The Perfect Heart Parable
Over the years I have noticed a close relationship between Yoga and Buddhism. Yoga is older than Buddhism and has had quite an influence on Buddhism. It is even suggested that some of the Buddha’s own practices from age 29 to 35 included elements from Yoga. In the United States, Yoga is often thought of as a Hindu practice, but it might be better to think of Yoga as a foundational practice that influenced both Hinduism and Buddhism. Both of these developed out of the philosophical assumptions and practices of Yoga.
This mingling of traditions is quite prevalent in the various Yoga studios I have visited. During a Yoga class you may hear a quote from the famous Yoga teacher B. K. S. Iyengar, then another from the Dalai Lama and finally a closing message from Mahatma Gandhi. It seems the lines of sectarianism have been intentionally blurred in order to learn from each of these great traditions. Oftentimes I have trouble noticing where one ends and the other begins.
I would like to share one such example. It is called The Perfect Heart Parable. The author of the parable is unknown. The parable is about a young man who is quite proud of his heart. It is perfectly symmetrical, without a ding or dent. It has never been damaged in anyway. This young man boasts and brags about his pristine heart. He often shows it off in the town square. Hundreds gather to view his heart from a far.
One day an old man appears from out of the crowd. He tells the young man that his heart is not nearly as beautiful as that of the old man. The crowd gathers around the old man and sees that his heart is quite strong but it is scarred and damaged in many places. There are pieces missing and even a few places that were repaired with pieces from another’s heart.
The young man laughs and says, “You must be joking. Compare your heart with mine; mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.” The old man agrees—but explains that the scars and tears are the result of sharing his heart with others. He often gives a piece of his heart to those he loves and in turn he receives a piece from them. The pieces don’t quite fit, but the rough edges represent the risks one takes when we open our hearts to others.
At that moment, the young man realizes that he has been holding his heart too closely. The old man and the young man then hug. As the young man walked away he notices a flaw in his young, perfect heart. He begins to cry tears of joy, for he had shared his heart and is the better for it. Now his flawed heart is truly beautiful.
This story shows the importance of sharing one’s heart with another. When we truly connect with others it is often beyond words. When that bond is broken it really does feel like you have lost a piece of yourself. But the solution is not to protect your heart but instead to open it up further. A woman once told me that her dog of twelve years had suddenly died. She said that was the most difficult event in her life and that she would never get another dog again because of it.
But I think that is the wrong lesson. I think people who feel that much loss are actually very lucky to have been that close to another. Grief is usually seen as a negative but I think it is a wonderful gift. We are very lucky to have known that rare someone who was able to touch our hearts that deeply and, for this woman, there is another dog out there somewhere waiting to do just that. A beautiful heart is not the one that has been protected from others. It is instead the one that has been freely and deeply shared. This is the lesson that the young man was able to learn from the old man.
I am not sure who “owns” this story but it resonates across all three Indian traditions of Yoga, Buddhism and Hinduism – in many of the Yoga studios across America. So please take your new heart out into this new world as we recover collectively from the pandemic and share it with others.
Rev. Jon Turner