the heart . . . is the organ of the spiritual man in the physical body by means of a ray from the spiritual monad in the human physical vehicle. Therefore it can be called several things: the organ of the Reincarnating Ego; the organ of the personal man. Or again, it can be called the organ of life for it is the center of life of the physical body. It is from the heart that stream upward into the brain the rays illumining the mind . . . — The Dialogues of G. de Purucker
A special book, The Secret Teachings of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner,* acts as a bridge between mental science and the subtleties of the heart. Its two main sections, Systole and Diastole, at first sight have little to do with each other. Yet from scientific information, deeply-felt experiences with plants, and quotations of profound prose and poetry, the author has created a whole that makes a sound connection between science and New Age sentiments, between historical and modern perception of nature, between prose and poetry, and between personal mental and emotional experience and a medical art based on altruism and universal ethics. Its connecting thread is that of a mystic who chooses various examples to unveil universal truths.
*The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature, Bear & Company, Rochester, VT, 2004; ISBN 1591430356, 315 pages, paperback, $18.00.
After a short introduction about himself, Buhner begins a fierce attack on linear "Euclidian" thinking. He shows that straight lines and neat mathematical systems do not occur in nature, and that fractals and Mandelbrot structures come much closer to reality. He maintains that constantly being taught abstractions as realities in school is a great obstacle to the acquisition of knowledge directly from nature.
At the same time, it is obvious that regular proportions and their harmonies are emphasized by some of the giant souls of humanity: philosophers like Pythagoras and Plato, and by scriptures of the Hindus, Jains, Babylonians, and Egyptians. In Mayan scriptures, the first deed by the Builders of the Universe was to measure with ropes the square which is so important in cosmologies the world over. Even though nothing in nature seems to answer completely to the ideals of geometry and mathematics, nature seems to reflect these ideals, as in crystals and in the regularities and perfections within the plant and animal kingdoms. To me it seems rather that mathematics strives to describe the noumenal or higher mental world of the gods, and that life acts ever playfully and harmoniously within the possibilities of these noumena, which are its all-pervading laws. A linear mind, however, is but a faint and crystallized reflection of the spiritually intuitive mind, and when exclusively adhered to is indeed a great obstacle to the understanding of life.
The scientific parts of the book discuss the physiology of the heart, brain, and individual cells — especially in relation to the continuous production and interchange of information through electric and magnetic fields — as well as very refined and intelligent processes in physical and energetic nature. Communication within the body takes place continually, inside and between organs, between cells, and between individual organisms, all in a way which does not directly involve the brain-mind except as an interpreter and distant observer. Buhner certainly does not reject intellectual thought, but he recognizes the proper status of the consciousness of the heart, the brain, and even the intestines and other organs, in a conscious whole.
Buhner regards living systems as the outcome of the self-organization of smaller units resulting from continual communication, both internal and external. Because every unit, however small, has its own particular electromagnetic field, it communicates with all around it, and recognizes and then fine-tunes itself to the fields of others. Regarding cells, the author cites, among others, Jan Walleczek:
Biological cells can be viewed as highly sophisticated information-processing devices that can discern complex patterns of extracellular stimuli. In line with this view is the finding that, in analogy to electrical circuits, biochemical reaction networks can perform computational functions such as switching, amplification, hysteresis, or band-pass filtering of frequency information.
The author notes that "Cells can recognize extremely subtle differences in electric fields," going on to say: "The plasma membrane is a primary sensory organ for all cells. It possesses thousands of receptors across its surface, designed to detect perturbations, influxes of chemical, electric, magnetic, hormonal, pressure, and mechanical impulses, among other things."
Buhner feels that, as smaller units self-organize, a new identity comes into being as a larger system with new behaviors. I only partly agree with him here because I think that the self-organization of smaller units would lead, not to living beings but merely to a cooperating community like a termite hill or beehive with behaviors of its own resulting from the cooperation of individuals. But a living being has its own soul of a higher order which governs the processes of attunement and cooperation of its parts. While every single aspect and property of the universe is represented actively or latently in even its smallest parts, each of these needs a "compassionate hand" from conscious Being in the form of the greater vital-electromagnetic fields of what are relative gods or consciousnesses. These gods continuously tap a still higher source of intellectual energy, transforming and translating the divine energies to the level where they are to be applied.
Separate chapters deal with the physical, emotional, and spiritual heart. The physical heart is far more than just a pump; it is in fact the organ which determines the rhythms of our organism and provides information to the blood. Nerve cells make up 60 to 65% of the heart — so it contains more nerve than muscle cells. Besides being a subtle and intelligent pump, the heart is primarily a processor of consciousness and information. The rhythm of a healthy heart is never regular: each heartbeat is unique. Likewise the magnetic and electric fields that each heart builds around itself are unique. In this way it communicates with other parts of the body, chiefly with the brain. But these fields are also measurable outside the body, and thus continuously communicate information from the heart to the surrounding world, and from the world to the heart. We can learn to listen consciously to this reciprocal information by perceiving and understanding the subtleties of our constantly changing feelings.
This builds a bridge to the second section of the book, which deals with communication with plants. Every plant has a consciousness, just as all other living beings do, and it has messages it wants to communicate. Every plant has its own character, not only outwardly but especially in its own specific magnetic and electric forces, the presence of which can be perceived by the energic fields of the human heart. In this way it is possible to really know and understand a plant on a deeper level, and the information interchange is mutual. It is by this means that people close to nature have discovered the medicinal or other influences of plants — and not by trial and error as we are generally told. Through practice we can learn to recognize this type of communication — at the end of the book the author gives "exercises for refining the heart as an organ of perception." This method of learning through the perceptions of the heart can be applied on a cultural level, and the author maintains that its results are more reliable and exact than those of the usual scientific approach which takes only the nervous system and brain into account.
This method is not easy, however. Buhner says that when we meet, perhaps on a walk through the forest or field, a particular plant to which we feel an immediate, special attraction, it may be because that plant wishes to convey something of use to us — for example, something about our own inner development, its possible use as a medicine, or its contribution to the ecosystem. All this information is perceived immediately by the heart and stored in our subconscious memory. Following that first recognition it may take years of "sitting" with the plant to reach the point — which he calls, after Goethe, the "pregnant point" — when the plant completely reveals itself. It is necessary to develop a complete respect and love for the plant as a teacher. It may not be easy for a human to bow before a plant but, as Buhner says, plants are far older than we as physical species, and retain experiences within them even from archaic geological periods.
Theosophy teaches that plants today are perfected remainders of a much more active vegetable kingdom of the far past, when the emphasis of terrestrial evolution was focused within them. Each plant soul reached its acme of evolution on this physical earth long before humans became active. Plants have not changed fundamentally since that time — though they always adjust outwardly to changing environmental conditions — and their individual consciousnesses are relatively dormant. They are waiting for a new vital impulse to resume their evolution on a still higher level. Thus at present plants have already reached their evolutionary goal for this cycle, while we humans are still busy carrying on our evolution, which is predominantly the further development of conscious mind.
So plants can teach us their experiential knowledge and wisdom in its relative perfection. Rocks, plants, and animals are older than humans as far as our present physical form is concerned. But in innumerable earlier ages our essential self inhabited many other forms, including those of rocks, plants, and animals. So we do have their general experience within us. Moreover, as humans we have garnered experiences of a type which the other kingdoms have not yet had access to. Aligning ourselves with their souls today for particular purposes is in fact a reawakening of aspects of our own subconscious ancient experiences.
Of course, this path to knowledge does not only occur between human and plant; it also exists between human and human. Buhner himself is a natural healer who has learned to communicate with plants — not only directly but also through his memory, in which all impressions which reach the heart are registered — and with the cells and organs of ailing people. A natural healer who has developed the ability to perceive the subtleties of his own heart and mind can acquire a deep empathy with a patient and his or her problem, including the psychological and ethical aspects. He can then see directly which natural remedy might be helpful, rather than relying on information from books or trial and error — which even most naturopaths must do.
The last part of the book deals with ethics. Good intentions and feelings alone are not enough to help a fellow human being. Since "Nature is both the creator of man and his greatest teacher," one should become anchored firmly in the truth of nature, and not in the lie of its mere description. "Because Nature does not lie," Buhner points out that
The more we lie, are out of accord with the truth that is found in Nature, the less we are able to perceive of the depth dimensions of Nature. The hidden face of Nature, thus, is an expression of its moral dimensions, which are as real as its physical dimensions. We partake of the moral not because we are human, but because we are of Nature.
There are vast kingdoms in nature consisting of beings who have already passed through and surmounted the human experience ages ago. Our awareness of the scientific possibility of opening our heart to nature, as this book explains, will also open the gateway to awareness of and harmonization with the subtle, intelligent, compassionate, and wise active energies of these higher beings which encompass all nature. He says further that "All people naturally should possess multiple points of view, have a multidimensional consciousness" — if only the adherents of so many brain-born religious sects would understand this aspect of real religion!
This book will be received warmly by healers and by all who wish to become more aware of their complex and refined connections with nature. More information about Buhner’s work can be found on www.gaianstudies.org.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2006; copyright © 2006 Theosophical University Press)