Zen and the Body (Part 2)
8:16PM Feb 15, 2022
Today is Sunday, February 13 2022. And for teisho today, I'm going to sort of continue from last week. We're talking about Zen practice and the body.
I think when we left off - talking about the body is an ally, is a friend, basically relaxing into our bodies, relaxing into who we are - putting that as a foundation of our lives, a foundation of Zen practice. But everything we do, if we're integrated with the body, if we're, if we're comfortable, if we're comfortable in our own skin, everything works better.
So hard to do in this society. And we'll get into some of that. Body is really so central to Zen practice. Roshi is talked about training, Zen training. How in Japan, anytime someone calls your name, you answer immediately. Hi. Hi. It's this whole quality of readiness of responsiveness not being stuck, being lost in thought being connected with what is the physical reality. Another one of Roshi, his favorite phrases is notice and respond. See what's happening, see what's needed and then to move to do what's appropriate. It's one of the wonderful things about Zen practice, especially if you are fortunate enough to be able to train in a Zen temple is just to cultivate those qualities. Get them into the body
it similar in koan work, teacher is always wanting you to show not to explain, not to think about it, not to come up with explanations or evaluations. Sometimes those are necessary or appropriate. But the best is when it's just in the body
going to Doakes on can be wonderful. I know a lot of people have some dread around it. I know I did. But just that whole dance, they'll rings and you're liberated from your seat. Especially a Chapin Mill and sesshin. Tearing down the hall assuming the the knees and the hips and the feet will allow it just no thought just flying.
And then making prostrations. It's another thing we do with the body. Roshi Kapleau used to call it horizontal Ising, the master of ego. So helpful. Just get our forehead down on the ground. Sixth Patriarch waning said, the object of bowing is to break the curtain of self intoxication. So why not put your head as low as the ground? Cherishing pride is committing a crime while forgetting your merit, brings joy beyond measure brings joy to get out of the whole competitive performance, mind state to abandon our pride, put the head down on the ground. There's a story I want to read. It's from Hobbes right in your con was a Sufi teacher 20th century Sufi teacher. His daughter is also well known, she was a member of the resistance in World War Two in France, and ended up being killed by the Germans. But the father was a very well known Sufi teacher. And he tells his story. There was once a young man who was the son of a famous teacher, teacher had a number of pupils from all over India. Not only was he a very great teacher himself, but he had trained many other teachers. In fact, in nearly every village in town, there was by now a teacher who had been one of his disciples, of course, the son of his had received all kinds of attentions. Now the son, when still a boy, one day had a dream. And in this dream, he saw himself visiting all the saints, he dreamt that there was a great gathering of saints and spiritual teachers and masters. He was accompanying his father. But whereas his father was admitted to the gathering, he himself was not allowed in. He felt this as a severe humiliation. So when he woke up next morning, he went to his father and he said, I've had a very unhappy vision. For although I went with you to this gathering, you were allowed in, and I was not. His father replied, This is a true message for you. To enter the spiritual path, it is not enough for you to be my son, is necessary for you to become someone's disciple. You have to learn what discipleship means. But the son kept thinking to himself, I am the son of a great teacher. From childhood, I have learned so many things, I have inherited my father's knowledge, however great any teacher, or however great any teacher was, yet, when he met my father, he paid him such respect, such great respect. There cannot be anything better in these teachers than there is in me. So he thought he should stay with his father and said, Can there be anyone better than you, Father, that I should become someone else's disciple? But as father answered, No, I am no use for that. You must have some other person who is suitable for this person for this purpose. Who asked the young man, teacher replied, that pupil of mine, who was a peasant, and who is teaching among peasants, go to him and be initiated by him. Son was very surprised. That pupil at four he knew that this teacher was not well educated, he was illiterate. He was not of high birth, he had no special reputation. He was not famous in any way. He was just living in a village and humble guys, for all that his father sent him there. So he traveled on foot, not very willingly, till he came to the village where this peasant lived. It so happened that this man was on his way on horseback from his own farm to another, and he saw the young man coming towards him. When the young man came near and bowed before him, the teacher looked down on him and said, not enough. There upon the young man bowed to his knees. The peasant teacher said again, not enough that he bowed down to his feet. And still the teacher said, not enough. So the young man bowed down once more, this time to the horse's feet, touching the horse's hoof, whereupon the peasant teacher said to him, you can go back now, you've had your training.
That was all, no exercises, no sacred word to learn, nothing to study, no training course. He had learned the lesson he had to learn. It was for this that his father had sent him. It was for this lesson that he had come. It was a lesson which his father could not give him. So now he was admitted to the circle of the mystics.
Repeat again from winning, cherishing pride is committing a crime, or forgetting your merit, brings joy beyond measure.
We're going to move on to another aspect looking at this whole project project, of becoming comfortable in our own skin and I want to talk a little bit about how difficult that is, in our culture. Especially with regard to weight, how heavy we are, how fat we are, or not. I'm going to read a little bit skim around in a book called body respect. It's written by Linda Bacon and Lucy FMR.
They deal with this whole anti fat message that's so pervasive and unthinkingly believed by almost everybody I know for me. For years, I thought, you know, what is this incredible epidemic of obesity in this country what what's gone wrong?
There's a lot that that, on first glance, you may not understand. So I really wanted to go into this. They say our culture perpetuates the anti fat myths that keep people depressed, and at war with their bodies. War where little battles might be won in the short term with a diet, but then lost overall, because those who turned to dieting can rarely maintain long term, the look that is the accepted norm. One that is not necessarily the best weight for them. And they feel worse about themselves for their failure. It also reinforces the message that they are not the size, stigmatizing culture are the problem.
So much, that if you talk to anybody who's struggling with their weight, there's so much shame involved so much frustration and that that message is reinforced by the medical establishment. The way I've set up just one example, I have a friend who was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation like I have, and she was a candidate for an ablation, which can also often be quite helpful. Her doctors wouldn't perform it because they felt she needed to lose a certain amount of weight. This is not a person who's low on energy, or and it was it was, you know, pretty much an impossible task so she never had the ablation. They say skipping further on in the book. Before we continue with the science, we want to appeal to you on the basis of emotion. everyone reading this book knows the pain of fighting the war on fat. We've seen it in our friends, family, patients and others we care for many of us face our own struggles around body discontent and food fear. Take some time to reconnect with those feelings right now. Think for a moment about someone you know who struggles with weight could be a friend relative a patient could be you. Well, this is a big book, and I just want to highlight from it. They have a series of seven myths about weight, obesity, dieting, and health. And I'm just gonna run through the first three of those myths. The first one is fatness leads to decreased longevity. That is if you're overweight, you're going to die on average, you're going to die earlier. And they say this when it comes to the topic of weight and health. Even the in quotation marks scientific experts in the US government have a hard time distinguishing facts from biases. Or perhaps we should say they have a hard time giving up biases when the facts prove them wrong. There is by now an enormous amount of peer reviewed research indicating that people in the overweight category live longer than people people in the category deemed to be normal and advisable. And then people who are mildly or moderately obese. Another category measured by BMI, we'll talk about that later, live at least as long as normal weight people. Even government statisticians at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the CDC found this to be true and underpressure published this result in the prestigious journal of the American Medical Association, Jama as it's known. And then they go on. Less people actually allow the data to inform practice, however, the CDC issued a disclaimer to state health agencies encouraging them to disregard the data. In their words. It's a quote, despite the recent controversy in the media about how many deaths are related to obesity in the United States, the simple fact remains obesity can be deadly. Another document simile similarly designed to divert us from acting on the radical implications of the evidence they wrote, We need to be absolutely explicitly clear about one thing, obesity and overweight are critically important health threats in this country. In effect, the CDC warned us against allowing the evidence to distract us from prejudice. If all it took to change minds was to talk about scientific evidence, then you'd think the CDC would stand by its own conclusions, wouldn't you? That's what we're up against when we against when we challenge the status quo on weight and health. So if the ideas in their book seem preposterous to you, and hard to believe and incorporate, it's understandable, you're in good company with many well established experts. This all reminds me of the whole battle that was fought over whether a diet high in fat, led people to become overweight, and then have heart attacks and bad health outcomes. Or if it was, the problem was sugar.
And that's a battle that was fought for about 20 years. And I think it's kind of been won at this point. It's kind of well known that sugar by causing inflammation and by increasing appetite, because once we get sugar we want to eat more is the culprit and fat is not. And there are studies. I remember trying this out when I was trying to convince Roshi to allow the staff to drink full fat milk. So long, hard battle, which I was very proud of that if I did nothing else, as head of Zendo that's the one thing I did. Yeah, it's just it just once we believe something, it's very hard to change the way we think about it. You know, it's just common sense. Of course, eating cholesterol cause your causes your cholesterol go up, right? Well, wrong. It doesn't. And one of the reasons, you know, thinking about all this came to me one of the reasons people are so distrustful of scientific advice. For instance, if you get a vaccination, you're less likely to die than if you don't vaccination against COVID-19, or against a lot of other diseases. Why is it that people just don't believe that stuff? I think part of it is because so much advice from the CDC and other governmental agencies and from medical experts, is wrong. It's proven to be wrong over time and people become skeptical. And it's tough on your own to, to weed through at all and make up your mind. Anyway, going on to myth two, and that is BMI is a valuable and accurate health measure. BMI stands for body mass index. It's calculated by dividing your weight by your height squared your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared, and you come up with a number. So they say consider BMI, which we are taught to use as a basis for defining someone's health status. When the United States established the standards that yet, and many other countries currently use the data the committee examined to show that health decrement that is damaged to health didn't occur until there was a BMI of 40. Though they set the standard for overweight at 25 and obesity at 30. When I that is one of the authors Linda queried the committee, queried a committee member about why they set the numbers this way in the absence of supporting research. Her response was that they got a lot of pressure to conform to international standards. examine those international standards set by the World Health Organization You'll find that the who relied on the international obesity Task Force, the IETF, to make the recommendations. And at the time, the two biggest funders of the IETF were the pharmaceutical companies that had the only weight loss drugs on the market. In other words, the pharmaceutical industry, which has a vested interest in making us believe that fat is dangerous, and that they have a solution, wrote the BMI standards that are currently used. If you've read anything about the Oxy codeine epidemic, a number of deaths that are happened from that, so much of the data that was used to convince doctors to prescribe Oxycontin, the so called so called sustained release version of oxycodone. So much of that data was actually produced by Purdue pharma, who made millions, maybe billions, I don't know, made a lot of money, selling it. And I'm sure as much as they've been punished, they still come out ahead.
So if you get a BMI from your doctor, and they tell you you're overweight, yeah, but yeah, it's, it's such a thing. Everybody's body is different. Some people burn calories quickly, other people don't. It's a product of genetics. It's a product of what bacteria you have in your digestive tract. It's a product of so many things. And not a whole lot of it is under your control. Some of it is, but a whole lot of it isn't. I could go into more about that. But I'm just going to go on and quickly covered myth three, which is that fat plays a substantive role in causing disease. And here, they say it's true that many diseases are more commonly found in heavier people. However, that doesn't mean that weight itself causes the disease. Much of the evidence on the topic is based on a PDM epidemic epidemiologic research, which is a type of research that tracks people over time, and examines differences between groups. And while many studies have shown that larger people are more likely to develop several diseases, it's important to note that this kind of research shows Association, not cause. And then they sort of explain, consider the difficulties that arise if we try to assign assign causality to epi epidemiologic data. Let's look at the less charged association to a less charged Association. To understand this better. There's a lot of research that shows that bald men have higher incidence of cardiovascular disease than men with lush heads of hair. So do we look at that data and conclude that baldness causes heart disease or that hair protects against it? No. Examination of other research shows us that bald men have higher levels of testosterone, and that high levels of testosterone, increase the risk for heart disease. And then coming back to the association between weight and other diseases. There are many traits and behaviors that differ between lighter and heavier weight people that would explain the increased disease incidence much more readily than fatness. And then they look at three confounders, fitness, discrimination, and dieting and weight cycling. So with fitness. Other studies have shown that a person who's technically obese by the BMI and fit has a lower risk of heart disease, then a thin person who's out of shape, the fitness is by far the place to put one's focus. If you're concerned with what's healthy for your body. Then they mentioned discrimination, and that that's a stress a stressor is stressful to experience. And that's a risk factor for most of the obesity Associated Diseases, including cardiovascular and diabetes. It also mentioned that many of the populations that tend to be overweight are subject to discrimination not only for that overweight, but also because they're perhaps people of color
and finally, the whole question of dieting and weight cycling the pattern for almost everyone, except for a few outliers. His people diet they lose some weight, that gradually their dieting their their will weakens or their they return to more normal form. of eating, and they gain the weight back plus a little bit more. And it's almost inevitable that people who diet end up gaining weight over the long term. But the other thing that happens is there's an inflammatory response that goes on when you're cycling back and forth. And when you're restricting and then not restricting, you're you're eating. And both of those, of course, lead to heart disease and diabetes.
The reason I highlight this, all the different kinds of discomfort with the body and of course, there are many others, people don't like the way their nose looks, or their ears are too big. Or remember, I had a friend in college who thought his hands were ugly, looked a lot like mine, which I always liked. I always saw my hands were great, even though they bend kind of weird ways. Yeah, but the whole message about being overweight is is is all messed up with virtue and moral faith failure, whether or not you have willpower. Messages are so harsh. So tough to be on the receiving end of that some point in the book where one of the authors talks about being in a school that was having an anti obesity campaign. And she talked to one of the students there. And they said what they think is going to happen with all these posters. They think that's going to shame me into eating my veggies. You know, all that's happened is more people call me fat so now
there is there's something actually wonderful about a large person whose light on their feet has energy, enthusiasm, it's infectious. It's a freedom. Anybody, anybody who's comfortable in their body is just a beacon of light for everyone around them. It's nothing wrong with taking care of the body. But if your focus is on the number on the scale, I think you're missing the big picture.
Buddha dealt extensively with how to work skillfully with attitudes towards the body. How to find the right habit, the right balance, balance that's conducive to happiness. And I'm going to read a little section a little article by a ton of sorrow Bhiku he is a Theravadan teacher actually went to the same went to Oberlin College as I did think he's younger than me though. And he tells a story says during my first year as a monk, when I was staying in a monastery near Bangkok, we received an invitation from the children of a man in the last stages of liver cancer, asking for some monks to visit their father in the hospital as he wanted to make merit and hear the Dharma one last time before he died. Five of us went the next morning, and the senior monk in the group chatted with a man for quite a while to put his mind at ease and help him prepare for His coming death. Now was the time the monk said for him to put aside all concern for his body and to focus instead on the state of his mind, so that it wouldn't be overcome by pain as his body fell apart.
Suddenly, the man blurted out that the worst part of the cancer wasn't the pain was the embarrassment. All his life he had prided himself on staying fit and trim while his friends had gotten fat and punchy. But now his belly was so horribly bloated from the cancer that he couldn't bear to look at it, or to imagine what other people might think, seeing him like this. No matter how much the senior monk tried to reassure him that it was nothing to be ashamed of that this was part of the body's normal nature beyond anyone's control. The man wouldn't let go of the conviction that his body had betrayed him and was now an embarrassment in the eyes of the world. So many people as they age, wrinkles start to appear or the hair turns white, gets thinner This little sag crepey skin on the arms feel the same way it's embarrassment, but it's the body. Body does what it does. If you have a dog or a cat and it becomes older and not as beautiful as it was when I was young, do you stop loving it
so painful. People have so much of their self worth invested in the face they present to the world given all the power to others, to the glance of others, to the opinion of others. There's anything that Zen should bring us the ability to stand on our own two feet. To not give a damn what other people think it's true fine. But how often is it true. And he goes on all through the conversation, I couldn't help thinking that the man would have suffered a lot less. If he had taken some of the time he had devoted to looking fit, and spent it on contemplating the unattractiveness of the body instead, I myself have never felt much enthusiasm for this particular meditation theme. I preferred focusing on the breath, and would contemplate the parts of the body more out of a sense of duty than anything else. Just parenthetically, this is a practice that's done a lot in Tera Vaada. Buddhism is going through the various parts of the body and reflecting on how disgusting they are, if you think about it. It's it's an antidote to getting caught up in you know how people look. I think it's especially was recommended to monks who were celibate in theory, and having them have a method of dealing with sexual attraction. I like Thomas Arabic who have never been attracted to this practice, particularly. But he says some things about it, which which are worth worth repeating. Says on the way back to the monastery, I also realized to my chagrin, that I had been complacent about my attitude toward my own body. Despite despite my contemplation of my liver, intestines and everything else under my skin, I still took pride in the fact that I had kept fit. When other people my age were getting a little flabby. Although I had consciously resisted the unrealistic standards for looking good, fostered by the media, I had felt a little moral superiority about staying in good shape. But now I had to admit that even my reasonable amount of pride was dangerous. I too, was setting myself up for a fall, eating and exercising to be healthy may be generally a good policy, but concern for looking healthy, can be unhealthy for the mind.
He talks about how in the West we've come to identify, pause all positive body images as psychologically healthy, at all negative images as psychologically sick. And so when we learn the Buddha's recommendation for contemplating the body, we see it as aggravating rather than solving the problem. And so he goes on to look into the fact that the Buddha taught about healthy positive attitudes towards the body, and unhealthy positive attitudes and healthy negative attitudes towards the body and unhealthy negative attitudes.
says when you understand the dangers of unhealthy body images, whether positive or negative, along with the freedom that comes from cultivating both sorts of healthy body images, you'll realize that the Buddha's training and resetting your body image is both a useful defense against the skewed messages of our culture, and a part of the Buddhist path. Unhealthy positive body images whether they're positive or negative, start with the assumption that the body's worth is measured by the beauty of its appearance. The damage done by this assumption when it leads to negative body body images, it is common knowledge. But the damage done when it leads to positive images is just as bad if not worse. Something that's always run through my mind is the burden of being too good looking serious. About that, if you're born with just predator natural, good looks, your whole life is influenced by that people treat you in a special way. Do they love you for yourself or for your looks? It's really hard to tease apart.
And he says, This is because the beauty the perception of beauty carries a power. We sense the power wielded by the people we perceive as attractive, and we want to exert the same power ourselves. This is one of the reasons we resist the idea of seeing the body as unattractive. For that would deny ourselves a major source of the power we consciously and unconsciously try to wield. We forget or choose to ignore the dangers that this kind of power entails. Talks about pride and conceit the unskillful actions that come from them, and then the fragility because no matter how hard you try to stave off the signs of aging, they always arrive too soon. The pride that wants to stains you now turns around to stab you. Even when the body is at the pinnacle of its health and youth, to perceive it as beautiful requires huge blind spots, that you ignore any external features that are less than beautiful, that you view it only from certain angles and when the lighting is just so And don't even think of what lies inside just under the skin. resit ready to ooze out of your orifices and pores. Because these unattractive features can show themselves at any any time, you need constant reassurance that no one else notices them. And even then, you wonder if the people reassuring you are telling you the truth. When you're setting your, your when you're attached to something so fragile, you're setting yourself up to suffer. The appearance of each new wrinkle becomes a source of fear and anxiety. And when this is the case, how will you not be afraid of aging, illness and death. If you can't overcome this fear, how will you ever be free?
He says in contrast to an unhealthy positive body image, a healthy one focuses not on how good the body can look. But on the good you can do. As an object of concentration, the body can be a source of rapture and well being to sustain you on the path. We learn to appreciate the body as a tool for expressing kindness, and developing the inner beauty of generosity and virtue. Which is the Buddha noted our beautiful even through old age. With this sort of body image, the appearance of wrinkles is not a threat to the worth of your body. But simply a reminder to accelerate our efforts to do good as time is running out so much about a healthy body is unhelpful to practice just balanced an equanimity
openness and calm responsiveness the positive qualities of the body who cares what you look like other than your wife. I mean, you can't go too far with this. You know, people comb their hair and shave occasionally. And it's not a bad thing. But it's it's just a question of proportion. It's again, it's the middle way. Finding a way to put things in perspective spending a little bit of time to figure out what's important. And so much of our stinking thinking about looks and whatnot isn't even examined. We don't even notice it. You know, people will say oh my god, I'm noticing gray hairs or whatever. They're there there's not even a thought of Yeah, yeah, I lived this long. Now I get had gray hair that was in the contract something I John Chan says somewhere where he talks about getting older and all of a sudden a new ache appears in the body thinks to himself Yeah, that's just about right
there's a well known scientist, famous scientist, Richard Feynman wrote a book called What do you care what other people think might be the subject for another teisho Because it's not just with issues of the body, we care about other people's opinion about our minds and our everything we do everything we think feedback is good, but to live in other people's eyes, not healthy
there is there's nothing so sustaining
is to let go of all that. Let go of all our grasping pushing the bad stuff away, just settling into this moment.
Instead of looking for our comfort by trying to be above average, which leads only to anxiety or pride
we find that the most wonderful thing about us is who we really are. It's our nature or essential nature, which is the same as everyone else's. What we're looking for is what everyone has.
montane the French philosopher
said I am an average man except in the fact that I know that I am an average man
another guy, Daniel Gilbert, I think as his name says, if you're like everyone else, then like everyone else. You don't think you're like everyone else. We live in a world where all the children are above average.
Think this is a good place to end? Just this admonition to be who we are. We'll stop now and recite the four vows