I wrote another post on this a while ago, but wanted to revisit it (as with some many topics here) to see what comes up now.
The three centers – heart, belly and head – each filter Spirit, Existence, life in different ways…
The head center is the seeing of all as Spirit. When the view is split, it reflects and creates a dualistic experience centered around a sense of I and other. When the view is of all as Spirit, it reflects a more nondual realization.
The heart center is the loving of all as Spirit. When the heart is split, it too reflects and creates a dualistic experience of I and Other, us and them, the situations and beings our heart opens to and those it closes to. When the heart recognizes all as Spirit, the circle of care, compassion and concern effortlessly leaves nothing and no-one outside.
The belly center is the felt-sense of all as Spirit. When the felt-sense is split, there is a sense of comfort and relaxation in some situations, and discomfort and (emotional) reactivity in other situations. In general, there is a lack of basic trust in existence and life, a lack of feeling deeply nourished and held by life. When there is a felt-sense of all as Spirit, of all as God’s will and God itself, then there is that deep feeling of being held and nourished by life, independent of circumstances.
An awakening (even an early one) of the head center reorganizes the view, from rigid and dualistic to more receptive, inclusive and reflecting a more nondual realization. An awakening of the heart center reorganizes the heart from being often closed to being more receptive and open in any situation. And an awakening of the belly center reorganizes the emotions from reactivity and unease to being deeply nurturing and a deeply felt sense of trust in life, independent of how it shows up.
There is also a mutuality among the centers. The movement of one in the direction of a deepening split, or of reflecting all as Spirit, tends to be reflected in a similar shift in the others. For instance, when there is reactivity in the belly center, the view tends to become more rigid and deepen the sense of I and Other, and the heart closes down. When there is a deeply felt sense of nurturing in the belly center, the view tends to be more receptive and inclusive, and the heart more open.
In terms of practices for each center, inquiry works well for the head center, revealing what is already more true for us. Heart center practices include gratitude practices, rejoicing in others fortune, well-wishing, tong-len, heart centered prayers, and so on. And the belly center practices include any body-inclusive practices, and maybe especially Breema which seems to very clearly open for a deeply nurturing felt-sense of trust in life, and all as Spirit.
And each of these centers also have Buddhas associated with them, as an image reflecting their qualities when all is seen/felt/loved as Spirit.
(For some reason, the belly Buddha is often left out in Buddhist teachings, as the belly center is often – although certainly not always – left out in spiritual teachings in general.)
Hotei is a particularly good image for the belly center.
He has a big belly, drawing attention to that center, and also reflecting the sense of rich, full, nurturing abundance experienced in the belly center when it is more open, when there is a felt-sense of deep trust in life. (He sometimes has a big sack that never empties, reflecting the same sense of abundance.)
And he laughs… when there is a deep felt-sense trust in life, independent of how it shows up, and there is a deep sense of a nurturing fullness and richness coming from the reorganized emotional level and the belly center, it is naturally expressed in an heart-felt laughter.
Hotei is often seen as a more folksy and naive representation of Buddha and is left out of the more formal teachings in the different Buddhist traditions. But, at least in the context of the three centers, the image of Hotei is as profound and significant as those of Manjushri and Avalokitesvara.