Thursday, June 24, 2010

You are not your body

There are many situations when you want to do something but your body doesn’t obey your wishes. Like for example, you would like to read or learn all night but the body is too tired and wishes to sleep. Or you have a very important task to finish, but the body suddenly feels hunger and needs to eat. Also, you have to go to the toilet every day, even many times a day.

Sleep, hunger, thirst, the need to urinate comes automatically, no matter whether you want them to happen or not. So, it seems that your body has its own needs and its own mechanism.

Even now when you read these lines, inside your body the stomach is digesting food, the heart is beating, the blood is running through the veins: in short, many organs do their daily routine without your awareness.

And in the exact moment you enjoy your reading, it might happen that you need to go to the toilet. There are many moments when you really don’t want to go to the toilet because you are watching a good movie, spending your time in good company or listening to an inspiring Dharma talk. But no matter whether you like it or not, you will be forced by the body to interrupt any enjoyable activity and go to urinate. Urine forms itself inside your body without your notice, and from time to time you have to go to the toilet, no matter if you like it or not.

What do these simple situations show us and how should we interpret them? To me all these are clear proofs that I am not my body. It is as simple as that.

How can I be one and the same with my body if, when I want to do something, it doesn’t obey my commands? If I am to be my body then when I want to do this or that, I should do it without any impediments.

But it is very clear that the body has its own mechanism. It grows from childhood to maturity and old age by itself, it develops by itself, transforms by itself and I (this mind stream I call I”) can’t do anything about it. I may have my own plans and wishes but the body just follows its own course. No matter if I want it to last for eternity, this will never happen.

The simple truth is that my mind stream is just covered by the body, carried by the body, influenced by the body, but surely I am not the body. This is very logical. The body is just a machine which works automaticaly if it is given fuel consisting of food, water, air, etc. This machine has needs like any other machine that must be sheltered against rain or other physical elements. 

The consciousness or flux of consciousness (mind stream) is impregnated” in the body, this is why I feel the pain of the body or its pleasures. Also the consciousness is limited by the body. So, for example, as long as I” am in the body my vision will be limited by the eyes, ears, nose, etc. After the death of the body, the mind stream (which always changes due to various karmic impulses and desires) goes into another vehicle or body and continues its journey into the various realms of existence. Only if you have faith in Amida Buddha can your unenlightened mind stream naturally and spontaneously be transformed into a Buddha[1], a truly free one.

Fear of death appears because of attachment to the body and identification with it. Life, in the general acceptance of the world, is the duration of the body from its birth to its death. But this period when you have this form and are carried by this vehicle is only a small part of an endless change. So, try to relax and don’t let yourself get driven into fear due to the materialistic views and philosophies that are now prevalent in the world.

Just observe your body and you will naturally realize that you are different from it. Of course, the fear of death might remain inside your mind even after accepting the difference between you and the body, because attachments are hard or impossible to be cleared away due to many past lives spent in ignorance. But at least you have made an important change at the intellectual level.

And this small step is very important on any religious path. When your vision is no longer that of a prisoner of materialistic ideas, you are ready to understand further Buddhist teachings on rebirth and karma and awaken the aspiration to Buddhahood, i.e. liberation from birth and death.

4 comentarii:

Josho Adrian Cirlea said...

A blogger said on his twitter page, pointing a link to this article: “not encouraging seeing a Buddhist priest teaching the senika heresy”....

What is the senika heresy? To quote from another link he gives:
“This position holds that there is an immutable mind nature or spiritual intelligence with which man is endowed, and which does not perish even after bodily death.”

The explanation about this heresy goes on in many lines but I do not enter into detail here. Also I will not use many words to contradict him. I just wish to point that this article is only intended against materialistic views which sustain the idea that we are only this body and after death there is nothing. Such ideas are slowly taking ground in the minds of many Buddhists, including the person this article was addressed to.

In showing some simple proofs that we are not this body I DIDN'T say that we have a mind of IMMUTABLE nature. It is a basic thing in Buddhism that everything is changing and we can’t say that our minds just goes without change from body to body.
I intentionally used the term “mind stream” to show that there is no fixed mind that goes from life to life. Like in a stream of water or river we can’t say that what we see now is the same water like yesterday or tomorrow.
Also rebirth is a basic Buddhist thing that is recognized by many Mahayana schools, no matter some modern Buddhists consider it out of date.
I also mention this is a simple article without any academical pretensions. It is not my intention to enter into profound doctrinal Buddhist things when I want to encourage someone caught in materialist visions and afraid of death due to identification with his body to follow the Buddhist path.

This blog is not for academic circles but for simple people.

Kyoshin said...

Josho, My apologies for not initiating this discussion here rather than on twitter. The latter easily gives rise to bad kneejerk habits.

Setting aside the failings of my mode and manner of communication I still think there is an issue here. I acknowledge that you grant "that there is no fixed mind." My prior tweet to the one that you cite stated that the issue that I was concerned about was mind-body dualism. In the book I linked to it stated that there are several dualisms implicit in the Senika view, one of which is seeing the mind and body as separate. Here's an extract from Dogen's Bendowa by way of illustration of this point:

"the heresy of Senika ... According to this heretical view, lurking in your body is a sort of ghostly intelligence, which can tell good from bad, right from wrong. The ability to know pain and pleasure, suffering and delight is due to this ghostly intelligence. And what’s more, this ghost-like nature can slip out of a dying body and be reborn over yonder."

My labelling of your viewpoint as 'Senika' was not quite right in so far as you do not share the same view about the immutability of the mind (which I didn't actually mention). However your statements that the body "is just a machine" and that "conscience or flux of conscience is impregnated in the body", reflect the same mind-body dualism that is criticised as Senika - and is repeatedly criticised by the Buddha in the sutras.

Josho Adrian Cirlea said...

Thank you, Kyoshin for your valuable comments.

Still I think that to get deeper into a doctrinal discussion from this simple article (a fragment from a letter intended to someone fearing death) is to make a horse out of a mosquito, as the saying goes.

Generally speaking I wanted to show that somehow we are not this body and that after death life goes on in the sense of rebirth. The non-duality of body and mind that you mention does not mean that after death, everything disappears.
So I used metaphors, comparing the body with a machine that needs fuel (food and water) in order to exist, no matter “I” want it or not. This machine sometimes needs repairing, etc. This machine will someday become unusable and the flux of conscience who somehow is carried by this vehicle (the body is often called a vehicle in Buddhist texts) will really go on to another rebirth, carried by the power of karma, leaving the old body (machine or vehicle) behind. Maybe I am not using the best technical terms but I am sure everybody got my point.
I still think there is no divergence from the Buddhist teaching in what I said.

Some people use the so called non-duality of body and mind in order to deny rebirth. I know there is a lot of debate on this topic nowadays but I do not wish to bring it on this blog.

D3aTh AnG3L said...

awesome article! very right about the body being seen as a's quite true.....