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Lions Roar : July 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2013 34 We take the body completely for granted, just as we do the sky and the Earth. Yet the body, like them, is much more than we know. What we think of as our body—what we feel, imagine, and dream about it, what we unthinkingly assume it to be—isn’t really what the body is. The body is more than the body, and our feelings about it run deeper than we can know. The body as it actually is is mysterious to us. We assume we know what the body is. But even a few moments of examination produces more fragmentation and uncertainty than clarity. What self is there that is not the body? Yet where is the self that possesses a body to call her own? Who, outside the body, utters the words “my body”? Without a tongue, without a brain, I can’t even utter the words. Ask yourself: from what perspective do you look at your body? From inside, peering out from the body’s eyes? Or from the outside, as if you were looking at it in a mirror? But how is it possible for the body to be external to itself? No, that can’t be. The body must be contained in the experience of looking, so what you see and call “my body” must be something else. Is the body the flow of its sensory experiences— seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, tactile sensation? A closer look reveals problems here too. Where does a smell or a taste occur? In the nose, on the tongue? In the things smelled or tasted? In the brain? In all at once? And what about awareness, the insubstantial, apparently nonphysical process through which anything we experience comes to us? Is awareness inside the body or outside it? If it is inside, how can we say “my” body? There is no one outside to say “mine.” But if awareness is outside the body... No, that can’t be right! Yet awareness is foundational to our experiencing ourself as a person at all. Without awareness there would be no smelling or tasting—and no body. There can be flesh without awareness, but a living human body, as we understand it, is aware of being a body. The Buddhist teachings on the workings of mind, called Abhidharma, teach us that there isn’t a body per se, just a variety of momentary mental events. Some of them we think of as “physical,” even though they’re not. When I feel an ache in my right leg, the Abhidharma analysis goes, this sensation is a mental event produced in consciousness when an object I call a leg activates inner sensors that awaken awareness in a particular way. Likewise, seeing, hearing, and all sense perceptions are mental events stimulated by apparently physical objects. Contemporary cognitive science agrees. All experiences arise when consciousness is activated by a sense organ meeting an internal or external object. (Here, the mind itself functions like a sixth sense organ in relation to emotion and thought.) We assume we are “experiencing” the object that gave rise to the event in our consciousness. But the truth is that the only thing we can verify is the expe- rience itself, however we may be misconstruing it. The idea of the body is like this. It is an idea based on unwarranted assumptions about the coherence of our conscious experience. In Buddhist analysis, then, there is no body. What there is is form (rupa)—some kind of illusory arising that appears to be solid and that forms a basis for experience we call physical. But in actual fact it’s just a continuous flow of momentary conscious events. Still, our idea that we have a body is powerful. Beyond our misinterpretation of our personal experiences, the idea of the body is reinforced by the social discourse we have all grown up with, which takes as an obvious fact that we “have” bodies. Our whole system of language is based on the metaphor of the body (which is more than anything else a metaphor). Most of our feelings and commonplace ideas about our lives are based on the metaphor of the body, a thought so foundational to us we can’t even begin to know how to question it. On the night of his enlightenment, the story goes, the Buddha was visited by the forces of Mara, the Evil One, who was determined to stop the Buddha from achieving awakening. Most of Mara’s devastating and spectacular display of hopes The bodhisattva body, the buddha body, is the perfect eternal beautiful body hidden in the earthly body of impermanence and decay.