The Duties of the Heart: Lecture Transcript

(this lecture was recorded live on Sunday, August 12, 1962 in Los Angeles, and this edited transcript appeared in the PRS Journal, Summer 1963)

Duties of the Heart

By Manly P. Hall

IN the 23rd chapter of Proverbs, Solomon, King of Israel, says: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We have long held this to be essentially a religious statement, but as we study man and his composite nature, we come to realize that this is a very scientific approach to the human problem of consciousness. The individual has an inner life, which was anciently regarded as the life of the heart, as distinguished from career, which was the life of the mind. The individual’s thoughts are rational, but sometimes also very selfish, and as a balance to this, he has been given a deep emo­tional trend-a power to affirm value within his own emotional experience. He expresses this value through friendship, love, un­ selfishness, and dedication. These are essentially the powers of the heart. 

It may well happen that due to the pressure of circumstances, the heart-life of man is compromised, or perhaps even corrupted, and of all the disasters that can occur, this is probably the most serious in terms of human activity. Man, moving from within him­ self, must become oriented in the world in which he lives. If this inner motion fails, or if the inner incentives of life are not ade­quate, the person’s external career can never be truly successful; and most of our difficulties, particularly in personal relationships, arise from some failure of the heart in its psychic-emotional func­tion. In our generation, especially, the duties of the heart have come to be more or ‘less ignored. We use the heart very largely merely as an emotional instrument to be catered to, to be justified in various ways, and to become, so to say, the basis of pleasures, and all too often, without our consent, the basis of pain. 

What does the heart really stand for in the mysticism of re­ligion? I think it represents essentially the instinctive adjustment that man strives to make with the creative principle of life. The individual has a two-fold nature and a twofold social problem. This was recognized long ago when religion divided the mistakes of men into two groups, called sins and crimes. When we make mistakes against the code around us, when we break the laws of our own kind-the statutes that have been set up for the regula­tion of human affairs-we are said to have committed a crime, and we come under the punishment of the code with which we live. If, however, we break the laws of the heart, if we break the laws of conscience and character, if we make certain internal mis­takes that throw us out of harmony with the universal purpose for our existence, we may then be said to have committed a sin. A sin is an act against universal truth; whereas a crime is breaking a rule that men have established. 

Actually, all crime begins with what we call sin, inasmuch as criminal codes are established to curb the excesses of human self­ishness and human passion. Therefore, the criminal code became merely an instrument to protect society against the action of the individual who had broken faith with himself. Such codes we recognize to be essential to the continuance of any social order, but we also realize that there are a great many mistakes we make that can never actually come within the boundaries of a crime. There are mistakes for which we will never be punished by so­ciety, by any direct action, or by any direct code, but they are mistakes for which we will be punished; and our punishment lies largely in the damage done to our own psychic integration. The individual who commits a sin is not merely breaking a theological rule or a rule set down by some church; he is breaking faith with life. The heart of man, representing his consciousness, his inner mo­tivations and convictions, is also ruled by laws. There are laws of man’s affections, just as there are laws governing projectiles in space. Our thoughts must be lawful, or we are sick. Our emotions must also be lawful, or we are sick. And it is just as certain that any pattern built upon ignorance or violation of law will fail in our personal lives, as it is certain that it would fail on a scientific level. Thus, the wise ones from the dawn of time have tried to learn to understand the laws governing the parts of man’s nature. They realized that to fail these laws in any respect, is to ask for tragedy. 

Tragedies are of varying degrees. Those which arise from con­scientious intention that does not quite work out, are usually more or less minor tragedies; and when we are faced by a major tragedy, if we search inside ourselves, and examine our motives honestly, we will realize that we are the cause of our own trouble. Some­where we have violated those rules which apply to the way a man must think in his own heart. Nature requires absolute honesty­ it will settle for nothing less; and where the inner life of man, be­cause it is secret, is permitted to be dishonest, this can never be concealed from the outer conduct of that person. Ultimately, these mistakes will come through to burden and trouble his daily ex­istence. 

Each person has to decide for himself whether he wishes to be happy or not. If he wants to be happy, if he realizes that happiness is at the root of success, and that success without happiness is meaningless in the long run, then he must do those things that will help to make him happy. He must do those things which na­ture says lead to happiness, because nature will not change. Some people seem to have the idea that nature’s observant eye occasion­ ally looks in the other direction; that there is no reason to assume that nature can catch up with the mistakes of every private citizen; that there must be some way we can outwit nature and quietly carry along our misdeeds with dignity. But it cannot be done. Na­ture is not an observant thing; it is not someone sitting somewhere watching us. Nature is an involved complex of laws operating in us and through us. 

It is not any more possible to fool nature than it is to fool our own stomach, because actually, nature is working in the intricate complexity of our own character. What we do affects us, whether anyone else knows it or not, discovers it or not; nor is there anyway we can separate our action from the inevitable consequence which that action sets up in our own chemistry. Thus, it is not that we are being watched; it is that everything we do has a re­sult of some kind, has an effect inherent in it, and that effect will have its way and will come out regardless of any effort we make to conceal it. 

Today we leave this problem of internal regard largely to re­ligion. If religion were a little more vital in its direct contact with things, it might help us to sustain an ethical character, but it is unable to achieve too much because it is hopelessly separated from the daily life of the person. Religion is a thing apart. In the United States, we have a hundred million nominally religious persons. This is a lot of people, but unfortunately it is from this same group that crime, delinquency, and domestic incompatibility arise. It is from this same group for the simple reason that religion, as a separate thing, is not strong enough. We do not give it sufficient attention. We do not devote to it the same thought and care that we devote to the pursuit of our trades and professions. We go to church to listen, but we do not act, and we have not recognized that religion is finally ethics, and ethics is finally science. We do not realize these parallels or their importance to us. 

By degrees, then, by attitudes of other persons, by the very depreciation of religion in our physical way of life, we are weaned away from convictions that might have use or value; or we become offended at religion because of the conduct of persons who claim to practice it. This is also a great mistake, for religion is not a person misusing it; it is a principle which endures. The individual who misuses it, breaks faith with it; he does not represent it. 

The only way we can really get at some of these problems is to go beneath the mind, which is always justifying, explaining, and trying to prove that we are right. To each individual, his mind is a sort of private defender. He has allowed it to justify his own desire in almost every instance. Instead of using the mind to find out what is true, the individual uses it to find out how he can get what he wants. The mind has come under such tremendous pressure in our economic way of life, that by itself and of itself, it cannot be depended upon. Twenty-five centuries ago, Buddha was pro­foundly suspicious of the mind as an instrument, and after all these centuries, we are becoming more profoundly suspicious of the fact that he was right. We begin to realize that what he said was essen­tially true. 

Behind and beneath the mind, however, is the human heart, which stands mysteriously within man as a symbol of the spiritual instrumentality of his life. In poetry, philosophy, and literature, the heart signifies the peculiar moral power that particularly dis­tinguishes man. We say, “a good-hearted person,” and we mean by this simply that the person is good. When we say that an in­dividual has heart, we mean that he has courage. When we say that he follows the dictates of his heart, we are saying that he is a person of honor and integrity. Thus, the heart has come to be the symbol of the principal spiritual-ethical center in man’s life. 

How we unfold the principles of the heart will depend upon our ability to educate basic impulses. Knowing that the instinct in all human beings is basically to be kindly creatures, we must then equip this instinct to do these things that are valuable and necessary for its expression. We find that in emergencies, in tragedies and in disasters, the humanity in man moves forward into expression. We forget our prejudices and conflicts, and we work together for the period of trouble, because something in us moves out to help. We have this instinct, and yet we are constantly frus­trating it or failing to permit it to manifest, lest it interfere with our ambitions or our careers. Actually, this instinct to help will advance all career, because it is the basis of our proper relation­ship with life.

Because of the general lack of background, opportunities, ex­periences, and examples, the individual today does not naturally educate his own heart. We assume that as a person grows up, he matures; but when, in the process of growing up, he dedicates his energies entirely to one purpose, that purpose being to achieve physical success, he fails to educate the rest of himself and is de­prived of the skills by means of which he can accomplish his in­tentions.

If an individual says, “I wish I could build a house,” he can keep on wishing for a long time, and still not be able to build a house. But if he has a sufficient desire to build a house, so that he studies the necessary arts, crafts, and trades, he will have the pro­ficiency to build a house and can do it successfully. If an indi­vidual says in his heart, “I would like to be good. I would like to do good,” and does nothing to equip himself for a life of con­structive endeavor, he will continue to wish to his dying day that he could do something better.

Thus, it is perfectly obvious that the mind must be trained in order to use its faculties well, and it is equally true that the emo­tions must be trained and disciplined if they are to give the in­dividual support in positive directives. We cannot assume that it is necessary to go to school for years in order to be an accountant, but that we do not need any training in order to be well-integrated human beings; nor does the achievement of being an accountant or a jurist or a physician compensate for the lack of ethical ma­turity. 

How, then, do we train the heart? According to Zen, and most other mystical disciplines, we cannot train the heart by an ob­jective procedure. ‘The mind and emotions are different instruments, and they cannot be educated in exactly the same way. The mind is educated by taking on knowledge, but the heart is edu­cated by casting off error; and the two processes are completely opposed to each other. One of the things we have to do in order to educate the heart is to gradually relax away from those false pressures by which the heart is enslaved to the wrong goals. The mystic has always assumed that if he could attain a proper feel­ing of worship within himself, he would find that his heart is a kind of temple, a sanctuary, a place where the individual can come quietly and reverently into the presence of the indwelling divinity in his own nature. Those who have less religious instincts may have difficulty in conceiving that they are going to come into the presence of an internal divinity, but perhaps for these people, it is enough to feel that they are going to come into the presence of the deepest and most indwelling integrity that they will ever know. 

Actually, the heart of man is very close to life. It is closer to life than the mind or the hand. The heart of the human being is the mainspring of the best part of himself, and for the most part, even under evil conditioning and unfortunate examples, the heart does retain a large degree of its basic integrity. Thus, we find that even hardened criminals can reveal tan amazing emotional in­tegrity. No individual is completely bad, and the ‘last part of man to give up hope is the heart. We must do all we can, therefore, to preserve this instrument, so that it will not cease to believe in the good. 

One way ‘we educate the heart is to concentrate upon the justi­fication of those better instincts that are embodied in it. We know, for example, that we educate the heart by giving it beauty, great art. We know that we exercise and strengthen it by following pur­suits of positive esthetic value. We know, also, that we give it further strength when we contemplate the essential values in things. We give it more courage if we are idealistic than if we are materialistic. We give it greater value if we have a religious instinct than if we do not have a religious instinct. Everything that causes us to love the beautiful and to serve the good will help us to strengthen the resolutions of the heart. 

We also realize that as we go further into this world of the heart, we become more sensitive to the responsibilities of living. The heart naturally accepts responsibilities, while the mind makes the most of opportunities. The heart, if we permit it to, naturally opens and confers itself, naturally seeks the joy, peace and happi­ness of others. If it has been trained away from this point of view by adverse conditioning, then we must try to recondition it by every means within our power. This can often be done by a posi­tive statement of belief, and by becoming more concerned with spiritual value in a material world. We increase the power of the heart by association with constructive religious movements. We also strengthen the heart by becoming better informed about the lives of other people, because information, knowledge, and insight overcome our natural tendency to criticize and condemn. Wherever we permit a negative emotional factor to go uncorrected, we are endangering our own insight and our ability to know truth. There is nothing that blocks truth as much as prejudice, and there is nothing more common in our world today than emotional prejudice. 

As we go further, we also find that the heart has duties, and we have duties to the heart. One of our great duties is to set aside some part of our time to a direct effort to understand the heart, to know its meaning, to experience its desires, its purposes, and to share in the natural insight that it possesses. Buddhism points out very wisely that to the degree that we reduce the intellectual con­spiracy of our lives, to that degree we permit both the natural processes of the mind and the natural instincts of the emotions to express themselves. Man actually has to develop hard-heartedness, because it is not natural to him and never will be. He has to develop suspicion and hate. These are not natural instincts. It is the natural instinct of man to be normal, and the idea that normalcy must be cultivated by some artificial procedure, is wrong. What has to happen is that abnormalcy must be reduced by effort. The individual must gradually get away from his mistakes, and when he is through with these, the facts remain clear. If he will stop in­terfering with his own integrity, he will have that integrity. He does not have to develop it; he simply has to stop misusing it. 

It is therefore our responsibility to begin to discipline our emo­tional center. The disciplining is simply a process of freeing it, by a definite effort, from all emotions that are not right, not justified, and not helpful. In this way, we gradually find our way back to the inner heart-consciousness, which is the only thing that can guide us and lead us to bring our conduct into harmony with good character. This psychic heart center in us is the most powerful instrument of value that we have. It is the only instrument that cuts through mentation. As the Rig Veda says, the mind is for­ever slaying the real, so that we are constantly perturbed by the mind; and the great remedy lies in the heart. The heart also gives us the courage of sacrifice, the courage to perform actions which are beyond the call of duty. It gives us the willingness to forget ourselves in the service of other things. The heart makes us un­selfish if we will permit it to; and it is only when the mind cor­rupts this unselfishness that we begin to pervert the heart. 

In quietude and in the relaxation of mind, we can gradually become aware of the doctrine of the heart, and we know that as we retire into the heart, we come nearer and nearer to life itself. Man is going out into space to explore life, but he will never find the answer there. The infinite wisdom of the universe has put all the answers that man can ever need so close to him that he does not have to walk around the block to find them. For within the heart of man there are bridges extending to the infinite in all di­rections. The heart is the gateway to the eternal, and those who have never explored this path, who have never attempted to open this gate, are not qualified to say that this is not true. 

Down through history, there have been individuals who have explored the regions of the heart. They have sought to know what was in this core, and wherever they have sought, they have come to identically the same discovery. They have discovered that the road into the heart is indeed the golden road that leads to every­ thing that is right and proper for the human being; that the in­dividual who finds his own heart, who learns to live with it, who learns to know it as a magic garden within himself-this individual comes into a world of values, and by this circumstance alone, be­ comes enlightened in character. He comes into experiences which are so important that he can no longer afford to sacrifice them, and has no desire to. He discovers that with all the chaos in the world, no man is further from peace than he is from his own heart. 

This heart-peace in man is not a selfish peace. It is not a turning away into the self in order to escape the bruises of the world. It is this peace that gives man the courage of his convictions. It gave Socrates the courage to drink hemlock rather than to com­promise a principle; it gave Jesus the courage to die on the cross for man; it gave courage to the Christians in the arena of Rome. It gave courage to Washington as he knelt in the snow in Valley Forge and prayed to his eternal God. It gave courage to Mohandas Gandhi, and made him perhaps one of the greatest men in the modern world. This search for the heart in us is not, therefore, a vanity search, nor is it an effort to find some kind of security against the winds of trouble. It is the search for our real selves, for our normalcy, our happiness, and our peace of soul. It is the kind of search that makes it possible for us to be people, because actually, we are truly human only when we have found the mys­tery of the heart, and have discovered its tremendous contribution to the perfection of our lives. 

If we go further into this realization, we come also to great strengths that we haven’t otherwise been able to know. As Zen points out, the discovery of the heart doctrine is not by authority, but by experience. Once we begin to move in on this, once we begin to do those things that are necessary, things happen which we can no longer deny. We discover that we can achieve to this tran­quillity spirit without sacrificing anything that is worthwhile in life. In fact, everything in else becomes more worthwhile. For every small thing we seem to lose in this process, we gain so much more. 

We gain values that we will never be able to appreciate until we really experience them. Through the heart, we finally come to discover this lawful universe in which we live; and we discover that this lawful universe also has a heart, and that behind every manifestation of natural law, there is a principle which might be termed eternal love. Through our own heart, we find the heart of the world, the heart of God, and the heart of man. We also find the purpose that moves this great instrument which we call crea­tion. We finally know that the universe, as man himself, is moved not by thought, but by love.

The universe, in its greatest love, therefore, disciplines man. It wants and demands that he shall be the fulfillment of a universal purpose. It wants for every human being that peace which man wants in his own heart. And if the universe did not have peace in its consciousness, man could not, because man is merely a part of the universe. How could man love if the universe were loveless? How could man have any emotion that is not justified by the great energies of space that sustain all emotion? Our natural emo­tional energies must operate in harmony with universal law. Thus, man’s love is the proof of divine love; and man’s love of God is the proof of God’s love of man. And out of the great mystery of love come the only bridges that are real, the only ways in which we can ever become one with life.

By entering into our own hearts, therefore, we truly discover the heart of God. We truly experience the infinite security of this uni­verse. We realize, in a strange mystical way, that it is true that every sparrow’s fall is marked; that every atom dancing in the light or mingled into the structure of some creature, is known and is recorded, and has its own destiny governed by the same lave that rules the universe. Gradually, out of this experience of the in­timacy of a beautiful universe, comes the wonderful realization of true security.