How do the words heart and mind resonate within you? Why is this important?

A student writes:

“I find can connect much better with simply ‘Heartmind’ as one word. If I say or think Chitta, I need to ‘think’ about it. Whereas just simply Heartmind makes sense to me. It’s one thing, not split, working together.”

Lama Shenpen replies:

I know what you mean about using a foreign word like chitta. It has not gained any resonance in English yet, has it? I think Nirvana and karma have a resonance in English now and they are actually in the English dictionary as English words – similarly the word Buddha.

I think the phrase Buddha Nature will become part of the English language – a phrase that everyone will know and that will resonate for everyone. I think the word mandala will too – if it hasn’t already.

Like you, I am not sure the word chitta will ever take off like that though, because we have our own words for heart and mind that resonate too strongly and I don’t think any new term is ever going to usurp them. It is important to notice the effect words have and how they resonate – it’s the resonance of words that does the work here really. You cannot point to the Chitta or define it – you have to intuit it – so the words that point to it have to come from it somehow. If that makes sense?

When we say ‘heart’ – something resonates and we can sort of trace that resonance back to its source which is that depth within the essence of our being that contains all that is most meaningful – the word comes from there, so when we follow it back we sort of dissolve into that meaning somehow.

Again from that place maybe other similar words emerge or emanate. This is what I am drawing your attention to in the Living the Awakened Heart Training, and telling you to play with, work with – link into, align with, honour or whatever other words you can find for how to relate to it properly!

The word ‘mind’ has a totally different resonance for most people (though not necessarily and especially not for non-native English speakers). Although ‘mind’ can be used synonymously with ‘heart’ it seldom is. We can for example say ‘I am keeping you in my mind and praying for you’ that could mean the same as ‘I am keeping you in my heart and praying for you’.

However, there is still a slightly fuller resonance to the second expression. The first could be said meaning ‘I am remembering you’, but the second is clearly meaning something much more immediate, intimate and perhaps mysterious. Actually the more I think about it the more resonances emerge from the second expression – things like warmth, commitment, depth, connection and so on.

I don’t think the word ‘chitta’ is ever going to resonate quite like that for us. Heartmind as one word as you suggest might have a future. To me it resonates with a sense of not just my ordinary mind, but my deepest most essential mind or being – that lies deeper than just the mind somehow. Maybe it resonates with a sense of the intelligence of the heart somehow.

I think it’s a term that is easy to infuse with the sense of space that we want, even though it might not immediately suggest that any more that the word ‘mind’ immediately suggests space. But given the right context it moves easily into a sense of space – like in the phrase ‘cosmic mind’. How does ‘cosmic heartmind’ sound? I am not sure – maybe that has a very powerful resonance – what do you think?

I guess we are talking about our being really aren’t we? I wonder sometimes if we should make the word ‘being’ our central term – so that we talk about Awakening as the Awakening to the true nature of our being. I am not sure that has all the resonances of Awakening the true nature of the Heartmind. Resting in Awakened being – that sounds ok, but doesn’t resonate quite the same as resting in the Awakened Heart does it?

Many books on Buddhism talk in terms of discovering the nature of mind (for example Rigdzin Shikpo uses this in ‘Openness Clarity Sensitivity’) – and that resonates quite differently to talking about discovering the nature of the Heartmind, doesn’t it? And Heartmind resonates a bit differently from discovering the nature of the Heart, doesn’t it?

I wonder what everyone else finds? German students tell me that there is no word like ‘mind’ in German. ‘Mind’ in English has more or less the same range of meanings that ‘chitta’ has in Sanskrit so can be a natural translation in every context, even though it does tend to cut out the heart resonances.

It has the same spatial resonance and the same ordinariness, in the sense that even children talk of thoughts popping into their minds or going places in their minds. Apparently German has no word like that and so one student says she is using ‘Heartspace’ to capture the sense of Chitta. That works quite well in English too, I think. Maybe it’s even better than ‘Heartmind’ in some contexts.

The point of this exploration is that all the time we are considering these different resonances and connotations of the words, we are exploring our own direct experience and discovering something about our inner sense of meaning – so it’s important to really notice what we find ourselves touching on, in our experience and really letting ourselves relax into that – really appreciate what we are talking about and experiencing.

This is what we need to home in on more and more and pay it due honour. It is what we need to explore and discover more and more about as time goes on.

Lama Shenpen Hookham.