f5Ecology and spirituality
are fundamentally connected, 
because deep ecological awareness, 
ultimately, is spiritual awareness.
Fritjof Capra

The site Universidade do Coração (Heart University) is held by the NGO Grande Síntese (Great Synthesis), situated in the NE of Brazil (Santana do São Francisco – SE), where it develops a socio-environmental project rooted in spirituality (see Escola Curtindo o Coração) and deep ecology (see Projeto Bambá). The NGO Grande Síntese also deals with a number of community-related issues, such as those associated to drug abuse and addiction (see Projeto Reviver). The NGO members are all volunteers with different religious background. They work hard to assist those in need and to promote non-violence and social justice all over the country. Volunteers are encouraged to contact with the soul-force dwelling in the heart to experience the heart-philosophy, which drives the whole project. Such a view encounters support in the Bhagavad Gītā and also in the Gospels, where one can read, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mathew 6:21 and Luke 12:34). By means of socio-environmental expressions of activism, all volunteers are led to experience in the heart the regulatory order of the sacred and sacredness hidden in nature itself.

Though a philosophical term coming out of the field of Eastern Religious Studies, the notion of “spirituality” is nowf2 well accepted also inside Christianity, embodying a sense that human beings are driven by a quest for the sacred in order to experience, in their praxis, life-as-a-whole. Broadly speaking, this metaphysical position, where the subject is to be thought of as interconnected with the objects, like in the relation of the parts and whole, is what we call heart-philosophy, hence the name Universidade do Coração, a place to experience spirituality as a mosaic of a variety of distinctive cultural traditions.

Developed for the sake of the sacred nature that dwells inside us all, imparting grace in the form of spirituality and a sense of truth and sacredness, which in the Bhagavad Gītā is called śraddhā (heart force, zeal, religious fervor, and enthusiasm), the site Universidade do Coração is concerned with the mind’s serene asceticism toward that in which everything exists, which permeates everything and is the essence of all – ātman, the holy spirit of life within each living being’s heart.

Spirituality comes out as a sense of social awareness and commitment to a non-individualistic lifestyle, understood as orthopraxis. The theological term ‘orthopraxis’ stands for ‘correct practice’, or the result of one being confident in the soul-force of the heart, which necessarily leads to a positive view of the world as a whole, bringing life to a perfect balance of ‘spirituality’ and ‘materiality’. Orthopraxis is supposedly powerful enough to help even those stuck in a life oriented by selfish motives and different forms of addictions. The inner struggle between vices and virtues represents the moment and opportunity to rethink the meaning of law, family ties, righteousness, and above all, the meaning and role of one’s own conscience in the larger social process.

f4People who suffer from egocentrism, being oblivious to the principles of the heart-philosophy (ātmic understanding), begin to indulge in lawlessness; with the result there is soon confusion about the nature of the holistic realm of the sacred in which life itself takes place. At the very moment one chooses not to follow what spirituality indicates, one loses the ability to recognize the truth. It is difficult to break through the logic governed by individualism. The vice of extreme individualism, as opposed to the virtue of the social orthopraxis of the heart-philosophy, involves the development of all sorts of addictions. The virtues involved in overcoming selfishness entail a new understanding of the sacred realm.

In the Grande Síntese, volunteers learn how ethical values become accessible to those who place individualf6 values second to the main goal of attaining social good. The soul force, which is responsible for putting love in action, cuts away the barriers among different ‘faiths’, making possible to draw together volunteers with different expressions of faith. For, when a sincere Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or even atheist, labors with their mind in the heart, what they all display is nothing but a form of spirituality, which has to do with one’s capacity to become more or less engaged in life. Spirituality implies involvement with one’s own reality, developing itself within one’s heart. As a consequence, this truth transcends what is ‘religious’ and transforms all human affairs, leading to Environmentalism and Ecodharma.

The site Universidade do Coração, therefore, legitimates the view that establishes spirituality as the characteristic mark, which defines and ranks everyone. Spirituality explains how the different volunteers respond differently to the same challenges, and expresses the gradual shift from the sphere of the individual to that of an altruistic ‘placing of the heart’ on righteous expressions of activism, which are supposed to be free from any selfish interest. This perspective provides the underlying unity of all projects developed by the Grande Síntese, this site included.

For further information in languages other than Portuguese, try the Google translator feature on the upper right side.