Heart and eyes

Soyen Shaku (1859-1919) was an influencial Zen teacher who ended his career supporting Japanese imperialism as an extention of his unfortunate nationalist beliefs. But his intellectual contributions were great and cannot be denied. One of his best insights was packaged in a maxim intended to characterize himself, a maxim that certainly applies beyond his own experience: “My heart burns like fire but my eyes are as cold as dead ashes.”

Whatever the degree of solitude or disengagement from society we may experience, we must extinguish not our feelings and emotions (“heart”) but rather our senses (“eyes”). The “heart” propels our progress on a spiritual path, while our senses tend to see life and objects as temporary sources of diversions from the spiritual path.

Working on what feelings and emotions really ought to consist of is a great challenge for anyone, but especially for the solitary, who naturally can lapse into misanthropy and cynicism towards fellow human beings. The concept of love, much trivialized, much misunderstood, transcends the senses and approaches the very harmony of the universe, the very core of being — and does so without attachment, without diversion, without corruption. Perhaps the spiritual path is nothing but this pursuit of harmony and being after all. In which case the true concept of love will resonate within us because we can perceive progress on our path as no mere intellectual or emotional stage but a uniform momentum.