To see spiritual life as something different to or apart from the mundane is to separate ourselves off from life – into our inner world. Developing our inner life can indeed be fruitful in many ways, it can be a source of great pleasure, and yet we will need to return to find the meeting point between this inner world and the outer in order to develop real wisdom and find true liberation. This meeting point is the body and we develop wisdom as we embody our spirituality.
First of all let us look for a more mundane sense for how embodiment might be. If we intellectually accept the view of an embodied mind we can wonder how the body is the centre of all our experience if often we are not aware of it – it would be counter-intuitive. We could describe this process intellectually like this: “the phenomenology of the lived body is able to overcome dualistic concepts of the mind as an inner realm of representations that mirror the outside world. Instead, by the mediation of the lived body the individual is in constant relationship to the world.” (Embodiment and psychopathology: a phenomenological perspective Thomas Fuchs and Jann E. Schlimme.)
However we can overcome the dualistic concepts ultimately only by overcoming the dualistic experience. This is possible. Then to articulate the new experience is to give words to such a sanity.
Body awareness keeps us within the world. In addition to so recognise our place in the world we need to recognise the nature of our minds. There is still a dualism in the sense that the mind is dependently originated. The concepts and experience of embodiment recognise the dependence of mental on physical and look for sanity by aligning our experience accordingly.
What is missed, and what is an enduring source of dualism is that the mind does have a limited life of its own. This inner life can be functional or dysfunctional. If it remains in contact with reality it is functional. If it drifts away from reality it is dysfunctional. So instead of this inner life being like a mirror to the outside world it needs to be placed back outside where it belongs. This is actually the natural result of forming a coherent body image – it flushes the content of the mind out of the body in our subjective experience, to leave a blissful empty mind within the body, this emptiness extends beyond the body so now we experience the body in the larger, empty mind. If the body image then remains we have the full picture, the nature of this image is then seen to determine the nature of our field of awareness and hence the nature of all the objects within it. Through using the body to open up a field of awareness that connects us with the world, we discover a way of seeing not just the objects within our minds but the nature of the mind itself as the space in which all objects of mind arise and cease.
Our first experiences of the mind itself will not be one of space. It will be to see the movements of our thoughts and feelings, their place in the field. We will clearly see when our minds are effected by greed or aversion, something that we will realise is not clear when we get drawn into the objects themselves. Then it is not just a matter of being aware of our greed but letting go of it by re-examining the object. This is through examination and a relaxing, calming and subsequent opening of the mind around an object.
This is then difficult also because when the mind encounters space it is so pleasant the mind gets entranced by that. We begin to calm and open our attention only to get stuck on the calm and cease really paying attention. Then there is a need to ground ourselves at least. Yet, better than this, if there is wisdom we discover that our attention to an object becomes a source of space because it leads to letting go. This is where everything comes together, where the bliss of samādhi and the sense world come together.
I offer this for your reflection.
the harmlessness of the true beggar is bought at all cost
his kingdom, never claimed, can never be lost
just as the humble meet the ground
with their humble feet
they shall inherit
and the true beggar will toil
and ask for no return
as the heart that freely gives
the true beggar shall receive only alms
and their heart shall shine through
everything and everywhere
as it calms
and they shall be no stranger to the world
ownership was never belonging
and does not belong
in the heart
of the true beggar
We could see true evolution as the evolution of truth or, if we accept as we have discussed (in the article: The Creation) that information has a semi-autonomy from the material world, as the relationship between a greater Mind and the physical universe. We can see the possibility of an influence of purity and coherence flowing out from the Mind – the mind of the Buddha in terms of affairs of the heart or the mind of God (in our conventional use of the word) in terms of the natural, material world. The victories of strength or intelligence that are the factors in natural selection are only temporary triumphs. Longer term the emergence of a cooperative rather than competitive intelligence hold sway. The flow of the world back into the Mind, of the personal view or feeling of a selfish sensuality overcoming truth, we could then see as a possible mechanism and source of impurity. In this way we see greed and hatred as going against the very flow of evolution. Or we could say that they are the inner test that the evolving mind wrestles with.
In terms of the mechanism of such a Mind, I am not suggesting that our minds influence DNA but that the information coded there can be seen as part of a greater Mind. This mind holds information at all kinds of levels which may not influence each other directly. They exist within a hierarchy and the information can be active or latent.
To place this view of evolution within the Buddha's teaching, I would understand the term nāma-rūpa in the cycle of dependent origination to mean literally name and form (rather than the translation often suggested of mentality and materiality.) This is the dynamic interplay between information and the form in which it is expressed. The Buddha states that during life, sense consciousness is dependent on name and form. This is the drawing of information out of the world by which we survive in the present moment. This would be the conventional materialist understanding of the mind emerging out of life and furthering life. But the Buddha also states that name and form is dependent on consciousness – that the mind is the forerunner, initiating all of our existence. This is the way in which our existence is created through the reading of information from the past, the following of the truth of nature already embedded in the world. The mind is that truth, the truth of the past generating the truth of the present moment and feeding this into consciousness. This mutual causation between name-and-form and consciousness is the cycle of saṃsāra. The past reaching into the present and the present into the past and the two spinning around each other to generate the future.
The path of liberation is the generation of emptiness rather than form within the mind through wisdom. Name or information does not take material form within the mind when it is not tied up with physical feeling. The mind remains empty in its essence taking the greater Mind also in this direction – that of Knowing rather than Being. The mind discovers that it need not Be anything at all, escaping future birth, if it remains wise. It can become part of the greater Mind that remains detached from the material world. This position of detachment is exemplified within the world by the life of the monk. The monk becomes the person able to remain in this position, supported there by the faithful in order to feed wisdom into the world.
This goal we seek, not through holding a metaphysical view, or through taking a mere view to constitute an existential shift. We seek the goal by noticing the suffering of becoming anything at all and by letting go. The goal is simply the result of this letting go taken to perfection, it is not some kind of metaphysical construction of mind. This letting go is the natural result of seeing with wisdom the suffering of material existence; in contrast the wise, knowing nature of the mind can become a tangible experience that we learn to trust.
In the present moment, the mind is not in the body – the body is in the wise mind. This is the reality and an appreciation we can return to through the practice of mindfulness. This is like a state of innocence and freedom if we can maintain it through wisdom. While if we cannot, then over time the results of our unwise mental activity accumulate in the body, our body remembers, our body and its associated feelings. This is like the mind going out into the world and our body and feelings experiencing the result.
This is not the only source of our contact with the world. Our mind contacts the world in two ways. The above kind of contact is called designation contact. Secondly, contact occurs through what the Buddha calls impingement contact which is things coming at us and contacting the body and feelings (or ‘mental body’) first of all, and then come up into the mind. This kind of contact can then get mixed up with our memories. Feelings from the past and present come together and merge. If we get drawn into this, our minds become locked into time, within an inner vortex. When designations are placed on the objects of the world this is clear, we see mental action and result. When designation turns around towards our feelings then we get drawn into the vortex. It is the case that impingement contact cannot be avoided, designation contact however can be avoided. When the mind can patiently endure, these thoughts need not get drawn in to feelings of impingement.
Also, what we notice subjectively is that in the present moment our thoughts (our designations) are not necessarily located anywhere in the body. These thoughts come from nowhere inside and need not result in bodily feelings. Thus we can have outer designation without contact. This thought is free of contact, it is like free thought rather than thought bound to the world. These are the qualities of wisdom. A wisdom truly sublime.
(If you find this article inspiring, please have a look also at Embodied Spirituality.)
I offer this for your reflection.