own force and intelligence, the cultural model of the perfect person (enlightenment) inherently denies the perfection that is Life itself, already established in each person. The body and all that is experienced is the absolute condition, whereas the 'absolute' that culture proposes is only conjecture moving attention away from reality. Man's idea of heaven has made a hell of this abundant paradise.
4 This understanding alone allows a person to let go of the uninspected stresses of a culturally prescribed search, relaxing instead into the natural state and wonder of Life already given. Authentic yoga begins as Life’s means of restoring itself. This happens when the mind folds up from the habits of seeking for what we are not, which is a denial of Life.
5 The intelligence and force of Life appears in the form of polar opposites in union. Through natural participation in the mutuality of all opposites, any remnants of the mind’s assumed separation from reality dissolve. The mind becomes clear as it links to the whole body, which is pure intelligence. Thus the mind is informed by the native intelligence of Life, and becomes useful as the communication means of Life. In this natural state, male and female characteristics are distinctly differentiated within and without, and are felt to be in ecstatic and continuous union as the basic process of life, uniquely expressed in each individual.
6 Ancient wisdom cultures identified these polarities and expressed them in concepts such as Yin-Yang or Shiva-Shakti. However, without the practical means to experience these polarities as the actual conditions of one's Life, which yoga provides, such language tends to create abstractions and a search for their realization, as if they were absent.
7 Sensitivity to the body’s polarities—that is, left to right, front to back and especially above to below—coordinated with the movement of breath, develops sensitivity to the fundamental polarity between strength and receptivity, the female-male union of Life. Due to the restrictions society has placed on male-female mutuality, genuine polarity between man and woman (or in same-sex relationship) usually does not develop without the support of these prior sensitivities. Developing the mutuality within the system develops mutuality without and vice versa: one is a catalyst to the other. Intimacy with self and other is thus restored.
8 The right side, the base, and the back of the body carry the male principle; the left side, the crown, and the front carry the female principle. The exhalation expresses the male force as strength, and the inhalation expresses the female power as receptivity. Strength and receptivity, giving and receiving, are restored as the natural state of Life. When we practice the union of the system’s polarities, each principle increases the other. Asana, pranayama, meditation, and Life are a seamless process by which the natural polarities of Life are acknowledged and absorbed. The intelligence of male-female mutuality is present in every cell and in the social wisdom of a free life.
9 Life’s union of polarities occurs as male receptivity to the female principle. A most simple enactment of this union is the ability for the strength of the whole body to receive an inhalation in yoga asana. Strength (male) must receive (female) and be received. This is the form of all Life. Strength lies in the base and spine, and receives from above through the crown and front. Strength is served by exhalation and receptivity is served by inhalation. This is anciently known as hathayoga: ha (sun or male) and tha (moon or female) in perfect union. Through hathayoga the heart (hridaya) is realized, where giving and receiving occurs in perfect union—'hr' (to receive) and 'da' (to give). Female strengthens male and vice versa. This reveals the polarity of heaven and earth to be One, the source and seen realities to be the same reality, and is the means by which spirit takes form. Its ultimate expression is the willingness to receive another, as embodied in the mother and all her offspring in the nurturing force that is life.
10 Restoring the natural polarities of body, breath, and relationship (in that order) allows for healing in every way. Yoga correctly applied to the individual serves the mutuality of intimate relationship, which is the most powerful means of healing. In establishing a Yoga practice, a person’s body type, age, health, and cultural background must be taken into account. This sensitivity can be learned and practiced with the help of a teacher.
11 Human contentment, wellness, wisdom, and realization lie in the power of mutuality between polar opposites, male and female, whether in same-sex or opposite-sex intimacy. All people embody the same male-female union as the substance of reality, as all come through mother and father. The power of this mutuality is in the acknowledgement of and participation in the fact that one pole does not exist without the other. This is the realization of the heart or whole. Intimacy with all ordinary conditions, all polarities, becomes the spiritual priority. In the pain that is felt around sexual relationship, this is a hard pill, especially so amidst the predominant doctrinal and social influence that suggests wisdom is in the transcendence of sex. However, it is a challenge within our grasp. Negative personal and social traits are replaced in time by positive patterns, the natural responses to intimacy. The freedom of polarised union with our tangible realities (left to right, above to below, front to back, female to male, outer to inner) is natural, already established, and within the human potential, whereas the religious proposal of transcendence is not. Participation in the union of opposites reveals the source of all opposites.
12 The subtle energies valued by spiritual practitioners in the vertical or ascending field of the body are awakened by, and made useful, in the related condition or horizontal field of the body; in Life as Life. Without the horizontal relatedness, awareness in the vertical is minimized and fixation of attention in the subtle energies is a dangerous and common mistake. Robust relatedness in life allows for free awareness of energy in and above the crown.
13 The ultimate locus of Life and of yogic awareness while in the body is the heart, not the head. The heart is revealed only through participation in life’s inherent mutualities, especially inhalation to exhalation, strength to receptivity, above to below, and inner to outer. The hridaya or heart is the first cell of life and formed from the male-female union. It is a portal through which source reality, the absolute power of the cosmos, appears as pure intelligence, beauty, and functionality. From the heart flow the nurturing forces of Life that form the whole body, spiralling like flower petals in full bloom throughout the body. This is felt when the whole body is integrated with itself and with everything that is. It is love-bliss. In the natural state the body is designed only for relationship, so integration is easy. This participation is Yoga. There is only the heart — reality itself aooearing as everything, including apparent limitation. The previous habits of mind that seek for reality may be intentionally dismantled, or they may dissolve naturally when seen to be unnecessary.
14 Freedom is in utter autonomy: the realization that life as it is already given is full and sufficient, requiring nothing but the support that is always already provided by the cosmos. This autonomy does not and cannot exclude mutuality, life’s natural movement to life, one pole to its opposite, one person to another, autonomous beings choosing each other.
15 Yoga practice replaces negative patterns with positive patterns. However, positive patterns are also addictive and are an imposition on the natural life. These patterns cause the mind’s assumption of better and worse, well or not well, separate or not separate. They deny life’s extreme intelligence, which is always functioning in the body. Life is functioning perfectly and handles everything. Yoga is about finally unqualifying life from the mind’s imposition, not qualifying it with further patterns. Therefore, the means (establishing positive patterns) or the tools to realisation are also eventually given up so that there is no mental qualification of Life whatsoever.
16 We cannot give up positive patterns through wilful intention, like a method. This is a further imposition of the assumption that life is a problem to be solved. Yet certain healing through intentional practices may also be required. Patterns cannot be superficially given up. However, we may practice in the context of understanding that our life is an extreme intelligence. Behaviour patterns fall away naturally when they are felt to be irrelevant or known to be unnecessary. We stand in life as life in its pristine unqualified nature, extreme intelligence, peace and power, which are already established. Here authentic yoga begins as the flow of the energy of Life. We relax. Life’s natural movement and responses to relatedness continue, not requiring a wilful intention that disturbs the system. The Yoga of body, breath, and relationship takes on a natural, non-obsessive form.
17 This change from ‘negative’ to ‘positive’ patterns, to the unqualified wonder of Life, may seem like a progressive process, but is not. Believing in the necessity of any pattern (negative or positive) is addiction that obstructs the natural state of life. Generally, positive patterns are more difficult to release due to their glamorous and stimulating effect. We have swapped our steel chains for golden chains and are now enamoured by the gold. Understanding and release into the natural state can occur at any time and requires no progressive process. Change is unpredictable and cannot be prefigured. It occurs of its own accord, suddenly or gradually. By profoundly understanding restricting patterns and having the courage to stand in our own ground as Life, as it is already given, changes occur in a spontaneous, natural way.
18 Physical practices are essentially about free participation in the breath. To be with the breath is to be with That which is breathing us. The body remains soft and structured around the breath movement, while the moving anatomy serves the breath process. The body movement is the breath movement and vice versa. The mind naturally follows the breath and becomes clear as it links to the whole body, the intelligence of Life. No longer assuming an independent existence dissociated from Life, the mind begins to function only for the communication of Life. Movement with breath may be some work but not a struggle. The breath is the gauge to the moving anatomy. The challenge is within the breath limits, not in the musculature. Practices are designed for the individual, meaning real yoga is within everyone’s capability. Yoga is adapted to the individual, not the individual to Yoga. It is not an attempt to impose the mind’s predetermined structuring or any cultural proposition on the body. The breath, too, should not be overly controlled, but flow smoothly within comfortably managed breath ratios. The goal of Yoga is to unqualify the organism of mind, not qualify it. This occurs through intimacy with body, breath, and mind as one process. Finally, this goal itself is seen to be an obstruction and unnecessary because the living organism already stands in its intelligence; the natural state. There are no steps to be taken.
19 Religious tools can be used to express intimacy with Life when free of any limiting belief system or delusion about their necessity. The principle and practical means of intimate participation in reality is Yoga, designed appropriately for each person. It is intimacy with all ordinary / extraordinary conditions. This anciently given system establishes vital whole-body connection to Life that empowers all other practices. Yoga is the primordial religious 'relinking' practice, the origin of religious experience from which history's doctrines arose. It is the first spiritual responsibility and the practical means by which the ideals of doctrine are realized. Without the actualization of Yoga, doctrinal concepts remain mere thought structures that block human intimacy with reality.
20 By participating in Life as the whole body, the profundity of Life’s energy and intelligence is realised. This includes the base of the body as much as everything that is above. The mind takes on the qualities of Life, strength that is utterly receptive. The culminating point of this fullness, the place of unqualified depth of feeling, is the heart, hridaya, the source of mind and body. It is the point of complete union of the male and female qualities of Life, the place of perfect giving and receiving in our physical form. From here the spine and the whole physical/energetic body developed, and presently function.
21 The mind and all experience seem to arise from this profundity of feeling at the hridaya, heart. It has a depth and location that cannot be intentionally or wilfully discovered but that is naturally felt when the whole body is relaxed and participating in its Life and relationships.
22 The form of an effective teaching relationship is natural and mutual friendship. Anything else will transmit only cultural concepts and limitations, not the understanding of heart. In order to create social power structures, individuals and institutions use charming and even accurate cultural wisdom concepts. These bind participants to imagined dichotomies of knowing and not knowing, special and not special. Only in actual friendship that transcends conventional social structures can the heart of yoga be transmitted. The teacher is no more than a friend and no less than a friend.
23 In heartfelt friendship the teacher helps individuals find their own unique way and expression. Merely following the teacher’s destination is another way to lose oneself. In the context of this vital friendship of mutual affection, the teacher’s role is to coach a person in the practice of their relevant mutualities in body, breath, and intimate relationship. The teacher can also help a person develop clarity of intention and direction in life. The teacher provides a supportive context in the midst of the positive and sometimes difficult changes that result from practice. Through trust in the teaching relationship and by understanding the logic of Yoga, faith in Yoga develops. Clarity depends finally on a person’s own clear intention to be well and to practice. Mutual affection between two actual people is the basic methodology of all humanity's wisdom traditions. Intimacy between teacher and student cultivates intimacy in all other relationships.
24 We all suffer in birth through to death. Kindness to yourself and others is therefore the appropriate response. There is no way out of life’s fundamental difficulty. There is no conventional fulfilment, only the love-bliss of reality already given. We are taught, however, that we are supposed to be happy or at least find happiness. Consequently, we add shame and low self-esteem to our suffering when pain becomes obvious, as it inevitably does. Accepting the fact of suffering rather than struggling against it does much to ease pain and motivates a common-sense compassionate practice. Suffering increases until we can acknowledge it — so the sooner we do so, the better. Acknowledging suffering ends pretension and allows us to feel the reality of Life, its peace and power.
25 To self-realise, to actualise life, individuals must be unconfined by models imposed by culture and do something for themselves. Even to duplicate cultural idealism is only that — duplication — and rarely, if ever, occurs. In all areas, including relationship, art, and Yoga, it is possible for a person to perfectly express their own unique Life. This is usually a very simple and natural expression, free of the requirements of performance or any standard. It is also present in the body’s inherent relatedness and organic responsiveness to everything in its native intelligence as Life. Truth is the condition of all individuals in all times and places. So, the deepest revelations have been expressed through all time, including in contemporary popular culture and in the creativity of individuals everywhere. These expressions deserve as much respect and attention as the great revelations of the past, as they are relevant to our time. All authentic (your own) action is a significant contribution to the evolution of cultural wisdom.
26 Social models passed on by parents usually express a limit to intimacy. Behaviours are duplicated automatically. Yoga is about understanding these limiting models in order to find the unrestricted nature of Life through our tangible links to Life (body, breath and relationship). We discard the social obstructions passed through the generations but honour parents as the fundamental source of life. To express your own sexual character expresses Life as it is presently given, ending the painful limitations of the past for yourself and for society. In response to painful experience, anger, pain, grief, compassion and love (in that order) cannot be bypassed, but rather must be felt and acknowledged, even while the following emotion is predicted. With practice this transition through painful emotions is quickened and may even become instantaneous. Finally, all painful experience resolves in compassion and gratitude for everyone. All are forgivable for the restrictions imposed on them in their past. Compassion for parents, ancestors, and all of humanity diminishes the social limitations we have all suffered. Pain is the healing force, creating literal changes in the biochemistries and energies of Life. Pain is not the enemy to be avoided; it is the protective and nurturing force of Life, demanding its own reductions and life changes. To relax into and cooperate with pain is wisdom.
27 The male-female mutuality through which the power of Life expresses itself is described as a social idealism with concepts such as love and other language. Traditionally, this relationship is even given divine status and very benign attributes. It is not that such expressions are not true, but without the real and practical tools by which these ideas can be felt as tangible realities, these concepts remain abstractions. It is only language, which makes people miserable by implying that something is absent. Nothing is absent from Life, and all share the same condition. Yoga is the practical means by which the ideals of language and doctrine are enjoyed and actually realised.
28 Any ideal or abstraction, from social idealism to sublime religious expression, creates a mental dissociation from Life due to the dichotomy between the ideal and the perceived everyday experience.
29 Authentic yoga is about having the personal means to actually participate in the reality of Life through body, breath and relationship. These means are easily learned and applied without any struggle. It is to understand profoundly that the struggle with self and others, as if something is absent, is unnecessary. It is put into us by the social mind. There is no complicated object, or you, the complicated subject. There is no action to be taken in this imagined paradigm. There is only reality and pure relatedness to all things. There is no problem. Real meditation begins when the habits of mind are seen. The struggle is recognised and made redundant. The questions that have been put in us dissolve. The war is over and peace is won. Permanent peace comes with intimacy, not through 'mindfulness' or witness consciousness practices made popular by Buddhism and borrowed by modern psychology. They offer only temporary relief and create dissociation from experience. The embrace of Life and all forms of Life is peace and self-realisation. Yoga is to be mind-full, fully merged with experience. Not 'mindful', merely witnessing and separated from experience. Now consciousness, the awareness principle may be spontaneously realised. Now the knower is known. This knowledge arises as a gift or siddhi of practice. Everything indeed is consciousness. The absolute condition of reality is in all. The All is in All. The All is All. You.
30 Love is personal and natural. It is a tangible and personal regard of a real person. It is not the unfulfilled desires that are put in us by culture. The religious or tantric activity of attempting to find God through another inherently denies the other, creating struggle and dissociation. These habits of thinking are socially ingrained and are in us even if we are not religious. The notion of a ‘higher’ love diminishes the value of human love. Where there is real personal loving, one cannot tell the difference between God and the person. This is the authentic tantra, the means of Life and Yoga. The peace and power inherent to Life arise spontaneously or gradually as the most fundamental siddhis, or gifts of Life. From here all other siddhis arise and are made useful.
31 The struggle with self and others ends when the male-female polarity, the form and process of Life, is engaged as a social priority. It is the mutual accord that is valued above all else; the relationship itself is our priority and pleasure, of which sexuality is a vital part. Sexual character develops and everything else is realised as a subset of this first principle of Life. Everything is then informed and ordered by male-female intimacy, intelligence, and power — including stable family and community life. Social imperatives have diminished this natural priority, however, and alternatives to intimacy are offered in the forms of religion, career, consumerism, politics, art, etc. Without intimacy as their principle, these become aberrant social struggles that deny or even suppress sexual wisdom. Therefore, to engage male-female intimacy becomes the first principle of a sane life. It is within everybody’s grasp as the natural form of life. However, we face a long social history of sex negativity. The only way to remove Life-restriction from our systems is the regular practice of overt bodily loving supported by actual hatha yoga. The autonomous power of each individual develops as polarities merge. The pleasure and power of the feminine and the ability to receive another is permitted to flourish in man and woman.
32 Sexual practice changes from diffidence to robust connectedness. It is no less than any spirit or emotional conversion spoken of in religious context. However, it is felt and expressed tangibly, energetically and bodily. The emptying habit of tension relief changes to relaxed absorption in Life’s mutuality. The regenerative force of Life, the power of male and female polarity within and without, is active and is managed as the force behind all activity, including, in a timely way, procreation and the care of children. Adult intimacy then becomes the basis of social life and a clear social model passed on to children.
33 Spiritual and social elitism has been reduced in our time. The ordinary is now celebrated and valued as extraordinary, not different from the highest. Spiritual transmission does not occur through exclusive agency but only through ordinary and equal individuals, especially between male and female, where heaven surges to earth in the creation of new form. In the ordinary the unseen is known (via the seen). The union of heaven and earth is known in the natural state. To surrender to or receive all ordinary conditions reveals the infinite. They are not different.
34 Conclusion: If God, the Absolute condition of Being, is the source of our Life, it is either true or not. This is not something we can turn into a process of seeking, just as the fact that the sun is the source of our solar system does not provoke us to seek for the sun. The sun is a tacit presence in our lives that we enjoy. Attempting to surrender or develop faith in a proposed social concept such as God as 'other' only keeps the mind busy and stressed. Surrender, known in the traditions as Isvarapranidhana, and faith, known as sraddha, are the giving up of spiritual ideas. It is simply clear that the wonder of Life and its source is our natural condition already utterly established in us as us. This is perfect faith in and surrender to Life, whatever Life is altogether in its extreme intelligence and vast inter-relatedness. Actual Yoga then arises naturally as the movement of Life in body, breath, and relationship, rather than the manipulation of Life and the qualifying of the living organism with concepts and effort in mind and body. You are the power of the cosmos appearing as pure intelligence, beauty, and functionality. There is only reality. Nothing else.
Yoga arose in the great Upanishadic culture at a time before the concept of the holy personality or exclusive God had developed in history. It was a wisdom culture that simply acknowledged that everything is Brahman or God. Sun, moon, male, female, breath, senses, food: everything is God. There was no concept of a special person as God, implying that everyone else was not. This dichotomy was made when the idea of the divine person was packaged, distributed, and forced into the social mind and behaviour as doctrine. This is the cause of human misery: trying to be something we are not, rather than enjoying the wonder and power of Life as it is already abundantly given.