We come to the last talk in this five part series on the different ways to experience our body, the "kāya." The experience we have of our body is very much influenced by our states of mind, activities of mind, our thoughts, judgments, attachments. As those shift and change, then the experience of the body changes as well.
When we practice, the different states and ways the mind works, while we meditate, can give us a different experience of the body. Which experience is the true experience of the body? Is the most common way you feel your body, know your body, is that how you really are, the true body?
In fact, I think that there is no basis for deciding that the karmic body is the accurate body, or the real body. It is accurate enough as a karmic body. That is what it is – experiencing the body through the lens or mind states that are caught in the world of karma. As the mind becomes free of that world, relaxes, settles in, then sometimes we start feeling the joy body – wonderful feelings of suffusing joy, or well-being, contentment. As practice deepens, then the tranquil body becomes more evident. The body is very peaceful, equanimous.
As mindfulness develops, we have the insight body – the body as experienced through observation or perception that is very present, very attentive, but freed of the labels, ideas, concepts, we overlay on top of experience. Part of the value of seeing – free of the all the concepts and ideas, seeing more the stream and the flow of the body – is to loosen up the attachment to body, attachment to self in relationship to the body, and all attachments.
As we release our attachments – as clinging, grasping, striving, resisting, judging, bias, fear and hate finally quiet down – the experience of the body changes dramatically. We can have the experience of the liberated body. The liberated body is the body that is not entangled in the mind. The experience of a liberated body is a bit a product of the mind, but of the mind free, non-clinging, at ease, peaceful. The result is that the body feels much more at ease. It feels lighter. It feels more refreshed.
It does not have to live with the weight and the stress of the puppeteer, the mind which may be constantly thinking, reacting, being afraid, desirous, angry, and all the ways that seeps into the body. Certainly in muscles being tense, tight. Also in chemicals that the body releases, stress chemicals into the body, from stressful activities of the mind, things of the mind.
As the body gets freed of all this, it tends to have a feeling of more unity, flow, ease, a certain kind of delight, joy, lightness, weightlessness in a way, a kind of grace goes with it. It just feels like it is almost like grace to move an arm, or walk, or do anything. Maybe partly because it is all kind of a wonder, a surprise and delight to be present for all that.
The liberated body is one where we do not impose on the body all the issues of identification. Me, myself and mine – this is who I am. We do not put on the body expectations that it should be different, or judgments, ideas, that interfere with the natural functioning of the body. A liberated body is a body that has some kind of harmony to it. A body with all the parts of it as they are, are just fine as they are, in and of themselves.
A few days ago, I injured my finger a little bit. You know, I would like it to heal properly. It is a small cut. My finger does not mind. My finger does not know that it should be any different. It is just a natural way in which this world exists this moment – that there is a finger with a cut in it.
From the point of view of our body in itself, whether we are bald, have long hair, thin, curly, kinky, or straight hair, it is all just fine. From the inside out, it just is what it is. Just like you would look at a tree, and you would not say, "That branch is all wrong," the angle at which it is coming off the trunk, or it is twisted or bent in a certain way. It is all the way that nature works. The way nature grows – all kind of a marvel.
To give that kind of freedom to the body. Let the body be the body, Let it be the natural event that it is. We do not identify this as 'my' body. We do not define ourselves by it. At the same time we care for it. It is just as much worthy of our care, our love, as some other person or an animal. Some of you love your pet. I do not know if your body you should see as your pet exactly. But it could be something that you care for, and love and treat well, with respect. It is not an afterthought. The body is not just a convenient vehicle for getting you from one place to the other. The body is valued, a vital, important part of this whole process.
I wanted to read a couple of quotes from the ancient Buddhist texts. One is from the verses of the elder monks. I delight at this little poem. I see it as a poem about a liberated body. "Hey, my body is light. Having been touched with vast joy and happiness. My body feels like it's floating, like cotton blowing in the wind."
Here is another quote, actually from the Buddha himself. "I immerse the body in the mind and the mind in the body. And when I dwell having entered upon a blissful perception, and a buoyant perception, in regard to the body, on that occasion, my body becomes more buoyant, malleable, wieldy, and luminous." A luminous body.
These are all different ways of experiencing the body. The karmic body is not the only body to experience. We want to free ourselves from the idea that this is the real body – the singular real body. It is real enough. We have to respect the karmic body and take care of it on its own terms. But there are other ways of experiencing the body, so free ourselves up from attachment or fixity, "This is how the body is and I have to constantly negotiate and struggle and work with this." As the mind meditates, as the mind becomes freer, more concentrated, and more insightful, the experience of the body changes.
As the experience of the body changes, in return, it changes the mind. There is kind of a reciprocal relationship that goes on here. As you begin feeling the lightness of the body, the freedom of the body, the joy, the tranquility of the body, that is a lesson for the mind. That is a teaching to the mind of what is possible. It is a reminder to the mind, "Yes, here, this is a good place to dwell – to be centered and relaxed here, as opposed to being carried away on the freight trains of thoughts that carry us away.
The liberated body. It is fascinating to me how dynamic, complex, sophisticated this human body is. So many systems working – so many complicated chemical, neurological, mechanical systems are operating – that any one of us, even with a PhD in engineering and biochemistry, simply could not track it all and manage it all. The amazing, complicated thing that happens, mostly on its own.
In addition to that, the mind itself is a wondrous thing. You know, most of the mind happens offstage. We do not really know all the complicated ways in which the mind works as well. I do not think any of us is smart enough – in our conscious self, the self that we consciously know – to direct, manage and supervise all the ways in which the brain works, the mind works, and all the ways in which the body works.
The part that we can actually have some say and do – the part that we get attached to, cling to and get preoccupied with – is actually a very small sliver of who we are in our totality. It is remarkable how much trouble we can get into, in this little slice that we are conscious of. Where we take, "This is who I am, and this is what I have to do. And it's all up to me, and, and I have to navigate and do all this."
This practice of ours can teach us what it is like to put that little sliver – that little subset of our whole that is the conscious part – let that rest, let that be at peace. So it can be informed, guided by this huge percentage of who we are that we are not so conscious about.
That is where living a dharma life – living a life that is ethical, peaceful, not caught up in greed, hate and delusion – we come into this beautiful harmony of the dharmic body, the dhammakāya – the liberated body operating in the fullness of all its systems, integrated, harmonious and free.
Thank you, for this week and for today. I hope this has given you an interesting perspective for your body. If what I have talked about today is of interest for you, maybe through this weekend, you could spend some time meditating, walking and doing simple things with your body. See if you can intuit or feel into what a liberated body is like. What is your body like when the body is not just peaceful or tranquil, but has a sense of operating free of attachments, free of clinging.