When the food of the mind is pure, the essence becomes pure; memory becomes firm; there is a falling away ( prati-moksha ) of all the knots of the heart.
At this centre we follow our teacher’s direction to use the commentary by Shri Shankara on the Upanishads, and go deeper and deeper into their meaning. Shankara comments on this phrase ‘the knot of the heart’ where it comes in the Mundaka Upanishad, and in other places he quotes it elsewhere also.
The knot of the heart is loosed, all doubts are cut away, all his karma-s are destroyed,
When He is seen who is both high and low.
Shankara quotes this (by citing the first phrase, in the customary way) near the end of his Gita commentary, to describe one who has realized the cosmic Self.
The knots are of two kinds they are are impulses of desire
In general, the vasana is, in the normal individual, a general drive. In the Gita commentary, examples of vasana are the egoistic feeling ‘I AM this individual’ (aham-kara, I-maker), passionate desire or hatred. Pleasure‑desire (kama) is an especially strong vasana., he explains all as vasana. which literally means ‘perfuming’; it is something that persists long after its source has gone, as the odour of the rose persists in a box long after the rose has gone.
The samskara on the other hand would be more like the groove on a gramophone record, to which Dr. Shastri often compared it. Samskara is a specific and detailed record; it has to be added that the sanskara, unlike the passive groove, is constantly pressing to repeat itself. Things depend on the impressions from the past but the impressions remain in the form of vasana in that case, the sanskara is also an impression but it seems to be more of a definite individual character. When we do a particular action to follow out a desire or a hatred or anger or egoism and it has a definite form, and that form is what is called a sanskara, a latent impression that seeks to reproduce itself and the collection of sanskaras is referred to as a man’ Faith. ‘As a man’s Faith, so is he’.
Sometimes it is called his individual nature. So there is not all that much difference between them, but the sanskara seems to be more individual, the vasana is more general. Both are made up of desire, and ‘The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teachings’ on (p. 90) comments: ‘Try to avoid harbouring desires’. Note that it does not say: ‘Don’t have any desires’. If thirsty, it is perfectly legitimate to desire a drink, but not to harbour, to cherish, to meditate on desires. The Gita says: ‘don’t brood on them, don’t meditate on desires.’
It is when they are meditated on that these form knots of the heart.
Now a knot can be a useful thing. For instance, if you have three sticks and you want to make a strong prop to support something, a good way is to tie them together with a cord and knot it. The three sticks knotted together are stronger than the three sticks as they stand individually. This was the principle symbolized by the fasces, as the Romans called it: United we stand, separated we fall”.
In India, people often wrap a book in a cloth, to keep it clean and also to protect it from termites and so on. The cloth is wrapped round the book, and secured by a knot. When we want the book, we untie the knot and fold up the cloth. But suppose we can’t untie the knot, what then? To get at the book we must somehow ease it out by loosening the folds and easing it out. It may be a long business. When we finally do, we are left with a cloth and a big knot in it.
What is the use of that? I cannot spread it, or fold it to put away, or use it for anything much – it; isn’t really a cloth any more, it is just a knot.
This will not happen if I can untie the knot. Then the cloth returns to its natural freedom for use. Unless we manage to untie the knot, the availability of the cloth for use is much reduced.
There is only a bit which could be used to wipe things; it can’t be spread out, and one cannot stand things on it. There is a bit of it there one could wipe and clean a mirror with it perhaps but the knot will always get in the way. Only if we can both make the knot and untie it will it fulfil its purpose and have a use. If we cannot untie knots, the cloth will gradually get turned into knots, with no available space for use. The cloth is not for making more and more knots till there is very little left for what it is supposed to do.
The point is emphasized so much because this is what happens often enough in the heart. Knots of desire or egoism form, and cannot be untied. The knots become more and more habitual, and then hardened, impacted or congealed as Shri Shankara calls it. There is very little of the heart available for anything flexible or newly constructive; the knots take up so much of the space. We must learn to untie them; If we can do that they may have a temporary value.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Loosening the Knot of the Heart
Part 2: Swetaketu was a naughty boy