In the Light of ...|Mar 14, 2005 2:45 PM| by:

Mind or Heart?

The conflict  between the mind and heart is one of the perennial problems of human development. Psychologists and philosophers, saints and sages have debated unendingly over the question of which is greater or which has to be the leader of life — mind or heart?

 In general, since man is essentially a thinking being, mind is considered as superior to the heart. To keep the feeling and emotions of the heart under the strict and vigilant control of the intellect or reason is one of the well- known precepts of traditional wisdom. On the other hand, many poets, mystics and spiritual teachers viewed the heart as greater than the mind. In fact one of the fashionable assertions of new-age seekers and teachers is the superiority of heart over the mind. We hear many lofty statements like “things have to come from the heart and not the mind”. There is an element of truth in this new-age wisdom. But when it is over emphasised in a dogmatic manner, it leads to much error and a rather misplaced pride in being “a man of the heart”. For merely having a “heart” or living in it, does not ensure that whatever that comes from it is true and good.

In this article we examine this issue of mind vs. heart not as an academic exercise, but as a problem of inner development in the light of the Integral Psychology of  Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

Consciousness of the Heart

Firstly, we have to understand what we mean by the word “Heart”. In popular psychology, “Heart” is that part of the psyche which “feels”. It is distinguished from the “Mind” which “thinks”. In a deeper and broader psychology “Heart” is the part of our consciousness which is the source of our instincts, sensations, feelings, desires emotions, passions and vital energy.[1] And our heart is not entirely unthinking or blind. There is a cognitive element in it, a mind or emotional intelligence by which we can know what it feels. Our heart is closer to life than our mind and therefore potentially capable of a greater and more effective understanding than the mind. As Sri Aurobindo says regarding the mind of desire, which is a part of the heart- consciousness — “Its passion caught what calm intelligence missed.”[2]

Many spiritual teachers viewed the heart as a better instrument than the mind for the spiritual quest because it is in this part of our consciousness that the inner realities of the psyche and spirit become, or can become, concrete, experiential and dynamic. For, while the mind tends towards the abstract concept, the heart seeks for the concrete feeling and experience. But all these positive qualities of the heart do not necessarily make it superior to the mind. For neither our heart nor mind are of a single piece. There are many levels and layers in our heart and mind or in other words the hierarchy of heart and mind.

Let us first look at the hierarchy of our heart. According to the integral psychology of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, there are three layers in our heart consciousness. First, is the surface emotional being, second, is the deeper subliminal heart, and third, is the deepest spiritual heart. The first and the lowest layer of the heart is the surface emotional being, which is the seat of all the negative emotions like anger, jealousy and lust. It is closer to the sub rational, instinctive and subconscious parts of our psyche and therefore very receptive to all the irrational impulses from these nether layers of our consciousness. This part of our heart is definitely not superior to mind. It is the animal in man, something fickle and volatile, in a state of perpetual unrest and swinging moods, something utterly unfit even for a mundane life, let alone for spiritual life. So, those who live in this part of the heart or allow it to dominate their life cannot hope to progress or succeed in the mundane or spiritual life. For progress and success in life, this part of the heart has to be kept under firm control of reason and intellect of the mind.

There is a  deeper and larger heart in our subliminal being, which we may call the subliminal heart. This subliminal heart is capable of deeper, higher, wider, and more sublimated emotions than the surface heart. All the characteristic powers of the heart which we have described earlier, like feelings, desire, sensations and passion acquire much greater sublimated intensity and power in this deeper heart. The cognitive powers of understanding inherent in our feelings, manifests with a more luminous force in the subliminal heart. As Sri Aurobindo says, those who live in this deeper subliminal heart are “up buoyed by the heart’s understanding flame.”[3] So those who are poised or in contract with this subliminal heart have a deeper and a more effective intuition, understanding and grasp of the realities of life than those who live in the intellect or in the surface emotional being. As a result they are more successful in life than the intellectual or the lower emotional man. It is probably this deeper part of our emotional being which was given the name “emotional intelligence” in some of the latest developments in modern psychology.

However, even this deeper heart cannot provide the right and true guidance for a spiritual aspirant seeking for the highest truth or God. The subliminal regions of our psyche are much more luminous and powerful than our surface conscious self which is severely conditioned and enclosed within our bodily consciousness. It is less circumscribed by the body than the surface being, hence freer and vaster. But in the spiritual perspective even this deeper subliminal being is part of the belt of “ignorance” which is a mixed cauldron of the true, half-true and the false. In fact, these subliminal regions pose a much greater and subtler danger to the spiritual seeker than the surface conscious self. The subliminal regions of our consciousness are full of enchanting glamour with forces, beings and places which can mimic the higher spiritual truths with a brilliant and authentic disguise or in other words, as Sri Aurobindo points out, they are full of “forged signature of the gods,”[4] where “Truth lay with delight in errors passionate arms” and “edged her ray with a magnificent lie.”[5]

Although the subliminal heart, or “emotional intelligence” may be a better instrument than the surface intellectual and emotional being for worldly success, it is not sufficient for a spiritual seeker questing for the highest truth of the spirit. He needs a still deeper and higher faculty or power which is beyond the belt of ignorance, and which is in direct contact with the highest truth. According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, there is such a power of truth in the inner most chamber of our heart. We may call it the spiritual heart.

Thus, behind the subliminal heart, there is a spiritual heart in which lies what is called in integral psychology — the psychic being. This psychic being is the highest and the innermost truth of our individual being. It is the evolving spiritual element in man, a pure and direct spark of the eternal and universal truth within the individual human being. The psychic being has the unerring and flawless discrimination and perception of truth. As Sri Aurobindo describes the action of the psychic being:

“Its character is a one pointed orientation towards the divine or the highest, one- pointed, yet plastic in action and movement. …it is at every moment and with a supple sureness  points the way to the truth, automatically distinguished the right step from the false, extricates the divine or godward movement from the clinging mixture of the undivine. Its action is like a search light showing up all that has to be changed in the nature; it has in it a flame of will insistent on perfection, on an alchemic transmutation  of all the inner and outer existence.”[6]

In the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the first stage of perfection or transformation is to make the psychic being the conscious leader of our inner being and outer life. This means to organise or integrate our outer mind, heart and body around the innermost psychic centre. But this is an ideal which requires a long and arduous discipline. For, the psychic being is not something which imposes itself like a dictator. Our outer body, mind and heart have to voluntarily consent to the psychic guidance and influence. This requires a difficult sadhana of purification or liberation of the external being from the inertia and obscurities of the body, attachments and passion of the lower emotional and vital being and, the rigidities, prejudices and preferences of the mind. But if our heart and mind are full of such impurities, they will either resist or reject the inner guidance of the psychic being or else distort or falsify it to suit their own ignorant motives and desires.

Consciousness of the Mind 

Let us now move from the heart to the mind. There is more or less a similar hierarchy within the consciousness of our mind. According to popular conceptions and traditional western psychology, “mind” is that part of our consciousness which thinks, reasons, analyses or discriminates. It is distinguished from the “heart” which “feels”, desires or loves. But in the deeper and broader conception of integral psychology, mind pervades our whole consciousness including the consciousness of our heart and our life-force, and our body. The consciousness of our mind, like the heart-consciousness, has three layers, the surface, subliminal and the spiritual.

The surface mentality may be further classified into three sub layers: the physical mind, the instinctive mind of our body; the vital mind, the mind of our sensations, emotions, desires and the dynamic part of our being; the thinking mind or the intellect.

In the surface intellect there are two parts: first is the pragmatic element which is closer to the vital mind and will and tends towards earthly utilisation of knowledge; second is the ideal element or pure reason which can conceive abstract ideas and concepts and seek knowledge for its own sake. This ideal element is closer to the deeper subliminal mind. But in our surface mentality all three parts of the mind are severely circumscribed by our body with a compulsive urge towards externalising, irresistibly flowing out through the five senses into the objective world. The knowledge of the surface mentality is solely dependent on the data received from the senses and the external appearances. It doesn’t have the inner vision or insight into the invisible forces or realities hidden behind the outer form. The ideal element in the surface mind, does to a certain extent, escape from these limitations but not entirely. This ideal mind is potentially capable of separating itself from the physical and vital mind and stand apart from it. If it can do this with sufficient power and effectiveness, and silence its thoughts, it can receive inspiration from the deeper and higher parts of the mind. But in the surface mentality, the emotional and vital part of its consciousness are much more powerful, violent and energetic than the intellectual or cognitive element and its rather feeble will.

The second layer of the mind, behind the surface mentality is the subliminal mind. This deeper layer of the mind is much less tied to the body-consciousness than the surface mentality and therefore can expand more easily into the universal. The subliminal mind lives in a freer, vaster and a more luminous terrain. It has a vaster range of knowledge and can see or intuit the invisible and hidden realities behind the outer  experiences. It is the source of genius and occultism and also a variety of religious experiences. But still the subliminal mind also suffers from the same limitations as the subliminal heart because both belong to that part of our consciousness in which ignorance wears a glittering robe and dazzles us with a brilliant mixture of truth and falsehood. And neither the subliminal heart nor the mind has the discernment to detect the truth and reject the falsehood.

The third and the highest layer is the spiritual mind. If the spiritual heart is viewed as a realm of our consciousness which is situated behind the surface heart and mind, the spiritual mind may be located above them, over the head centre. Thus, in integral psychology they are called “overhead planes”. The spiritual mind, like the spiritual heart, can give pure perception of truth and an unerring discrimination to sift truth from the mixture of falsehood. The spiritual heart and mind have common features as well as differences. That which is common to both is the concrete and experiential nature of the perception. In the spiritual mind and heart, concepts, abstractions and sentiments of the surface mind become concrete realities of consciousness which can be seen, heard or touched. The main difference between them is that while the perceptions and experiences of the spiritual heart is predominantly individualistic, personal, and emotive with love as its main power, that of the spiritual mind is predominantly impersonal and universal with knowledge as its main power. Here also, as with the spiritual heart, the transforming power of the spiritual mind over our lower nature, made of the surface mind and heart, depend on their purity and receptivity. If the surface mind and heart are not sufficiently pure, the inspirations and intuitions descending from the spiritual mind can be seized, distorted and falsified by the surface being.

Integration of the Mind and the Heart  

Coming back to our original question — is the heart greater than the mind — the answer depends on which heart and mind and what we are seeking. The surface mind and heart are more or less at the same level. Similarly the subliminal heart and mind are on the same level and they are greater than the surface mind and heart. The spiritual mind and heart are on the same level and they are greater than the surface and the subliminal mind and heart.

If we are seeking worldly success or professional excellence or genius, then the subliminal heart and mind are equally effective instruments. If we are seeking spiritual progress then the spiritual mind and heart are equally trustworthy guides for leading us to the highest spiritual truth. If our aim is personality development, then the spiritual heart or the psychic being, and organising the whole being, our body, life and mind around this deepest heart holds the key to the highest integration of the personality. If we are striving to make the surface mind and heart receptive to the spiritual mind or heart, then it depends on purity, which means freedom from ego and desire. Whatever may be the part of our being, mind, heart or will, its receptivity to the spirit depends on to what extent it is free from ego and desire.

We may conclude that neither the mind nor the heart is superior to each other or hold the keys to truth and perfection. What leads to truth and perfection is the purification of the various layers of the mind and heart and integrating them around the spiritual source of our being.


[1] The actual term used in the integral psychology of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is “vital”. According to this school of psychology, our human organism is a fourfold being with a physical, vital, mental and spiritual dimension. The vital being in man has three centres: first is the lower vital centre near the abdominal region which is the seat of lower instincts and emotions like anger, sex etc.; second is the higher vital centre near the naval region which is the seat of higher passions and ambitions like the need for power or achievement; third is the centre near the heart region which is the emotional centre proper, in which things are felt with a concrete warmth. But since, the vital being as a whole is predominantly emotive, passionate and kinetic,   with a character or nature very different from the mind, it doesn’t make much difference if we replace the term “vital” by the more popular word “heart”.
[2] Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, p.249
[3] Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, p.176
[4] Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, P.38
[5] Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, p.494
[6] Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, p.145